Heathers (1989)

R | 102 mins | Black comedy | 31 March 1989

Director:

Michael Lehmann

Writer:

Daniel Waters

Producer:

Denise Di Novi

Cinematographer:

Francis Kenny

Production Designer:

Jon Hutman

Production Company:

Heathers Company
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HISTORY

End credits include the following: “We want to express our appreciation to: Holland Sutton; Cheri Pann; Showroom 504; Heap O Fleurs; Jean Wahlstrom; Leonora Hewson; The Sharper Image; Sister Virginia and Sister Catherine; Steve White, Randy Levinson, Lora Lee,” and, “With special thanks to: R. J. C. Butler, I. C. Clarke, M. G. J. Chesterman of Arbuthnot Leasing International, Ltd.”
       As noted in a 20 Apr 1989 Rolling Stone article, writer Daniel Waters began his first screenplay, Heathers, sometime after his 1985 move to Los Angeles, CA. At the time, he was a twenty-three-year-old video store clerk with ambitions to write a blockbuster teen film. According to the 23 Mar 1989 LAT, Waters based the script on the high school experiences of his sister and her friends, as well as a chapter about the cultivation of female identity in Simone de Beauvoir’s 1949 book, The Second Sex. He also told LAT that he had grown tired of Hollywood’s romanticization of suicide, and that he believed most people actually harbor an “ultimate fantasy” of attending their own funeral.
       The first draft of the screenplay was 200 pages long and was considerably more morbid than the shooting script. Referring to the 1976 Martin Scorsese picture Taxi Driver (see entry), Waters reportedly wrote the lead character, “Veronica,” as “the female Travis Bickle,” who sought uncompromising vengeance against her rivals. The original Heathers screenplay ended with Veronica blowing herself up in an act of suicide, then attending her high school prom in heaven, with all of her victims in attendance.
       In 1985, ... More Less

