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'Heathers' at 30: Will this kind of movie ever be made again?

The Independent logo The Independent 10/08/2018 Darren Scott

a group of people posing for a photo © Provided by The Independent Forget the Pink Ladies from Grease, the A-Group from Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. Hell, forget those so-called mean girls from, erm, Mean Girls. The baddest girls in class have been ruling the roost for 30 years and they’re still not moving aside for any would-be usurpers.

It was around this time 30 years ago, in August 1988, that principal photography of 32 days wrapped on what was to become the teen movie – Heathers. At the tail end of the 1980s, after a series of safe John Hughes high-school movies that gave rise to a spate of copycats, a clique of croquet-playing popular girls were about to change the way we viewed the genre forever.

Veronica, played by a then 16-year-old Winona Ryder, becomes a member of the Heathers – “the most powerful clique in school”. But with great power comes great b****iness, and she yearns for a different life. Along comes boyfriend JD – an early role for Christian Slater, then 17 – with, quite literally, explosive consequences for everyone, as the battle of surviving teen hell goes to places no other youth movie has dared since.

Winona Ryder and Christian Slater © Shutterstock Winona Ryder and Christian Slater “There was controversy about the approach we took to things like the question of suicide and violence in high school,” director Michael Lehmann remembers about his debut movie, when we meet to discuss its 30th anniversary re-release. “It was a much different world. But many people were offended by the movie when it came out because they thought we’d made a comedy about teenage suicide. This was the standard criticism from morally upstanding, humourless critics.”

Lisanne Falk, who played Heather McNamara – yellow Heather – nods in agreement, adding: “A misinterpretation.”

Lisanne Falk © Shutterstock Lisanne Falk Lehmann continues. “Everybody asked: ‘Why did you make a comedy about suicide?’ Excuse me, did you see the movie? It’s not a comedy about suicide. The idea that people could even misinterpret what the movie was about is so reflected in the themes of the movie itself. It just added irony to irony…”

The film, also known as Lethal Attraction in some territories, suffered on initial release as a result. Hollywood seemed afraid. Management told talent not to work on it. Ryder later stated she changed agent as a direct result of such advice. People claim they lost work afterwards. But then the film gained a new life on home video. Today, as a 4K remastered version hits screens, it is firmly in the “cult classic” camp.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Michael-Lehmann.jpg © Provided by The Independent Michael-Lehmann.jpg Falk lets out an infectious laugh when asked if, when filming, she imagined the life the film would have.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine, 30 years on, that we’d be talking about the movie. It came out and then it kind of disappeared. Everybody in the industry knew about it. It helped you [Michael] have a career and I got into some interviews that I might not have gotten into. No, it’s like a steamroller, it’s crazy.”

Lehmann gives a grin. “I didn’t think I’d be alive 30 years on, so I definitely didn’t think I’d be talking about the movie…”

Kim Walker and Winona Ryder © Shutterstock Kim Walker and Winona Ryder They lay the success firmly at the door of Daniel Waters, who wrote the original 250-page script with the intention of Stanley Kubrick directing it.

“Dan’s writing is spectacularly great,” Lehmann states. “It sustains something, there’s something universal in that that still holds. Heathers has a special place for being as dark as it is. And for being, really, as brave as it is, to address all sorts of issues in a darkly comic way. People just haven’t done that much since then, so I think it still holds a place that nobody’s overtaken.”

Falk has an opinion on why Heathers is yet to be beaten. “A lot of the high school movies just focus, like a Mean Girls-focus, on the clique aspect. But this has such a larger scope.”

Christian Slater and Winona Ryder © Shutterstock Christian Slater and Winona Ryder Lehmann shrugs. “I don’t think anything has even come close,” he laughs. “Not even touched it. Nowhere near.”

Particularly when you consider the likes of Mean Girls, which wasn’t actually that mean.

Falk laughs: “Heathers is mean!”

Could a film such as Heathers be made now, in an age that’s becoming increasingly sensitive? It’s obvious Lehmann’s been asked the question before, as Falk laughs and offers to answer.

