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Film / Heathers

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"Dear Diary, my teen-angst bullshit has a body count."
Veronica Sawyer

Heathers is a 1988 satirical High School movie written by Daniel Waters, directed by Michael Lehmann, and starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater.

The film is an extremely dark deconstruction of the then-massively-popular wave of '80s teen movies. Veronica Sawyer (Ryder) is an unhappy member of the most popular and powerful clique at Westerberg High, the "Heathers", so-called because the other three members all share the same first name. Then, mysterious new guy named Jason "J.D." Dean (Slater) enters Veronica's life. After Alpha Bitch Heather Chandler kicks Veronica out of the group, she and J.D. accidentally poison her with drain cleaner and have to make it look like suicide. Pretty soon, the bodies start piling up as Veronica realizes that J.D. is a psychopath with ambitions tied into his nihilistic views of human behavior.

At once one of the most cynical and hilarious films of the era, Heathers was a box-office flop when first released but subsequently became a Cult Classic, albeit largely for reasons completely different from what the writer intended. While Waters conceived of the film largely as a biting satire of the sensationalization of teen suicide, many fans opted instead to focus on how J.D. and Veronica "heroically" killed off their school's bullies.

The history of the film's release added to its cult status: the studio that produced Heathers went out of business within weeks of its release, ensuring that it only had a brief run in theaters. However, critics loved the film and it would become popular with its home video release (and countless airings on cable, granted in Bowdlerised form). That said, the film's influence can be seen in later Black Comedy high school movies, like 1999's Jawbreaker and 2004's Mean Girls, the latter being considered to be its PG-13 Spiritual Successor.

The film was later adapted into a 2010 stage musical with a limited run. The musical has been revived as an Off-Broadway production for the spring of 2014, and later as a very successful 2018 run in London's West End. An anthology series based on the film was set to premiere in 2018 on Paramount Network, but was dropped in light of two school shootings that occurred in March and May of that year, and released in an edited version in October. The reboot was panned by critics and fans alike and is generally considered a good reason to not make a modern reboot of every cult classic out there.

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  • Abusive Parents: J.D.'s father Bud Dean is strongly implied to be a sociopath who doesn't care about his son. He also drove his wife to commit suicide in front of her son.
  • Acquired Situational Narcissism: Somewhat averted, where Veronica has, pre-movie, ditched her old friend Betty Finn to get in with the Heathers and participates in their mean girl hijinks, but a) is extremely self-aware and self-loathing about it all and b) still speaks to Betty in the cafeteria and once invites her over for a game of croquet—the film deals with the social aftermath of such a shift rather than making the moralization of it the Aesoppy point.
  • Action Survivor: Veronica.
  • Adults Are Useless: The parents are shown to be self-absorbed and oblivious to their children's problems until they are dead, and the teachers are cynical towards their handling of the dead kids (for instance, the Hippie Teacher who wants to exploit the deaths for group bonding rituals).
    • Not to mention, there is any number of forensic tests that should have proven these victims were murdered rather than committing suicide. The only police we see, though, are more interested in the two teenagers making out in their car than in the dead teens in the woods.
  • All Are Equal in Death: Part of the really dark alternate ending that was changed after Executive Meddling. After Veronica prevents J.D. from blowing up everyone in the school, she ignites the bombs herself. All the kids, no matter their clique, appearance, or background, are then shown interacting peacefully in heaven. The trope is lampshaded in the film.
    J.D.: Let's face it, all right! The only place different social types can genuinely get along with each other is in heaven.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Subverted and played with. Heather Chandler says to Veronica "No one at Westerberg's gonna play your reindeer games." Most of the goings-on, including Veronica's heroic save, happen without the rest of the school knowing who's behind it.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Deconstructed. In this case, the bad boy is a complete psycho, murdering three of the popular kids, and trying to force a clearly resisting Veronica to kiss him, and intending to blow up the entire school and pass it off as a group suicide. The girl who wants the bad boy soon realizes the mess she's got herself into and realizes how much better her life would have been without him.