End credits include the following: “We want to express our appreciation to: Holland Sutton; Cheri Pann; Showroom 504; Heap O Fleurs; Jean Wahlstrom; Leonora Hewson; The Sharper Image; Sister Virginia and Sister Catherine; Steve White, Randy Levinson, Lora Lee,” and, “With special thanks to: R. J. C. Butler, I. C. Clarke, M. G. J. Chesterman of Arbuthnot Leasing International, Ltd.”
       As noted in a 20 Apr 1989 Rolling Stone article, writer Daniel Waters began his first screenplay, Heathers, sometime after his 1985 move to Los Angeles, CA. At the time, he was a twenty-three-year-old video store clerk with ambitions to write a blockbuster teen film. According to the 23 Mar 1989 LAT, Waters based the script on the high school experiences of his sister and her friends, as well as a chapter about the cultivation of female identity in Simone de Beauvoir’s 1949 book, The Second Sex. He also told LAT that he had grown tired of Hollywood’s romanticization of suicide, and that he believed most people actually harbor an “ultimate fantasy” of attending their own funeral.
       The first draft of the screenplay was 200 pages long and was considerably more morbid than the shooting script. Referring to the 1976 Martin Scorsese picture Taxi Driver (see entry), Waters reportedly wrote the lead character, “Veronica,” as “the female Travis Bickle,” who sought uncompromising vengeance against her rivals. The original Heathers screenplay ended with Veronica blowing herself up in an act of suicide, then attending her high school prom in heaven, with all of her victims in attendance.
       In 1985, director Michael Lehmann graduated from the University of Southern California (USC) film school and was given Waters’s 200-page script by mutual friends, according to Rolling Stone. Lehmann was attracted to the project, but was fairly convinced it would be impossible to produce. However, he had recently established himself as a Hollywood maverick with the production of his USC thesis film, Beaver Gets a Boner. The picture illustrated Lehmann’s desire to subvert conventional filmmaking. In Lehmann’s controversial student film, the unsympathetic protagonist uses his scholarship money to offset his debts to a drug dealer.
       With the support of Lehmann and producer Denise Di Novi, Waters streamlined and “softened” the script, and his agent presented it to major Hollywood studios. According to Di Novi, the screenplay was in demand for approximately six months, but it was deemed too contentious to produce. Shifting focus to independent studios, Di Novi landed a $3 million deal with New World Pictures, and Lehmann was formally hired to direct his first theatrically released feature film. Rolling Stone stated that Waters continued to pare down the script throughout production, and the final film represented just one-half of the original screenplay.
       According to 14 Sep 1988 DV production charts, principal photography began in Jul 1988.
       Advance screenings of the picture, as well as its late Jan 1989 premiere at the U.S. Film Festival, provoked tremendous controversy, as noted in the 23 Mar 1989 LAT and the 20 Apr 1989 Rolling Stone, with critics arguing that the narrative might encourage youths to commit suicide. Research studies at the time demonstrated a connection between the depiction of suicide in mass media and an upswing in teenage suicide. However, psychologists generally defended Heathers, maintaining that its story helped teens understand that cruelty is omnipresent among adolescents, and self-indulgent, violent behavior is unacceptable. According to LAT, New World Picture’s theatrical president, Stephen White, researched teen suicide and consulted with psychologists before agreeing to produce the film.
       Although reviews were generally positive, critics were notably dissatisfied by Waters’s revised ending, with the 31 Mar 1989 LAT complaining that Lehmann did not maintain the “courage of his cynicism” and concluded that the film was “a cloying ‘After School Special.’”
       On 25 Oct 1989, Var announced that New World Pictures, International, was releasing the picture abroad under the title Lethal Attraction, alluding to the 1987 hit Fatal Attraction (see entry). The film was particularly well received in Singapore.
       A 12 Mar 2009 HR article reported that a theatrical musical production of Heathers was in development with director Andy Fickman and his partner Kevin Murphy, and Denise Di Novi returning to the Heathers franchise as executive producer. The show opened Off-Broadway on 31 Mar 2014. In addition, a 27 Aug 2009 DV article stated that a “contemporary” television version of Heathers was under development at Fox, written by Mark Rizzo and executive produced by Jenny Bicks. The project was to be financed by Sony Pictures T.V. and Lakeshore Entertainment.
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BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
14 Sep 1988.
---
Daily Variety
27 Aug 2009
p. 1, 7.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jan 1989
p. 4, 22.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Mar 2009
p. 1, 13.
Los Angeles Times
23 Mar 1989
Calendar, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
31 Mar 1989
p. 1.
New York Times
31 Mar 1989
p. 8.
Rolling Stone
20 Apr 1989
p. 38.
Variety
25 Jan 1989
p. 15.
Variety
25 Oct 1989.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
New World Pictures presents
in association with Cinemarque Entertainment (USA) Ltd.
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
Addl 2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
1st asst ed
2d asst ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Leadman
Dresser
Dresser
Dresser
Dresser
Const coord
Carpenter
Prop master
Asst propmaster
Asst propmaster
COSTUMES
Cost des
Costumer
Set supv
Ward asst
MUSIC
Mus ed
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom op
Supv sd ed
ADR ed
Dial ed
Dial ed
Sd eff ed
Foley ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
ADR group coord
ADR mixer
Foley artist
Foley artist
Foley rec by
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Foley by
ADR rec at
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Titles and opt eff by
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairdresser
Make-up/Hair asst
Spec make-up
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting
Asst loc mgr
Scr supv
Prod coord
Asst prod coord
Prod accountant
Asst prod accountant
Post prod supv
Transportation coord
Driver co-capt
Driver
Driver
Driver
Security
Studio teacher
Casting assoc
Extras casting
Extras coord
First aid
Craft service
Asst to the prod
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod transfers & facilities by
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunt coord
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer
Col by
SOURCES
SONGS
"Que Sera, Sera," written by Jay Livingston & Ray Evans, published by Jay Livingston Music -- St. Angelo Music, performed by Syd Straw, arranged by Van Dyke Parks and performed by Sly and the Family Stone, courtesy of CBS Records
"Teenage Suicide Don't Do It," performed by Big Fun, produced and written by Don Dixon, published by Lava Head Music/La Rana Music, courtesy of Enigma Records
"You're The Only One For Me," written and performed by Stewart Levin.
DETAILS
Release Date:
31 March 1989
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 31 March 1989
Production Date:
began July 1988
Copyright Claimant:
New World Entertainment, Ltd.
Copyright Date:
2 May 1989
Copyright Number:
PA412039
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Prints
Technicolor®
Duration(in mins):
102
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
29338
SYNOPSIS