“It’s already been made, so it shouldn’t be made again,” she says, mirroring the views of many about classic movies. “It would be great to have somebody make movies that are black comedies. They take a subject that is very serious and poke fun at it, so that you could have a different perspective. It would be nice if people would explore these themes in the updated version of society. The dial to the right and the left, it’s out of control. You can’t say or do anything. It’s like, ‘lighten up, let’s have a look at these things and get real.’”

Christian Slater and Winona Ryder © Shutterstock Christian Slater and Winona Ryder Lehmann agrees. “The particular subjects of Heathers, the world has changed so you can’t really approach something in the exact same way anyway. But I had a conversation earlier about what kind of dark comedies are made today. Get Out is a terrific movie. That’s a successful dark comedy, that’s a movie that takes a genre and turns it on its head and has something to say, in a satirical way, about racism. So that kind of thing can be done. Certainly it should be done a lot more. But it’s tricky. Things that happen in the media are so perverse now.”

While they’re agreed Heathers shouldn’t be remade, we need to talk about the Martha Dumptruck in the room – the recent Heathers TV series that, according to the film’s writer was able to happen due to an “ancient contract”. It recast for a modern generation, was put on hold after a high school shooting in America, and then ultimately shelved by Paramount. It’s now popping up around Europe on streaming channels to no fanfare. Neither have seen anything from it.

“It’s impossible to comment on what is specifically in it that may have scared Paramount Television,” Lehmann says. “My understanding was they took a very different approach to Heathers, in that the Heathers are not three blonde, beautiful, powerful females in the school. It’s a transgendered person, a plus-sized person and a black person.”

Falk interjects. “It just felt like that’s being provocative. But were they really the popular ones?”

Winona Ryder © Shutterstock Winona Ryder Perhaps that’s the fault. In the original world of the movie, these characters would be the unpopular ones. They’d be the geek squad. Which is the point. But where can Heathers go now? World events appear unlikely to improve.

“Well, it’s so tricky,” Lehmann says. “When you have someone going in a hotel room in Las Vegas and shooting hundreds of people. Or you have a kid going into high school and shooting randomly. Or someone going to a pre-school and shooting… All of a sudden anything that deals with violence in an institution or public setting, and you’re treading on very delicate territory. That’s not what Heathers was about. It’s not the same. But when you make dark comedy that deals with events like that, you’re going to offend people, for sure.”

Shannen Doherty, who played Heather Duke in the movie, returned to appear in the series. Were either of this pair asked?

“They enquired about my availability for directing one of the episodes,” Lehmann starts, and Falk laughs. “I wasn’t available. That was it. I never talked to them.”

Kim Walker and Winona Ryder © Shutterstock Kim Walker and Winona Ryder They’re both far happier to talk about Heathers: The Musical, which has recently enjoyed a sell-out run at London’s Other Palace, and transfers to the West End in September

“I got a big kick out of what I saw because it was such an odd take on what we did 30 years ago,” Lehmann laughs.

Falk, who’s seen the show in New York and London, loves it. “They focused on – which the audiences love – less the dark aspect, but the female empowerment role of Veronica. You can’t go wrong with that.”

As for life beyond the walls of Westburgh High on the big screen, a much-mooted sequel – usually whipped up by interviews with Winona Ryder – looks unlikely to ever happen.

Shannen Doherty sits in front of a boy in class in a scene from the film 'Heathers', 1988. © Getty Shannen Doherty sits in front of a boy in class in a scene from the film 'Heathers', 1988. “Winona’s idea was to set it in the world of politics, in Washington DC,” Lehmann says, recalling he and writer Dan Waters did discuss it “a long time ago”. “Now you can’t do that. You wouldn’t be able to touch that.”

“Obviously only the mind of Dan Waters could come up with something that could make it work, but he doesn’t seem to want it,” Falk shrugs before laughing. “He said when he’s done writing the remake of Casablanca he’ll get on to Heathers.”

Heathers 30th Anniversary is in cinemas now, on digital and On Demand from 20 August and Blu-ray from 10 September; Heathers: The Musical is at London’s Theatre Royal Haymarket from 3 September,; Heathers, the TV series, is airing in various countries.

Gallery: WHERE ARE THEY NOW? The cast of 'Heathers' 30 years later (Insider)


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