  • Alpha Bitch: Heather Chandler (and later Heather Duke). Played a bit non-standardly, because the protagonist isn't her unpopular rival but a member of her Girl Posse, albeit an increasingly uncomfortable one.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Both Heather Chandler and Martha wear "Camp Tawonga" sweaters at some point. Tawonga is a summer camp in northern California catering to Jewish-American families. And yet Chandler has a very Christian, evangelical funeral.
  • Antagonist in Mourning: J.D. when Veronica fakes her suicide.
  • Antagonist Title: Heather is the first name of the trio of girls (Chandler, Duke, and McNamara) which Veronica is trying to get back at.
  • Armored Closet Gay: Invoked — the football players' fake suicide note makes them out to be lovers.
    I love my dead gay son!
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    Veronica: You'll be wanted by the FBI, the CIA, the PTA...
  • Artistic License – Law:
    • J.D is not punished at all for firing a gun at people since he just shot blanks. In reality, pointing a gun at someone at all without just cause (even if you don't shoot anything at them) is considered assault with a deadly weapon, and considering it's very possible for even blanks to kill someone if they're unlucky, could even be considered attempted murder.
    • The police would never share someone's suicide note with the school faculty. Even if they did, the teacher sharing said note with class would be a crime as well as a whooping violation of ethics that would get said teacher fired.
  • Asshole Victim: Deconstructed. Heather Chandler, Kurt, and Ram are all horrible people but the film makes a point that no matter how awful they were, killing them wasn't the answer. In fact, they all become more popular in death due to the lies Veronica and J.D. plant on them that paint them as jerks on the outside but with tragic private lives. Similarly, after their deaths, they are shown to have families who deeply cared for them.
  • Ashface: Veronica is pretty banged up all over, but when J.D. blows himself up her whole outfit is charred.
  • Auto Erotica: As a cover after they shoot Ram and Kurt in the woods, J.D. and Veronica take off their tops and make out in the back of the car. The next scene after they drive away opens with J.D.'s shirt open and Veronica lying down with her head in his lap, implying something else may have happened, though nothing's stated outright.
  • As You Know: Heather Chandler does this to explain that a) Veronica left behind her best friend to join the group and b) to anyone who didn't figure it out, Heather C is the leader of the group. "You wanted to be a part of the most powerful clique in school. Hell, if I weren't already the head of it, I'd want the same thing."
  • Axes at School: J.D. brings a revolver (loaded with blanks) to school and "shoots" two kids in the cafeteria. It gets Played for Laughs.
  • Backstabbing the Alpha Bitch: Heather Duke: After Heather Chandler's death, Heather Duke quickly becomes the new queen bee. Of course, Heather Duke morphs into this role herself rather quickly. Toward the end of the film, Veronica begins to realize that if they kill Heather Duke, someone else will come to take her place; possibly Veronica herself.
  • Badass Longcoat: Used before it even became that popular... and also before the shooters in Columbine dressed the same way.
  • Beta Bitch: Heather Duke and Veronica share that role while Heather Chandler is alive, though both resent it - Duke the 'beta' part (and happily moves onto the alpha position when Chandler dies), Veronica the whole deal (but is willing to stick to it and admits that while she hates Chandler, she 'will be kissing her [Chandler's] ass tomorrow') and only ditches it with J.D.'s influence. Although, it seems that Heather McNamara is Heather Chandler’s second-in-command, especially since she has a more positive friendship with Chandler than Duke.
  • Better to Kill Than Frighten: More like better to kill than humiliate in these cases:
    • Downplayed with Heather Chandler's death. While Veronica decides to humiliate her by using a fake hangover cure that will make her vomit, JD suggests they use drain cleaner instead, which Veronica dismisses. When Veronica takes the wrong mug to Heather by mistake, JD doesn't correct her, and in fact eggs Heather on to drink it, watching her asphyxiate to death. Downplayed, since JD didn't actively kill Heather and since Veronica thinks JD didn't know about the switch right away.
