I’m going to get this out of the way before I start writing so I don’t have to revisit it too often: Christian Slater is a bad actor. He does a cheap Jack impression throughout the entire movie that gets to be very grating within the first couple minutes he appears onscreen, and constantly brings you out of the film from scene to scene.
That being said, the dialogue, no matter how Hack Nicholson chooses to butcher it, is extremely clever and well-written. The writer, Daniel Waters, takes a page out of Anthony Burgess’s book by inventing a colorful code of slang for his characters to speak, however, unlike the woefully obnoxious made-up language that the titular heroine of Juno speaks, the words are carefully chosen as a satire of actual slang from that time, which does two things in the film’s favor:
A. Unlike Juno, the language serves to draw attention to the absurdity of the language and the pettiness of the characters in general, rather than enshrine the characters in a phony temple of too-cool-for-school leetspeak.
B. It dates the movie beautifully, because no matter the words being said, they are all being delivered with a very Generation X attitude, bringing out the body language and inflection as distinct from the language.
Mean Girls is often compared (usually unfavorably, and wrongly so) to this movie (Actually, the brother of Heathers screenwriter Daniel Waters directed that movie, which I did not know!), but I disagree with the tendency to do that. To me, they’re entirely different animals. Mean Girls uses sex as a satiric weapon in ways that Heathers doesn’t (actually, I’d say it more teases you with or sidesteps entirely that facet of high school culture) and Heathers instead concerns itself more with the idea of the teenage obsession with trends, which, if living in Brooklyn has taught me anything, its that following trends is a completely psychotic pursuit (which I think is the overall message of the film, given the psychotic nature of the goings-on in the movie.)
I caught a number of literary and cinematic allusions that interested me. Opening the movie with a lushly colored croquet match that ends on a surreal note echoes Alice in Wonderland, and helps in a big way to establish Winona Ryder’s character as the sole human trapped in a world that makes no sense. Good direction, way to go! I also thought the naming of the Christian Slater character “Jason Dean” recalls both Rebel Without A Cause and less obviously, Friday the 13th, which serves to repaint a classic high-school film archetype in full 1980s cinematic mode as an interpretation of what that archetype would look like in a decade dominated by slasher films and hyperviolent comic-book-style antiheroes like Dolph Lundgren. In doing so, it pokes fun at our collective nostalgia and simultaneously then-contemporary pop culture. (In a cruel twist of fate, 20 years later that same pop culture is now enjoying a resurgence of interest through films such as The Expendables now that it’s been ingrained in our collective nostalgia. But then again, John Hughes has also seemingly been posthumously canonized as a master auteur in light of his death last year, another major staple of 80s culture, with Heathers serving as the anti-John Hughes.)(Not that I have any special dislike for John Hughes. I think that he made some good movies, but not great ones.)
The ending seems sort of imperfect, but having read about the film’s original intended ending, in which Winona Ryder is the one with the bomb strapped to her chest and allows her own death to happen, I certainly don’t think that was the right direction to go in. It would have been cheap, dumb, and made no sense.
Winona Ryder is my favorite actress. She is beautiful and charming in everything she does.
If I had to describe the film in one word, it would be “Vicious.”