Heathers

Review by Mike Long

Heathers  (1989)
Anchor Bay Entertainment

Length:        104 mins.
Rated:          R
Format:       Letterboxed ∑ 1.85:1
Languages:English
Subtitles:    None
Extras:        Theatrical trailer
                     Featurette

"I donít patronize bunny rabbits!"
-- Veronicaís father in "Heathers"

When people began pointing fingers at movie violence following the incident in Littleton, I kept waiting for someone to mention "Heathers". After all, it contains high schools students committing suicide, shooting one another, and using high explosives. But I never heard anyone accuse "Heathers" of inciting violence. This is a good thing, because we donít want this cult-classic being pulled from the shelves. The film was recently released on DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment and it still packs a wallop today.

The title "Heathers" refers to three girls who are the most popular students at Westerburg High School. All three girls are named... well...Heather. The Heathers are very snobby and look down on all of the other students. Veronica (Winona Ryder) is the lone member of this group who isnít named Heather and that seems to have some sort of social conscience. Veronica is a study in duplicity. She enjoys being with the popular people, but hates what they stand for. Veronicaís vaccous and clueless parents offer no help. Things change when J.D. (Christian Slater) comes to Westerburg. J.D. is a pistol-packing rebel who wants to shake up the establishment and he realizes that Veronica can help him. J.D. sympathizes with Veronicaís dislike of the Heathers and devises a plan to rid Westerburg of the snobs. But once the plan is hatched, things begin to spiral out of control as more and more people die, and Veronica realizes that she must stop J.D. and set things right.

The reason that "Heathers" still works is that society hasnít really changed. We all knew people like the Heathers in high school and to see them get their come-uppance is a blast (so to speak). The character of Veronica is very well-written and easy for the audience to relate to. The biting sarcasm of the script by Daniel Waters is even funnier today than it was ten years ago. In the DVDs liner notes, Waters reveals that he thought the film would never get made, and there are some scenes that retain their shock value. The razor-sharp dialogue between the teenagers and the ignorant views of the adults are hysterical and keep the film humming along.

"Heathers" marked the directorial debut of Michael Lehmann and remains his best work to date. While the film is well shot and Lehmann demonstrates a knack for comedic timing, there is more at work here. Thanks to the clarity of the DVD presentation (more on that in a moment) the color scheme in the film becomes much more prominent. Each of the Heathers wears a specific color; red, yellow, and green, while Veronica wears blue. The colors donít always jump out and can be very subtle, but they also have their color somewhere on their person. For example, at red Heatherís funeral, yellow Heather is dressed all in black, and one can just barely make out her yellow earrings. I donít know if I wouldíve noticed that on VHS. Also, one can read into the color scheme. Red equals power, as red Heather is the leader until she dies and then green Heather takes the reins and begins to wear red. Until that time, green Heather had been envious of the power red Heather had. Yellow Heather appears to be afraid of standing up to red Heather and facing the world as an individual. Veronicaís blue represents her melancholy state. Of course, this is all just my opinion.

The acting in "Heathers" shows some of todayís most familiar faces when they were much younger. The usually whiny Winona is very good as Veronica, emoting the pain and anguish that Veronica feels towards the Heathers and J.D. and the frustration over the impotency of her parents. Slater perfected his Jack Nicholson impression on this film, but does bring across the feeling of controlled lunacy that the role calls for. Shannon Doherty seems to be rehearsing for the role of "mega-bitch" that the press would slap on her years later as green Heather.

The Anchor Bay DVD is light years ahead of the VHS version of "Heathers" that has been around for years. The film is presented in the letterbox format of 1.85:1 and the framing appears to be very accurate. The picture is very clear and there is no grain or artifacting. However, the source print appears to be slightly dark, as some of the tones are muted. As mentioned above, the color palette on the film is carefully picked and the color correction is balanced throughout the film, allowing for the costumes to be viewed clearly.

While the picture looks great, the sound is a disappointing Dolby Stereo, which is a 3-channel mix. There is no surround sound, and little bass. The majority of the sound comes from the center channel. Also, the running time of 119 minutes that is listed on the box is incorrect. It is actually 104 minutes.

The DVD contains two bonus features. There is a full-frame theatrical trailer, which is a hoot, but doesnít prepare the viewer for the lengths that the film will go. There is also a featurette that contains a few minutes of interviews with Ryder and Slater, but consists mainly of full-frame scenes from the film.Anchor Bay is quickly building a reputation as THE company to resurrect films that have been denied a proper home video presentation and "Heathers" is no exception. The film hasnít lost any of its edge and this new transfer looks great. Incidentally, there are rumors that Lehmann, Waters, and Ryder are reteaming for "Heathers 2". Could it be an assault on Yuppy society? I canít wait.

    

June 6, 1999

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