New World Pictures
When Heathers hit movie theaters in 1988 there wasn't even a phrase yet to describe the A-list alpha clique that Winona Ryder's character found herself a part of. Rosalind Wiseman's book Queen Bees and Wannabes was still 14 years away from being released, and Tina Fey's Mean Girls, based in part on said book, was an even more distant entity.
With an off-Broadway musical version of the dark teenage comedy just debuting, and Mean Girls streaming on Netflix for its 10 year anniversary, it's time to throw some love at the original that spawned it all.
Heathers was not a hit movie. The film had a modest $3 million budget and still didn’t make it all back, earning a little over a million dollars at the box office (for comparison, Mean Girls made $129 million, though inflation is responsible for part of that discrepancy). Even in the days when the subject matter of high school murders was less "taboo," it wasn't an easy concept to market.
It took word-of-mouth at the local video store — remember when that was a thing? — to start the movie on its way to a cult following. While almost no one saw the movie in the theaters, by the early '90s, seemingly everyone under the age of 30 had seen it either on video or cable.
Heathers shined a light on a different kind of high school clique: one where the girls had little to no regard for other people's feelings and seem to be on a track that will either lead to them marrying rich or running a fortune 500 company, or both. Boys were just kept arond as playthings. Lesser students were to be used and abused. Heathers showed us a side of high school that other movies hadn't... but that we all had seen in the flesh growing up. That's why the film was so effective: we knew, and understood, so much of it.
When Ryder's Veronica wanted to be like the Heathers (Kim Walker, Lisanne Falk, and Shannen Doherty), we understood. And we understood why she hated herself for wanting to be like them, too. And when the lead Heather vowed to ruin Veronica for not putting out at a frat party, we understood why she wanted to hit back… hard.
Of course, what makes Heathers different from other teen revenge flicks is the way in which she gets back at her rivals. Hooking up with Christian Slater's psychotic J.D., suddenly Veronica is staging murder-suicides and starts a trend that has local counselors working overtime. Veronica figures out that she has power and then soon has to come to terms with the ramifications and responsibility. It's a coming-of-age teen revenge fantasy played out to the Nth degree.
Heathers ended up giving us language to start the dialogue about how teenage girls interact. It quickly became apparent that many wanted to be a Heather but felt like a Veronica — or one of the cast-aside "others" — and a few too many saw the Heathers as role models. Its influence can be seen in everything from Clueless to Jawbreaker to Jennifer's Body.
So, before you stream Rachel McAdams and Lindsay Lohan fighting for supremacy in Mean Girls, go back to the original and rewatch Heathers. All these years later, it will still blow you away, especially its explosive conclusion.
When I saw the headline in The Hollywood Reporter that Bravo was going to remake '80s cult classic movie Heathers, I involuntarily made the same choking, wretching, gasping sound that Heather Chandler made when Veronica gave her a Drain-O Smoothie. Why does Hollywood have to mess with everything that is sacred and amazing? And why do they keep calling it "original" programming when everything is based on an old movie, a canceled show, a long-forgotten novel, or a repurposed reality program? That doesn't sound very original.
But, yes, this Heathers remake is going to happen. Andy Cohen and his tree full of magical cookie-baking elves over there at Bravo are trying to get into the scripted TV business and have greenlit (greenlighted?) this show by The Big C and Sex and the City scribe Jenny Bicks. It also has four other dramedies in the works. That's a lot of cookies in that there tree! As for Heathers, it takes place 20 years after Christian Slater tried to blow up the school and Veronica returns to Sherwood with a daughter of her own. Now Veronica's daughter has to deal with The Ashleys, a power clique in their own right who are the daughters of the Heathers who didn't die at Veronica's hand.
I'm sorry, but I am naturally skeptical, especially when TV execs are messing around with one of the beloved gems from my formative years. (And also, how are they going to have so many fake suicides for seasons of this show?) I'm also skeptical because this sounds pretty much like every other ABC Family show that is already on the air. It's not that there's anything necessarily wrong with ABC Family, it's just that the Real Housewives and Top Chef fans out there, like myself, don't necessarily want to watch ABC Family.
Here are some things that Bravo can do to keep their brand identity and create a show that I'll actually want to watch:
Creative Casting: OK, Winona Ryder has to be in this. What else is she doing? It's not like she's turning down scrips left and right or anything. She doesn't even have a reality show. (OH! A reality TV tie in just like a real life Comeback. Yes, please.) The only way that Veronica will be the same Veronica is if we get the same Veronica. Also, I think Bravo owes it to Real Housewife of Beverly Hills and former Disney star Kim Richards to cast her as one of the old Heathers. Sure, she's a little dodgy these days and definitely seen better days like back in the '80s when she was gorgeous and popular. If that doesn't sound like an arc for TV, then what is?
Add a Gay: I know a boy named Ashley. A mean gay boy named Ashley, nonetheless. It wouldn't be Bravo without at least one homosexual.
Catfights Galore: In the movie there was some shade throwing and a few murders, but there weren't really any good fights. A war of words is what defines the different episodes of each Real Housewives franchise. Without them, we'd be lost. Think more Dynasty.
The Wardrobe Department: These girls better be wearing some clothes! Sherwood is out in the middle of the suburbs, but these girls have Net-A-Porter, they can order some cutting-edge fashion. They better be dressed better than the girls who gossip, or I am going to be seriously pissed.
Sex Appeal: There is going to have to be a hot, shirtless guy in every episode. Maybe Veronica has a gorgeous nudist neighbor who is always popping by to give sage advice and flex his muscles. Maybe there is a comely gym teacher who doesn't like to wear a tank top. Who knows, make it happen.
Forget It: Sure, there is nothing new under the sun, but do we really have to mess with Heathers, something that was already perfect? Why not just make up a new high school drama? Maybe Bravo should just can the Heathers name and go with something else. Maybe that's just best.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
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