Heathers is a 1989 black comedy film starring Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, and Shannen Doherty. The film portrays four girls in a trend-setting clique at a suburban Midwestern high school. The girls—three of whom are named "Heather"—rule the school through intimidation, contempt, and sex appeal.
Heathers brought director Michael Lehmann and producer Denise Di Novi the 1990 Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature. Daniel Waters also gained recognition for his screenplay, which won a 1990 Edgar Award. The film was a U.S. box office failure, but has since become a cult classic, as is shown by its high sales and rentals on DVD and VHS. In 2006, it was ranked #5 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best High School Movies.
Veronica was not always in the Heathers clique. She used to be good friends with nerdy student Betty Finn (Estevez). Veronica finds "friendship" with the Heathers both attractive and repulsive since it is mostly based on vanity, peer pressure, and a desire to dominate instead of being dominated. She even says that they are not really her friends, just people she hangs out with because being popular is her "job". When a new student, a rebellious boy named Jason Dean (Slater), or J.D. for short (like James Dean), pulls a gun on school bullies Kurt (Fenton) and Ram (Labyorteaux) and fires blanks at them, Veronica is intrigued.
Soon Veronica and J.D. are dating. He accompanies her on an early morning visit to Heather Chandler's home. Veronica is furious with Heather Chandler's treatment of her at a fraternity party the night before. Veronica and J.D. jokingly prepare a cup full of drain cleaner to bring Heather as a morning wake-up drink. Veronica decides on milk and orange juice as a suitable form of revenge, as the combination can induce vomiting. J.D. distracts Veronica with a kiss and while they are kissing, Veronica takes the wrong glass to give to Heather. J.D. notices the mistake, but does not inform Veronica that she has taken the drain cleaner instead of the milk and orange juice combination. Heather Chandler drinks the drain cleaner and dies in front of them.
J.D. urges Veronica to protect herself from suspicion of murder by forging a suicide note in Heather Chandler's handwriting. Based on this note, the school and community look on Heather Chandler's death as a dramatic, yet somehow hip, decision made by a popular but sadly troubled teenager. Heather Duke soon steps into Heather Chandler's former role as clique leader, and begins wearing a red hair bow that had belonged to Chandler.
Several weeks later, the oafish Kurt and Ram spread a false rumor about Veronica giving oral sex to Kurt and Ram at the same time, ruining her reputation at school. J.D. suggests a plan for revenge. He proposes that Veronica lure them into the woods behind the school with the promise to "make the rumors true." Once the bullies have undressed, J.D. tells her they will shoot them with special "Ich Lüge" bullets that will knock them unconscious but not kill them. J.D. will plant "gay" materials beside the other boys, including a gay porn magazine and bottled mineral water. He will also leave a fake suicide note saying the two were lovers in a suicide pact.
The prank appears to go according to plan, with one of the boys being shot and falling to the ground. Veronica misses the other boy, who runs away. Veronica realizes that the bullets are real ("Ich lüge" means "I'm lying" in German). J.D. had intended to kill Kurt and Ram all along. J.D. manages to chase the surviving boy back towards Veronica, who panics and shoots him dead. The boys' bodies are soon discovered along with the planted evidence of their "affair". At their funeral, Kurt's father is seen wailing, "I love my dead gay son!"
Veronica realizes that she is in over her head. She feels guilty about the murders, but worse still, other students begin mimicking the perceived behavior of the popular dead kids and attempting suicide themselves. Martha Dumptruck pins a suicide note to her chest and walks into traffic. She survives but is badly injured. The other students ridicule her actions as an ill-advised attempt to act "popular".
Veronica tells J.D. that she will not participate in any more killings. He plans to kill Heather Duke next, and subtly threatens to do the same to Veronica if she does not cooperate. Veronica instead tricks J.D. by using a harness to make it look like she has hanged herself. Heartbroken, he reveals his plan to blow up the entire school during a pep rally. A petition he has been circulating—via Heather Duke—to get the fictional band Big Fun (whose anti-suicide pop song is all the rage at school) to perform on campus was actually a disguised suicide note. Most of the students had already signed, so the mass murder would appear to be a mass suicide instead.