    JD: Well at least you got what y'wanted... y'know?'
    Veronica: Got what I wanted? It is one thing to want somebody out of your life, it is another thing to serve them a wake-up cup full of liquid drainer.
    • Played straight with Kurt and Ram later, when JD convinces Veronica they should humiliate them for spreading rumors about her by shooting them with the "tranquilizer bullets" JD supposedly got from his war vet grandfather, and making it look like they had a gay suicide pact that failed. It all goes according to plan... except Veronica is horrified to realize the bullets were real. JD insists on some level she wanted them dead just as much as he did, and that the chaos and fear in the wake of these deaths scares others into not being assholes. Veronica instead sees Heather, Ram, and Kurt's faked suicides have only made them look like martyrs to emulate, and that Heather Duke easily assumed Heather Chandler's place as Alpha Bitch, so nothing has really changed. She breaks up with JD for his psychopathic tendencies and spends the rest of the film trying to stop him from killing again.
    JD: Look, you believed it, because you wanted to believe it. Your true feelings were too gross and icky for you to face.
    Veronica: I did not want them dead!
  • Betty and Veronica: Played with. There are a Betty and a Veronica in this movie, but they don't fill the same roles. Subverted with Veronica's suitors. There is no "good" Betty and "bad" Veronica—each is worse than the last, with J.D. her primary interest and the others (Ram and Kurt) being setups from the Heathers. Technically, J.D. plays the role of Veronica to the non-murderous but date-raping, drunken, Jerkass Betty’s.
  • Big Bad: Jason "J.D." Dean, the bad boy killing everybody.
  • Big Fun: Poor, poor Martha Dumptruck. "Big Fun" is coincidentally also the name of the band behind the song "Teenage Suicide (Don't Do It)," which is used at several points in the film. Martha is wearing a "Big Fun" tee-shirt when she attempts suicide, and J.D. blackmails Heather Duke into helping him circulate a petition around the high school to have Big Fun perform at the Prom, which is actually a disguised "suicide" note from the student body he plans to have found after he blows up the school.
  • Big Red Button: Three of them.
  • Bilingual Bonus: J.D. tells Veronica that the bullets they intend to shoot Kurt and Ram with are German "ich lüge" bullets, which are supposedly non-fatal, so that she will go along with the shooting. "Ich lüge" means "I am lying" in German.
  • Black Comedy: Black as midnight on a moonless night.
  • Black Comedy Rape: After Veronica and Heather McNamara's disastrous double date with Kurt and Ram, there's a shot of Heather pinned down by Kurt and struggling to fight him off, while Veronica just stalks off looking pissy.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: J.D. arguably isn't evil per se, he just operates on a completely different set of morals from normal people - primarily because he's terrifyingly insane.
  • Bloodless Carnage: When J.D. shoots Ram in the neck, there should be a LOT more blood.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The titular trio roughly fit this. Heather McNamara has Blonde hair, Heather Chandler has Strawberry Blonde hair, Heather Duke has Auburn hair (partially redheaded) and Veronica has Brunette hair.
  • Book Ends:
    • "Que sera, sera / Whatever will be, will be..."
    • At the start of the film, Heather and Veronica do a poll around the cafeteria that basically boils down to "If you knew the world was going to end tomorrow, what would you do?" At the end of the film, JD asks Veronica a similar question.
  • Bookworm: Duke. She's shown reading in several scenes and her bookishness is even adapted as the 'theme' of her (J.D. induced) 'suicide' in Veronica's dream.
  • Brick Joke: When conducting the first suicide note, Veronica and J.D. debate if Heather would use the word "Myriad," given she got the word wrong in a vocabulary test just the week before. Later, when the school faculty is discussing the event in the teacher's lounge, her English teacher notes how impressed she was at Heather's proper use of the word.