In Sherwood, Ohio, three debutantes, all named Heather, represent the most popular clique at Westerburg High School. A fourth member of the circle, Veronica Sawyer, is wary of the Heathers’ misdeeds, but she follows along to preserve her social status. In the cafeteria, the girls’ leader, Heather “Number One” Chandler, orders Veronica to write a love note to an obese schoolmate named Martha “Dumptruck” Dunnstock, copying the handwriting of football player Kurt Kelly. Reading the note, Martha heads to Kurt’s table, but is shamed by the laughter of her classmates. Veronica is not entertained by her friends’ cruelty, and sees a handsome new student named Jason “J. D.” Dean roll his eyes. Sensing their mutual distaste, Veronica introduces herself, but Kurt Kelly and his sidekick, Ram, are threatened by Veronica’s action, and bully their new classmate. In response, J. D. draws a gun and shoots the boys with blank bullets. That evening, Veronica runs into J. D. at a convenience store and learns that he has attended many schools. As they part ways, Veronica grudgingly accompanies Heather Number One to a Remington University party, but becomes enraged by her friend’s narcissism, and accidentally vomits on Heather’s shoes. When Heather vows to ruin her reputation, Veronica returns home to write in her journal and pledges to end the girl’s tyranny. Just then, J. D. unexpectedly appears at her bedroom window and they make love outside. The next morning, the young lovers sneak into Heather “Number One’s” house and search for a liquid concoction that will induce vomiting. While Veronica mixes milk and orange juice, J. D. fills ... +