Veronica confronts J.D. in the boiler room where he is rigging timed explosives. She attempts to kill him when he refuses to stop the bomb. As J.D. collapses, he accidentally stops the timer. Veronica walks out through the pep rally with everyone cheering, unaware of their narrowly-missed demise. The severely injured J.D. follows her outside, and then stands there and he looks at her as though saying " We could have been together..." and detonates a bomb that is strapped to his chest. The final scene of the film is of Veronica, covered in ash and bleeding slightly, walking through the school halls. She confronts Heather Duke and tells her "There's a new sheriff in town." She takes the red hair bow Heather Duke had inherited from Heather Chandler and puts it in her own hair. Veronica then walks over to Martha Dunnstock to start a friendly conversation.
Two stars of the movie died at an early age: Jeremy Applegate (Peter Dawson, whose character prays he will never commit suicide) committed suicide with a shotgun on March 23, 2000, and Kim Walker (Heather Chandler, who had the line "Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?") died of a brain tumor on March 6, 2001.
The song "Teenage Suicide (Don't Do It)" by the fictional band Big Fun was written and produced for the film by musician Don Dixon, and performed by the ad hoc group "Big Fun", which consisted of Dixon, Mitch Easter, Angie Carlson and Marti Jones. The song is included on Dixon's 1992 greatest hits album (If) I'm A Ham, Well You're A Sausage.
The film's score was composed by David Newman and a soundtrack CD was subsequently released.
In 2001, a multi-region special edition DVD was released from Anchor Bay in Dolby Digital 5.1., the DVD was released in the United States, Canada, Australia, Europe to high sales. In 2004 a limited edition DVD set was released, and only 15,000 were produced. The set contained an audio commentary with director Michael Lehmann, producer Denise Di Novi and writer Daniel Waters, a 30-minute documentary titled Swatch Dogs And Diet Cokeheads, featuring interviews with Ryder, Slater, Doherty, Falk, Lehmann, Waters, Di Novi, Director of Photography Francis Kenny and Editor Norman Hollyn. It also includes a theatrical trailer, screenplay excerpt, original ending, biographies, 10 Page full-color fold-out with photos and liner notes, a 8cm "Heathers Rules!" ruler, and a 48-page full-color "yearbook style" booklet with rare photos. On July 1, 2008, a new 20th anniversary special edition DVD set was released from Anchor Bay to coincide with the DVD of Daniel Water's new film Sex and Death 101. The DVD features a new documentary, Return to Westerberg High.
In this version, J.D. dies in the boiler room, and Veronica is shown walking through the school, though only from the back. This is interrupted by shots of the bomb counting down, showing that Veronica had not shut it off. When she reaches the front of the school, Veronica turns around, allowing the viewer to see that the bomb was strapped to her chest. It hits zero, the screen turns black, and Veronica says "Boom."
The next scene is the school prom. A banner says "WHAT A WASTE, OH THE HUMANITY" (a line said by Heather Duke after the death of Heather Chandler, and again by the cops who discover Ram and Kurt's bodies). The students begin to dance, at first sticking with those of the same or similar social cliques. But when it is time for prom pictures, people from different cliques are couples. A geek and a stoner pose together, then "hippie" teacher Pauline Fleming (Penelope Milford) and stern Principal Gowan (John Ingle). Kurt (previously killed) has his picture taken with the cow he had tipped. Mismatched couples continue to appear, and other dead characters make appearances: J.D. plays a "smoking hot" guitar solo, then rushes to the dance floor to dance with Heather Duke, Kurt, and finally Heather Chandler. The Heathers do a ring-around-the-rosey. The camera is moved up to reveal Martha Dunnstock, wailing beautifully. The viewpoint is then lifted even higher to show a smiling Veronica in a "striking pose".
Despite the change of the endings, the movie failed at the box-office when released. (The Swatch Dogs And Diet Cokeheads documentary blames the box-office failure on poor marketing due to the studio's financial problems.) However, since then it has developed into a very strong and prominent cult classic and has made a significant impact on teenage films.