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This story first appeared in the April 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The Hollywood Reporter called 1989’s Heathers “a scathing send-up of high school mores and conformist behavior.” The black comedy was set in an affluent Ohio school more focused on suicide and murder than on who’s wearing what to the prom.
“Most teen films in those days were nostalgic, or fun fantasies,” director Michael Lehmann tells THR from Israel, where he’s working on FX’s Tyrant. “We tried to capture the confused, dark, ironic spirit of everyone’s real high school experience, but with a sense of humor.” In a time when teen movies were Reagan-era bouncy, the film had a hard time getting made. “Everyone knew it was one of the greatest scripts ever,” says producer Denise Di Novi. “But it was a scary movie for anyone to make — a comedy about teenage suicide. It was genre-busting. I don’t think it would be made now.”
The New World Pictures release starred Winona Ryder, then 18 and coming off Beetlejuice, as the girl trying to break free of her cruel clique (Jennifer Connelly had auditioned for the role). Soon-to-be Beverly Hills, 90210 star Shannen Doherty, also 18, played one of the clique’s titular Heathers, and Christian Slater, then 20, overtly imitated Jack Nicholson as the .37 magnum-packing bad boy who befriends Ryder. Slater had been dating co-star Kim Walker (the lead Heather), whose famous line “Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?” became a sad part of the Heathers legend when she died at 32 in 2001 from a cerebral malignancy.
The $3 million production grossed just $1.1 million domestically but did great on DVD. A stage adaptation, Heathers: The Musical, opened March 31 off-Broadway, which is good news to screenwriter Daniel Waters. “I always felt like the host of the Heathers party where everyone else is having a wonderful time, but I’m making sure we don’t run out of ice,” he says. “With the musical, I can be a guest and enjoy myself.”
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