  • Bury Your Gays: Discussed and invoked - falsely. Everyone thinks Kurt and Ram killed themselves because they were in love and convinced that they would never be accepted. Everyone, that is, except Veronica and J.D., who forged the suicide note that led everyone to believe that the two heterosexual (as far as we know) football players were secretly gay lovers.
  • Camp: The film has several elements of camp, with quirky and bold costume choices like Veronica's monocle and the bright colors of the Heathers' outfits, stilted or stereotypical satirical acting delivery, and unusual lighting and cinematography lending the film an overall surreal tone that is both comedic and disturbing, while still allowing emotional rawness and serious commentary to take place.
  • Captain Ersatz: Christian Slater is soooo not trying to sound like Jack Nicholson throughout the whole film.
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • Veronica's talent for handwriting forgery is introduced early on with the prank on Big Martha.
    • As is J.D.'s knowledge of explosives, which he learned from his father.
  • Clique Tour:
    • New Transfer Student J.D. gets a tour of all the cliques in the cafeteria. He deliberately chooses to sit at the table for the unpopular losers, despite getting offers from the nerds and from the jocks.
    • Slightly more so during the Lunchtime Poll. There's jocks, nerds, preppies, a pair of Extracurricular Enthusiasts shilling for a food drive, stoners, and some borderline skinheads who spend lunch in the parking lot, plus some loners like Martha Dunnstock.
  • Color-Coded Characters: Most of the primary characters wear their own color of clothing which represents their dominant emotions, though this isn't noticeable at first. Heather Chandler is red for lust and power in school; Heather McNamara is yellow for her cowardliness; Heather Duke is green for her jealousy towards Heather Chandler's power and later wears red when she gains power; Veronica and J.D. both wear black to signify that they are murderers, although Veronica's ensemble is usually black set off by some other color to symbolize that she is not as far-gone as J.D., and as she breaks away from him toward the end of the movie, she shifts to dark blue, symbolizing her partial turn away from evil. Chandler's red scrunchie becomes a symbol of power, as after her death Duke claims it for herself, symbolizing her replacement of the original Heather. Veronica forcefully taking it from Duke at the end of the film shows the end of the Heathers' power.
  • Color Motif: Red is a symbol of power. Most obviously, the red scrunchie - whoever currently has it is at the top of the school's food chain. At the start of the movie, Heather Chandler is clad entirely in red. When Heather Duke takes her place, her color scheme shifts from green to red. By the last scene, she wears more red than Heather Chandler did... and then Veronica forcefully takes the scrunchie from her. More subtly, in the scene just after Ms. Fleming's "love-in," J.D. is wearing a red shirt, and it's when he's at his highest point: he's successfully killed Heather Chandler, Kurt Kelly, and Ram Sweeney, he's dating Veronica and thinks she's right there with him, he believes he's "scared people into not being assholes," and, in that same scene, while watching footage of an explosion, you can just see the wheels turning in his head and pinpoint the exact moment he decides to blow up the school.
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    • Kind of a stealth joke, but in a scene where Veronica opens Chandler's locker out of guilt, you can see a clipping of Barbara Kruger's piece "I Shop Therefore I Am" on her locker door. Which Chandler probably taped on because she loves to shop, but the piece's true meaning is to criticize people who are just defined by what they own, not by what they think.
    • The country club kids are asked what they'd do with $5 million if the Earth was going to be destroyed in two days, and start talking about investments and charitable donations.
    • When Veronica tells her parents that all teens want is to be treated like human beings and not patronized like bunny rabbits, her father indignantly responds "I don't patronize bunny rabbits!"
  • Condescending Compassion: In the opening scene Veronica recounts a speech Heather Chandler once gave in which she argued her bullying is basically doing a favor for the unpopular kids since it'll toughen them up for the rigors of real life. Veronica's response was a very sardonic "You're beautiful"; Heather apparently missed the sarcasm.
