“My teen angst has a body count” – Winona Ryder – Heathers
The 1980s is known as one of the most celebrated decades in all of cinema, when Hollywood truly lived up to its fantastical ethos, suffusing wild imagination into everything from coming of age comedies to action-adventure flicks. The Terminator, A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Breakfast Club emerged among countless other classics, spinning their release with mass merchandise that would hypnotise a whole generation of moviegoers.
In part defined by the whimsical, innocent coming of age comedies of John Hughes, including the likes of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink, the landscape of ‘80s cinema was an optimistic one that favoured fantasy over reality.
For Michael Lehmann, the director of the dark, coming of age comedy, Heathers, this wasn’t a period of much enjoyment, however, with the filmmaker noting that the release of Star Wars in 1977 was “a betrayal of everything people had been working toward in American cinema”. Written by Daniel Waters, a 26-year-old video store employee, Heathers was written in protest to the convention of contemporary cinema. As Waters recalled to Forbes, “I’d seen all these John Hughes movies, and I’d seen all these after-school specials, and I loved movies about teenagers, but I thought ‘What’s missing, what haven’t I seen?’”.
The result was Heathers, an anti-80s, ’80s movie that would quickly become a cult success due to the rising popularity of stars Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. Injected with a dark streak of satire, its story sees Ryder’s Veronica and Slater’s J.D. execute several of their high school’s most popular students in an act of protest and revenge against the cliquey school system. As Lisanne Falk, who plays Heather McNamara in the film told Forbes, “The script was about all the issues that we were talking about at the time, like teen suicide and drunk driving and any of the various one-line moral tales”.
In search of something new, fresh and invigorating for the coming of age genre, writer Daniel Waters looked toward one of his own favourite directors, the great Stanley Kubrick. “Kubrick did a war film, he did a science-fiction film, he did a horror film. What if Kubrick did a teen film?” Waters recalled in discussion with the magazine, adding, “So out of complete, robust, pretentious naiveté, I thought, ‘I’m going to write a Stanley Kubrick teen film’”.
Once the screenplay was complete Waters requested Stanley Kubrick to direct the film, spending a considerable amount of time sending the film through to the director of 2001: A Space Odyssey, unfortunately without success. Kubrick’s mark can certainly be felt in the film, however, with one scene in the school cafeteria directly inspired by the barracks scene in Full Metal Jacket.
Whilst Stanley Kubrick never got round to making a coming-of-age film, we do feel as though Heathers would be exactly the kind of film he would have ended up making.