‘Heathers’ 30th Anniversary DVD & Blu-ray reviewed

❉ We Are Cult’s Tanya Jones appraises the bevy of bonus features on Arrow’s 30th Anniversary Blu-Ray presentation of the cult movie.

“I can’t believe it. I just killed my best friend.”

“And your worst enemy.”

“Same difference.”

Heathers is often referred to as a cult ‘teen’ film, but I have the feeling that an awful lot of people (including myself) see it as adults, and I also think that it’s better that way. It’s a view shared on the excellent commentary for this release by the director, Michael Lehmann, producer Denise Di Novi and the writer, Daniel Waters [Waters spoke to We Are Cult in October 2017].  It’s an interesting coincidence that the 30th anniversary for this film comes at a time when teen violence and despair are rarely out of the headlines, and at a point where even fatal violence in elementary schools has become a tragic reality.

Although I’ve always liked the film, I think I can confidently say that reviewing this release has made me a fan. The new restoration of the negative gives a new vibrancy to the print, with the audio commentary being packed with detail. One amusing fact is the very clever wordplay JD uses to describe the bullets he’s using to Veronica, which I don’t think I would have picked up on, no matter how many times I watched the film. Di Novi proves how valuable a female perspective is to a film scripted and directed by men when she tells us what was cut from Waters’ script, such as the removal of ‘cunt’. I personally like using the word, but her reasoning, especially for a American teen film of that period, is sound. Everyone on the commentary clearly adores the film and have fond memories of the production.

The witty and self-deprecating Waters’ contribution is a joy, and is bolstered by the archival featurette and the Scott and Larry and Dan and Heathers interview (not mentioned in the press release) with Waters and the screenwriting team Scott Alexander and Larry Karazewski. It’d be easy to assume that Dan Waters was bullied at school, but as he points out with a lot of amusement, he was actually pretty popular, and wrote for the school paper. Heathers was his debut script, written whilst working in a video store in LA, which, he is happy to point out, is a real stereotype for movie writers. He credits his little sister as the inspiration for Veronica, and he clearly listened to her very closely, as I’ve always been impressed at the way the film captures the dynamics of female friendships, especially those between people jostling for social status. Waters himself says that many women have mentioned Heather Chandler’s frat house scene (filmed in a real frat house), as a key example of the torture that many teenage girls put themselves through for a perceived improvement in their social status.

“Did you eat a brain tumour for breakfast?”

The How Very feature focusing on the art design of Heathers gives us fascinating interviews, with art director Kara Lindstrom’s contribution being particularly valuable. Kara almost seems to pick up on Waters’ point about the Faustian pact some women make to gain status, by explaining that she based Heather Chandler on a young Nancy Reagan, something that audiences would have picked up on at the time of release, even if they didn’t immediately realise it. There’s much in here about the heavily stylised look of Heathers, such as the exquiste colour-coding of the Heathers and Veronica, and the dream-like atmosphere of the film. The pushing of satorial barriers in order to underline the unreality is indeed ‘very’. Aspects of this also appear in the older featurette Return to Westerburg High, where the locations of the high schools used are discussed, as well as alternative casting.

“God, Veronica, the afterlife is SO BORING.”

Talking of ‘very’, we get a lovely interview with Lisanne Falk in Poor Little Heather, in which she recounts what many would see as quite an unusual life, and one which threw her, unknowingly, into the path of Dan Waters’ life. He recalls being captivated by the book released about Lisanne’s work as a model when they were both teenagers, as it was displayed in his local shopping mall. They both found this amusing when she auditioned for the film almost a decade later. Lisanne talks about her bond with Winona and gives us an interesting perspective on the modelling and acting industry.

We learn more about the movie industry through Casting Westerburg High, where Julie Selzer gives us a general insight into casting as a whole and discusses the choices made for Heathers. A fun fact is that she cast her former drama teacher John Ingle as Westerburg’s principal, who had chosen to act when he retired from Beverley Hills High. Lehmann’s Terms, an interview with director Michael Lehmann, has him not only explain his particular path into Hollywood, but the importance of film schools such as USC in helping people get into the industry. Lehmann talks about the role of his USC student film The Beaver Gets a Boner, which is also included on the disc as a fascinating curio.

Pizzicato Croquet is a valuable look at David Newman’s score for Heathers, with contributions from the man himself and Michael Lehmann. Newman built upon the original idea for the score, which used electronic music, and he says that the use of synths & sequencers brought a dream-like quality to the score, complimenting the musical nature of the dialogue. In my opinion, he was right to resist the temptation to make the score more dominant, as the synths bring a valuable choral nature to the school scenes, as well as being versatile for the more menacing scenes.

“Football season is over, Veronica. Kurt & Ram had nothing to offer the school but date rapes & AIDS jokes.”

What comes as a really delightful surprise, however, is the appreciation of the film by John Ross Bowie, better known by many as Barry Kripke on The Big Bang Theory. John watched the film on first release, and builds on Di Novi’s comments about the dialogue by crediting it with influencing the likes of Aaron Sorkin, perhaps the most successful proponent of complex exchanges as everyday speech in drama. He rightly points out that Heathers isn’t so much about what high school is actually like, rather that it’s about what high school feels like, and of course, many school disputes feel so much more intense than they actually are for the teenagers involved. He’s not the only one to bring up the teenage suicide stories that obsessed the US media at the time, but it’s a useful bit of context, as the film is in part a reaction to what might be termed ‘glamourisation’ of what was a troubling issue. However, the film transcends its time, as John points out that his 10 year old daughter recently watched the film and found a lot to relate to in it, with its slang purposely made up to ensure that it didn’t date the dialogue.

“If you were happy every day of your life, you wouldn’t be a human being; you’d be a game show host.”

One interesting aspect of the film’s promotion in non-Anglophone Europe was the change of title to Lethal Attraction (the trailer is included), which Lehmann explains upset him at the time, for the understandable reason that JD and Veronica’s relationship isn’t really the point of the film. However, he does admit that New World were right in their insistence that the original title wouldn’t make sense to anywhere in Europe outside Britain, in which the film did well, especially in London. John Ross Bowie talks about the urban sensibility of the film, despite it being set in suburban Ohio, and that it’s always been popular in large cities, which arguably entertains cynicism more willingly than suburban or rural communities.

Of course, we can’t really look at Heathers in 2018 without dealing with the inevitable discussion about whether such a film is possible today. The consensus across the special features is that it’s been impossible to make since the Columbine shootings, and John Ross Bowie feel that it turned the idea of weapons in schools from fantastical to a horrific reality. I think they’re right, with the recent unscreened Heathers TV series an appalling example of how NOT to go about it. Perhaps the writer of the TV series could do with sitting down and watching this release to understand what went wrong, but I also think that the entertainment value of murderous chaos in a modern-day US setting is questionable when current events could so easily make it appear to be a documentary. I think I’d prefer to nod my head sagely at the prescience of Waters’ script from the safety of the original.

BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

❉ New restoration from a 4K scan of the original camera negative by Arrow Films
❉ High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
❉ Original 1.0 mono audio and optional 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
❉ Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
❉ Audio commentary by director Michael Lehmann, producer Denise Di Novi and writer Daniel Waters
❉ Newly filmed interview with director Michael Lehmann
❉ A newly filmed appreciation by the writer, actor and comedian John Ross Bowie (The Big Bang Theory)
❉ Pizzicato Croquet, composer David Newman and director Michael Lehmann discuss the music of Heathers
❉ How Very: The Art and Design of Heathers, production designer Jon Hutman, art director Kara Lindstrom and director Michael Lehmann discuss the look of Heathers
❉ Casting Westerberg High, casting director Julie Selzer discusses the casting process for Heathers
❉ Poor Little Heather, a new interview with actress Lisanne Falk
❉ Swatch Dogs and Diet Coke Heads, an archival featurette with extensive cast and crew interviews providing an in-depth look at the making of Heathers
❉ Return to Westerberg High, an archival featurette providing further insight into the film’s production
❉ Original trailers
❉ Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Robert Sammelin
❉ First pressing only: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Bidisha, Anna Bogutskaya and an archival interview with cinematographer Francis Kenny

DVD SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

❉ New restoration from a 4K scan of the original camera negative by Arrow Films
❉ Standard Definition presentation
❉ Original 1.0 mono and optional 5.1 Surround Sound audio
❉ Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
❉ Audio commentary by director Michael Lehmann, producer Denise Di Novi and writer Daniel Waters
❉ Newly filmed interview with director Michael Lehmann
❉ A newly filmed appreciation by the writer, actor and comedian John Ross Bowie (The Big Bang Theory)
❉ Pizzicato Croquet, composer David Newman and director Michael Lehmann discuss the music of Heathers
❉ How Very: The Art and Design of Heathers, production designer Jon Hutman, art director Kara Lindstrom and director Michael Lehmann discuss the look of Heathers
❉ Casting Westerberg High, casting director Julie Selzer discusses the casting process for Heathers
❉ Poor Little Heather, a new interview with actress Lisanne Falk
❉ Swatch Dogs and Diet Coke Heads, an archival featurette with extensive cast and crew interviews providing an in-depth look at the making of Heathers
❉ Return to Westerberg High, an archival featurette providing further insight into the film’s production
❉ Original trailers
❉ Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Robert Sammelin


❉ ‘Heathers’ 30th Anniversary 4K Restoration is on DVD and Blu-ray from 10th September. DVD RRP: £15.99/BD RRP: £19.99. Region: 2/B. Rating: 15. Duration: 103 mins.

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