  • Confound Them with Kindness: After thwarting her boyfriend JD's Evil Plan, an ash-covered but relieved Veronica tiredly saunters back to Westerburg High. She encounters Heather Duke there and proceeds to pick Heather Chandler's red scrunchie (a symbol of power), kiss her on the cheek, and cheerfully announce that "Heather, my love, there's a new Sheriff in the town". Duke can only stare confusedly after Veronica, not even realizing the soot blot on her face.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: Some of these suicides are a little too on the nose. One might wonder who brings gay porn with them on a suicide pact, but it's made pretty clear that the cops didn't give a shit.
  • Couldn't Find a Lighter: Veronica lights her cigarette off of the explosion that just killed her ex-boyfriend J.D. Also, when Veronica burns the palm of her hand with a car's cigarette lighter (intentionally), and J.D. lights a cigarette from the burn scar's residual heat. This scene is also one of a few incidents of Veronica's Self-Harm (noted on the DVD commentary).
  • Country Matters: Much to Daniel Waters' annoyance, the line was changed. During the frat party scene, after Veronica throws up on the floor, Heather follows her into the alley. The final version has Heather calling her "You stupid fuck," but the line was originally supposed to be "You stupid cunt."
  • Cow Tipping: There's a scene where Ram and Kurt try to impress Veronica and Heather McNamara by cow-tipping, despite the girls' obvious displeasure at being there. When the boys succeed in pushing the beast over, it lands in a puddle and splatters the girls with mud.
  • Crapsack World: Westerberg is not a nice school. The Heathers make life miserable for unpopular kids, and suffer themselves from insecurities and self-loathing that nobody's helping them with. People's reactions to the "suicides" range from "trying to peddle it into fifteen minutes of fame" to "wondering if maybe they should try suicide themselves." Veronica seems to decide she's had enough by the film's end and makes a bold move by reaching out to Martha.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: Subverted in the film's climax: It's done by the villain, J.D., as he's about to blow himself up. And then he has to break the pose to slap the stuck timer on his bomb vest to get it to continue before resuming the pose.
  • Date Rape Averted: No less than three times! The first time, Veronica tells off her "suitor" at the college party while Heather Chandler is coerced into oral with another creepy guy. The second time, Kurt is so drunk Veronica fights him off; again, Heather is not so lucky. And the third time, J.D. grabs Veronica and kisses her hard. She fights him off. Once Veronica dumps J.D., he continually forcefully kisses her, causing her to continually fight him off.
  • Deadly Prank: J.D. and Veronica try to prank Heather Chandler by breaking into her house and concocting a drink made up of orange juice and milk and convincing her to drink it. J.D. pours a glass of drain cleaner as well, and Veronica accidentally switches it. J.D. notices but decides not to tell her, and Heather Chandler promptly dies when she ingests it. Veronica and J.D. are shocked and make it look like a suicide. Subverted both in the sense that J.D. later reveals that he completely intended this outcome, and tries to kill more teenagers by claiming to Veronica that they're "pranks," and insofar as it is suggested that Veronica also really intended to kill Heather Chandler but refused to admit it.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Veronica, Heather Duke, Heather Chandler, and J.D., mainly.
  • Death by Irony: J.D. is responsible for killing several other teenagers throughout the film, and sets the murders up to look like suicides. After failing to blow up the school, he commits suicide by blowing himself up with his own bomb.
  • Deconstructive Parody: In the absolute darkest sense of the word "parody", putting some brutal twists on perceptions of teenage society and violence. Teen movies after this had a hard time following the John Hughes format that was popular during The '80s.
  • Demolitions Expert: Played with with Bud Dean. He expresses a bit too much glee at inventing new ways to blow up major buildings and outright delights at destroying places that had special memories to people, implying a Mad Bomber mindset, but he channels his urges into a lucrative demolition business. He accidentally killed his wife when she walked into one of the buildings to kill herself, but he doesn't indicate any remorse. J.D. steals some of his father's bombs to blow up his school.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • At the university party, Heather is shown to lower her head as the camera rises up to show the photo of a guy getting blown away by the sound, in an obvious allusion to what Heather is actually doing with her date.
