It's actually quite easy to explain why Daniel Waters' satire of high school life has evolved from a before-its-time satire to a modern classic: it just happens to perfectly nail the social pressures of what for many is the most uncomfortable if not unhappiest period of school life.
After high school, everything that was so vital – the right friends, shoes, clothes, watches, activities, and behaviour – becomes virtually meaningless in university because no one cares – and that's probably why the film's first batch of fans included enthusiastic college and university kids; they got the sad joke that once grade 12 is done with, every asshole, fashion style, and pressurizing clique go out the window (even though new ones of varying potency and meaning are confronted in post-secondary institutions for those stuck on campus).
In the DVD's extras, director Michael Lehman, writer Waters, and producer Denise Di Novi also provide some perspective of the era when Heathers was made: after the spate of successful John Hughes teen comedies and a bevy of imitators mostly aimed at the hugely successful home video market, Heathers was the ultimate antithesis: it was profane, truthful, viciously witty, sexual, and had teen actors often playing their exact age, yet articulating themselves using mature concepts corrupted by cliquish, argot and pop culture metaphors often obscene and hysterical.
And yet Heathers did draw some seriously deep divisions between fans who loved it for its brilliant black wit, and critics who found the whole film grotesquely vulgar and nihilistic (although one could say perhaps most of those critics may well have found Hughes' take on teen angst, love, and the need to find one's place in the world more reflective of their own experiences, maybe real or perhaps imagined to smother an otherwise crappy tenure in high school).
Also a challenge was the film's dilemma in being marketed by a production company, Roger Corman's New World, which was going broke and didn't want to spend much on their last movie before the bubble burst. Word of mouth and critical praise helped give the film some legs, but home video, cable airings, and Heathers' position as (probably) the lone anti-Hughes film of the era ensured those tired of every Hughes film had an alternative, since Hughes' output became more variants on once original concepts.
Heathers first appeared on an Image laserdisc in 1989, although the 1996 Lumivision release featured a commentary with director Lehman, writer Waters, and producer Di Novi, which was ported over to Anchor Bay's 2001 DVD release (but not on the label's prior 1999 disc) and reappears on this 2008 edition, billed as the 20th High School Reunion Edition (although technically that's next year).
That commentary track is still the best (and freshest) collective recollection of the film's genesis and making, although Winona Ryder's comments in the 2001 featurette (ported over from Anchor Bay's 2001 DVD), “Swatch Dogs and Diet Coke,” adds a few rich memories from a leading star who grew to regard the film as one of the best films about high school, including its poke at teen suicide.
That featurette also includes many cast interviews, including Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty, and Lisanne Falk, who by 2001 had virtually retired from films after in small roles in Less Than Zero (1987), Say Anything… (1989), co-starring in the TV movie Dead Silence (1991) with Renee Estevez (who has a small role in Heathers).
The 2008 featurette, “Return to Westerburg High,” has a more tragic edge since it notes the passing of lead Heather Kim Walker (brain tumor) and Jeremy Applegate (suicide). Both actors are given rather awkward tributes by using film clips where the each, in character, reference those specific deaths deaths.
The 2008 featurette is noteworthy for having Lehman, Waters, and Di Novi reflect on the radical and more violent, post-Columbine incidents of the passing seven years that would make Heathers a tougher film to produce, and while the teens and their issues remain timeless (insecurities, bullying, popular cliques, indifferent and clueless parents), the filmmakers acknowledge Heathers reflects a specific time and has become a document of its era. A number of film clips from the 2001 featurette are repeated, so while the interviews are worth investigating, by this point pretty much everything than can be said about the film is now extant.
(One could argue a new commentary track with the cast would work, but when too much time has passed during which a film has evolved into a classic, the memories of some can become too idyllic, and in most cases the new comments are just slightly longer and re-worded anecdotes – which does happen in the 2008 featurette a few times.)
The transfer is an improvement on the older 2001 THX edition, and there's less active compression since all the extras have been repositioned on Disc 2. The audio is a decent pseudo-2.0 Surround mix, although the original mono mix (present on the laserdiscs) should've been included on the DVD.
Still unique to the 1996 laserdisc release, however, is an isolated mono music and sound effects track, although with a scant few cues, virtually all of David Newman's score was released on the original Varese Sarabande CD. The laserdisc edition, however, also contains 3 TV spots and a film market promo trailer that for some reason were left off Disc 2. The Alternate Ending from Waters' script in PDF format has been carried over from the 2001 DVD, although the notes and stills from the 48-page booklet that accompanied the limited 2001 Heathers tin should've been included as well.
Inevitably Heathers will make its debut on Blu-Ray, so hopefully some of these pieces of collectible apocrypha will be archived for the film's definitive edition. Until then, this High School Reunion Edition will suffice, and remind film fans of the amazingly twisted film created by Waters (then a videostore clerk), Lehman (a recent film school grad whose popular 1985 short, “Beaver Gets a Boner” landed him an agent), and Di Novi (who, through Heathers, became a producer).
Director Lehman and writer Waters later reunited on the ill-fated Bruce Willis ego-trip, Hudson Hawk (1991), after which Lehman moved into TV (recently directing episodes of Big Love), and Waters penned a few more studio pictures (Batman Returns in 1992 for Di Novi, and Demolition Man [M] in 1993). After a stint as a script doctor, Waters finally reappeared in 2001, writing and directing Happy Campers (also produced by Di Novi), and in 2007 with the underrated Sex and Death 101.
Di Novi reunited with Lehman on Meet the Applegates (1991), and she's produced an eclectic range of titles, including Ed Wood (1994), the nutbar Cabin Boy (1994), James and the Giant Peach (1996), and Message in a Bottle (1999).
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan