There’s a moment in Heathers, before the body count begins to rise and the heads really start to roll, when Christian Slater’s J.D. explains to Winona Ryder’s Veronica why he decided to shoot blanks at two bullies in the school cafeteria:
“The extreme always seems to make an impression.”
It’s one of the many resounding one-liners that make Heathers such an enduring cult classic (no mean feat in a film stacked with blistering takedowns) and one that goes some way to summing up the movie in entirety.
Heathers, one of the defining cult black comedies of the 80s, was as stylish for its time as it was unapologetically sororicidal. With the musical adaptation hitting the Australian stage and an anthology TV series in the works, we thought it time to look back on the enduring legacy of the movie that changed the way we look at chainsaws forever.
From the pure camp of the performances and the beyond wicked plot, to the indulgent voiceovers (“Dear Diary, my teen-angst bullshit now has a body count”) and ‘innovative’ use of language as a weapon to maim, nothing is done by halves when it comes to Heathers – least of all the costumes.
The embodiment of late-80s excess, the movie’s costumes set the gold standard for big hair, bold colours and bigger shoulders that, rather inexplicably, also enjoyed something of a popular resurgence atthe Autumn/Winter 2016-17 shows, especially on those runways where Demna Gvasalia was leading the charge.
With the off-Broadway musical making its way to Australian stages this month and an anthology series set in the present day in the works at American cable network, TV Land, there’s never been a better time to exhume your love of Heathers in all its wicked glory.
Speaking with GRAZIA, Australian theatre’s hardest working first-time director Trevor Ashbury attributed Heathers’ enduring appeal to its unabashedly camp aesthetic and strangely prescient narrative.
“Part of the reason I love the show so much is because it is its own homage to the 80s. What we tried to do, even more so than the original off-Broadway production, was really make it ridiculously 80s so that you could identify with all of the icons of fashion of that era, so we have an ensemble girl who looks like she should be in Desperately Seeking Susan and a Jon Bon Jovi look.
“And of course to tell the story of the Heathers, we did go back to the film. We have tried to keep the costumes very much in the 80s idiom. When we were going to buy accessories, we found so many [80s era items] new in stores – so much stuff that’s out and new looks so of that period. It’s hysterical!”
On a slightly darker note, there’s a more sinister undercurrent that Ashley attributes with allowing Heathers to connect with audiences across the decades, irrespective of time and place.
“Firstly, [it’s] just the high school experience,” says Ashley. “Everybody can identify with being either a Heather or someone who was bullied, and that whole conversation about bullying and how traumatic it can be for people is still ongoing.
“But also I think the other thing that certainly resonates oddly is that, because the film was made before mass killings at Colombine or Thurston, it’s an odd comment now to have it set so long ago and that it still has such an odd cultural resonance with American gun culture and violence within schools.
“So I think that’s very interesting now looking at this story that’s almost thirty years old to see how much of that has come true – it has a really powerful political resonance with people.”
As for Ashley’s favourite line from the movie, musical (and hopefully the TV series).
“‘F*** me gently with a chainsaw!’” he says, laughing hysterically. “You can’t beat it!”
COVER IMAGE: Supplied