    • Not a sexual reference, but when Heather Duke is in the bathroom, Heather Chandler says, "Let's see today's lunch!" Smash cut to a tray of food being scraped into a garbage bin.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: The Heathers are set up as the main antagonists of the film, embodying everything wrong with high school and having their group name as the movie title. Then J.D. shows up and starts murdering people.
  • "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: The song "Teenage Suicide (Don't Do It)" is performed by the pop band Big Fun, which is made up of members of the production crew.
  • Driven to Suicide: Darkly subverted, in that all the deaths by "suicide" are actually murders, and all the attempted suicides either fail or are revealed to be faked.
    • Bungled Suicide: Martha Dunnstock.
    • Interrupted Suicide: Heather McNamara.
    • Faking the Dead: Near the end of the movie, Veronica pretends to hang herself to find out from J.D. what his ultimate plan is. She then tries to stop it, with his assumption that she's dead providing a cover at first.
    • The only real and successful suicide is ironically committed by the person who faked the other suicides. In the end, J.D. willingly blows himself up, alone, after his plan to take the school with him is thwarted.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: An in-universe example when Veronica's boyfriend J.D. cracks a joke at the funeral of two of their victims that they made look like a double-suicide and the little sister of one of the boys killed turns to look at them while crying. It's at that point, Veronica begins to realize how messed up she's becoming under J.D.'s influence.
  • Eating Lunch Alone: J.D. eats alone in the school cafeteria at the beginning.
  • The '80s: And they've got the shoulder pads to prove it.
  • "Everyone Comes Back" Fantasy Party Ending: The original ending for the film, which was changed for being a bit too macabre.
  • Everytown, America:
    • The film is set in Sherwood, Ohio. This might be a deliberate Shout-Out to John Hughes' fictional Shermer, Illinois.
    • On the DVD commentary, Daniel Waters notes that he grew up on Sherwood street, and the name is a nod to Sherwood Forest.
  • Evil Wears Black: The trenchcoat-wearing J.D. is given the signature color black to show him as the villain. Played with in that it's used more for the badass associations at first as he seems like a cool outsider from the female protagonist's perspective. It only gradually becomes clear that he's actually a homicidal lunatic. Of course, Veronica also wears black a lot and is also a murderer.
  • Exact Words: Kurt and Ram attempt to humiliate a geeky boy who stepped on their shoes by putting him in a full nelson and not releasing him until he admits he's gay. The problem comes with the phrasing they use...
    Kurt: Say you like to suck big dicks. Say it! Say it!
    Geeky boy: Okay, okay. [Beat] You like to suck big dicks.
  • Eye Open: The close-up on Veronica's wide eye as she wakes from her nightmare.
  • Fake-Out Make-Out: At one point, Veronica and Jason elude a police officer by not just kissing, but also by disrobing and getting into a car. Notably, they do attract attention — just not for the shooting. Over the radio, another officer asks whether or not the two are naked.
  • Fallen Princess: The movie revolves around the sole non-Heather member of a clique of girls named Heather, who, with the help of an attractive but weird loner, decides to get back at them for their bullying ways with pranks which quickly turn into a killing spree.
  • Fingore: Veronica shoots off J.D.'s middle finger during their confrontation in the boiler room.
  • Flipping the Bird: J.D.'s response when Veronica demands he disarm the bomb when she has his gun pointed at him. Doesn't end too well for him, see directly above.
  • Forceful Kiss: Done to Veronica a lot by J.D., even though most of those could cross over into the unwanted "Shut Up" Kiss.
  • Foreshadowing: At the Remington party, Heather Chandler and Veronica are each pressured by a Jerk Jock college guy to have sex. Heather capitulates and gives the guy a blowjob, revealing that she's nowhere near as secure as she lets on; thus JD is able to easily goad her into drinking poison the next day. Veronica stands up for herself and leaves, foreshadowing that she is secure enough to do the same to JD later.
