Cult film time: ‘Heathers’

GAALooking back Looking back with longing for seemingly better times is a waste of time. Remembering the past with fondness is a positive thing, but the yearning to return to some mythical bygone time seems to be a pointless exercise. Hindsight has that awkward little habit of providing 20/20 vision.

I can now look back on my six months in France during my late teenage years as a golden time. I was young, I was abroad. I was living away from home for the first time. It was summer in France. My location was a glorious, sun drenched campsite by a lake in the Loire Valley. I was working with people my own age. It was magical. However I am self-aware enough to remember that those halcyon days felt different as I went through them. As I cleaned my fifth tent of the day, enduring a raging hangover, while trying to avoid being attacked by geese, I was not thinking ‘this is a time in your life that is special.’

Music from the past has a tendency to hurl you back to a particular place and time. ‘Sleeping satellite’ by Tasmin Archer; ‘Two princes’ by the Spin Doctors or ‘All that she wants’ by Ace of Base are tunes that are indelibly linked in my mind to summer in France in the year 1993.

Certain films have a similar effect, as they are associated with a particular period. One such film is ‘Heathers’. Heathers was made in 1989. A few years later (sometime in the early 1990s – around the time I went to France) I rented the VHS video, for £1.50 per night from the ‘Movie Magic’ video shop, up the road from my mother’s house. This was a defining film.

I rediscovered it yesterday while submerged in a YouTube vortex. It must have been approaching a quarter of a century since I had viewed this classic. Time to revisit it.

Starring Winona Ryder (who despite my rampant homosexuality I had a major crush on) and Christian Slater (who I liked, except I didn’t understand how he inspired such devotion from my sister) it tells the tale of cool girl Veronica Sawyer (Ryder). Veronica hails from Sherwood, Ohio. Her three best friends are all called Heather. Together they rule Westerburg High School – desired and despised in equal measure by the lesser mortals who are subject to their cruelty or favour. The Heathers are bullies (Martha Dumptruck being a favourite target of their malice).

One day in the school canteen while doing the lunchtime poll for the school magazine (‘You win $5 million, only you discover that aliens will invade the earth in two days, what do you do?’) she meets rebellious Jason Dean (Slater). There’s an instant attraction between them, except nothing can happen – Veronica has to attend a Remington University party with head Heather that evening. After a thoroughly unpleasant evening, avoiding lecherous college students, Heather tells a vomiting Veronica that she is finished, and that the following Monday, her days as a cool girl are over. Enter Jason Dean who entices Veronica to murder Heather and make it look like a suicide.

They start forming a habit of murdering their unpleasant classmates and making it look like they took their own lives. The problem they don’t anticipate is that despite the dead people being despised bullies, loathed by everyone not in their favour, that their deaths gives these people depth and soul. And like a two headed hydra a new sheriff of cool emerges each time the previous is slain.

This film spoke volumes to me as a teenager. At school I was a closeted, homosexual nerd with ugly glasses. I related to these characters. I must have seen the film about twenty times. The language was foul and cruel. The revenge taken on the cool kids was hilarious. And Winona Ryder was my ally.

So how was the film over twenty years later?

Well it’s still funny, dark and witty, with hilarious set pieces, poisonous dialogue and a great sense of the absurd. Ryder and Slater are still charismatic, sexy leads.

But I wish I’d heeded my own warning about nostalgia. ‘Heather’ is is still a fantastic film, but seeing it as an adult has tainted is memory for me.

The homophobia of all the characters is not shocking (after all fags were fair game in pretty much all teen films in those days). What disappointed the most is the lack of urgency the film had to me as a fully grown adult. The pain and awkwardness of late adolescence is why this film had such an impact on me when I watched it repeatedly in the early 1990s. I could relate. Now that I am *cough* thirty-nine the film now looks like a period piece about a particular place and time in my life.

I am going to try to forget I saw this film yesterday. The memory was golden – trying to recreate it was inevitably doomed to failure.

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