In Sherwood, Ohio, three debutantes, all named Heather, represent the most popular clique at Westerburg High School. A fourth member of the circle, Veronica Sawyer, is wary of the Heathers’ misdeeds, but she follows along to preserve her social status. In the cafeteria, the girls’ leader, Heather “Number One” Chandler, orders Veronica to write a love note to an obese schoolmate named Martha “Dumptruck” Dunnstock, copying the handwriting of football player Kurt Kelly. Reading the note, Martha heads to Kurt’s table, but is shamed by the laughter of her classmates. Veronica is not entertained by her friends’ cruelty, and sees a handsome new student named Jason “J. D.” Dean roll his eyes. Sensing their mutual distaste, Veronica introduces herself, but Kurt Kelly and his sidekick, Ram, are threatened by Veronica’s action, and bully their new classmate. In response, J. D. draws a gun and shoots the boys with blank bullets. That evening, Veronica runs into J. D. at a convenience store and learns that he has attended many schools. As they part ways, Veronica grudgingly accompanies Heather Number One to a Remington University party, but becomes enraged by her friend’s narcissism, and accidentally vomits on Heather’s shoes. When Heather vows to ruin her reputation, Veronica returns home to write in her journal and pledges to end the girl’s tyranny. Just then, J. D. unexpectedly appears at her bedroom window and they make love outside. The next morning, the young lovers sneak into Heather “Number One’s” house and search for a liquid concoction that will induce vomiting. While Veronica mixes milk and orange juice, J. D. fills a mug with toxic “Hull Clean,” then distracts her with a kiss so she will mistakenly grab the wrong cup. When the couple awakens Heather, she righteously complies when J. D. dares her to drink the “hangover” antidote then falls over, dead. Concerned about the repercussions, J. D. notices Heather’s CliffsNotes copy of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and suggests they compose a confessional note in Heather’s handwriting, making the incident appear to be a suicide. The night of Heather Number One’s funeral, Veronica warily goes on a double date with Heather McNamara and the two football lettermen, Kurt and Ram. As Heather and Ram awkwardly make love in a cow pasture, Kurt chases Veronica but falls over, drunk. Suddenly, J. D. appears and disparages their school. The next day, Kurt initiates a rumor that Veronica performed oral sex on him and Ram. With J. D.’s encouragement, Veronica telephones Kurt, asking him to meet her at dawn with Ram, so she can act out their sexual fantasy. The couple plans to frighten the boys with J. D.’s guns, but Veronica is startled to discover J. D. loading real bullets. However, he assures her they are harmless tranquilizers and plans to make the shooting look like a double suicide. Copying Kurt’s handwriting yet again, Veronica writes a confessional, declaring that the boys were ashamed of their homosexual affair. The next morning, the lettermen meet Veronica and she orders them to undress. Just then, J. D. shoots Ram and chases Kurt through the woods until Veronica fires a bullet into his chest. Soon after, two police officers arrive at the scene, but Veronica and J. D. get away by pretending to be lovers making out in a car. Back at school, Veronica is outraged by J. D.’s sadism, but later acknowledges in her journal that the sham “suicides” ultimately transformed the victims into sensitive and heroic martyrs. Later, J. D. reveals that his mother committed suicide, and when he fires his gun at a radio playing the song “Teenage Suicide Don’t Do It,” Veronica ends their romance. In an effort to regain Veronica’s affection, J. D. blackmails Heather Duke with photographs of herself and her former best friend, the unpopular, obese Martha “Dumptruck” Dunnstock. He encourages Heather Duke to become the new Heather “Number One” with the hope of provoking Veronica’s murderous rage. He later burns the photographs and asks Heather to promote a petition endorsing the prom band, Big Fun, with their hit, “Teenage Suicide Don’t Do It.” Meanwhile, Veronica renews her friendship with nerdy Betty Finn and complains to her parents about the media’s exploitation of the “suicides.” Just then, Heather Duke arrives to announce that Martha “Dumptruck” attempted suicide, and Veronica slaps her face. However, the two girls reconcile and laze in Veronica’s bedroom, listening to a confessional radio show. When Heather McNamara anonymously phones in to admit guilty feelings about her boyfriend’s suicide, Heather “new Number One” Duke vows to make her fellow Heather the laughing stock of Westerburg High. The next day, the grieving Heather McNamara runs to the bathroom during class, and Veronica follows to prevent the girl from overdosing on pills. After school, Veronica discovers that J. D. told her parents she was suicidal, and they apprehensively hand her a letter from him. Composed in her own writing style, the note reads, “Recognize the handwriting?” Veronica is terrified by J. D.’s suggestion that he could kill her, too, using the “suicide” alibi. That evening, Veronica awakens from a nightmare in which J. D. murders the new Heather Number One and she vows to end his killing spree. Later, J. D. breaks into Veronica’s bedroom and finds her hanging from the rafters in an apparent suicide. Admitting his intention to kill her, J. D. declares his love and confesses that the Big Fun petition, unwittingly backed by Heather and signed by the entire student body, was really a declaration of mass suicide. J. D. reads aloud, stating that the undersigned have agreed to blow themselves up at Westerburg High to protest the exploitation of teen angst. The next day, J. D. arrives at school with a bag full of explosives and sets them up in the gymnasium, knowing the students will soon convene there for pep rally. Meanwhile, after feigning suicide, Veronica returns to school and finds J. D. in the boiler room beneath the gymnasium. When she holds her former lover at gunpoint, he knocks her unconscious, but she comes to with just over two minutes remaining on J. D.’s time bomb. He kisses her, but she knees him in the groin, regains possession of the gun, and shoots him in the hand. She orders J. D. to reveal a method of disabling the bomb, but he complains of being unloved, and argues that the only place for social equality is in heaven. With four seconds remaining on the time bomb, Veronica shoots J. D. as he shoves a knife into the bomb, disabling it. Assuming her lover is dead, Veronica stumbles outside, but J. D. follows and reveals a ticking time bomb beneath his trench coat. Meanwhile, students at the pep rally are oblivious until they hear an explosion outside. With J. D. now dead, Veronica returns inside to declare her successful overthrow of Heather Duke’s reign. Taking on the role of social trendsetter, Veronica suggests that she and Martha “Dumptruck” ditch the prom together. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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