  • Former Friend of Alpha Bitch:
    • Played straight, only with the old friend being a minor character. It turns out that Heather D., who is becoming the new head of the school's food chain, was once best friends with the unpopular, unattractive, and obese Martha "Dumptruck" Dunnstock. Heather D. is so ashamed of this that when she finds out J.D. has photographs of the two of them playing together, she pays him to get rid of them.
    • Averted with Veronica and her best friend Betty. They are still friends but don't get to hang out as often due to Veronica being seized by the popular crowd. They reunite by the end when Veronica severs ties with the Heathers (whom she didn't really like to begin with).
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: H. Chandler (choleric), H. Duke (sanguine), H. McNamara (phlegmatic) and Veronica (melancholic).
  • Freudian Excuse: J.D. had a really bad childhood, being the son of a sociopath who drove J.D.'s mother to suicide by walking into an exploding building in front of him. This goes a long way towards explaining his own budding sociopathy.

  • Gayngst-Induced Suicide: Invoked. Veronica and J.D. Ram and Kurt's murders by writing suicide notes implying the two are closeted gay lovers, which makes the whole thing more credible and buys the two guys some post-mortem compassion from the rest of the community.
    Ram's father at the funeral ceremony: I love my dead gay son!
  • Genius Ditz: Veronica was marked as a gifted student and once declined an offer to skip several grades. She's a lot more insightful than her peers about how the "suicides" are being glorified by the media and resourceful enough to whip up a convincing fake hanging on the fly. She can also be a bit of an airhead sometimes, like when she accidentally starts a trash fire at the Remington party. Also, here's her attempt at a Hydra Problem allusion:
    Veronica: I cut off Heather Chandler's head, and Heather Duke's has grown in its place, like some kind of mythological... thing my eighth-grade boyfriend could have told you about.
  • Genre Deconstruction: The film is a rather bitter deconstruction of the popular John Hughes style teen movies at the time. The bad boy the heroine lusts after is actually a disturbed psycho who lures the heroine into his scheme to murder the popular kids and he even tries to blow up the school and pass it off as a group suicide. She isn't happy to be part of the popular kids and it's actually that which makes her want to murder them. Also, the Girl Posse aren't the cookie-cutter bad guys with one of them being bulimic and sick of being a Butt-Monkey while another genuinely contemplates suicide. Even Heather Chandler, the Alpha Bitch, is shown being objectified and used by the jerk at the frat party and her self-loathing afterwards.
  • George Washington Slept Here: Big Bud Dean, J.D.'s father, laments that his construction company is having conflicts with a local organization:
    Big Bud Dean: Some damn tribe of withered old bitches doesn't want us to terminate that fleabag hotel. All because Glenn Miller and his band once took a shit there.
  • Gilligan Cut: Veronica really hopes her date doesn't take her Cow Tipping. This was acknowledged on the DVD commentary track with a remark along the lines of "And this is our 'Gilligan's Island' cut here.."
  • Girl Posse: The film is named after the girl posse in the film, of which three out of four girls all have the given name "Heather". H. Chandler is the Alpha Bitch, H. Duke is jealous of Chandler's power, H. McNamara is a meek follower, and Veronica is the newcomer who actually hates being part of the group and did it solely to become In with the In Crowd.
  • Goodbye, Cruel World!: J.D. and Veronica forge these in faking the suicides of various popular high-school students.
  • Goths Have It Hard: Very subtle. The local punks appear to be pretty chill, but at the end, one of them is sitting right next to the bomb that JD rigged in the auditorium. She ignores it while awaiting her seeming death.
  • Gratuitous French: Heather Chandler. "Veronica. Jesse James. Quelle surprise."
  • Groin Attack: Veronica to J.D. in the boiler room.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Heather McNamara. Veronica too, by the end.
  • Hell of a Heaven: The first Heather to die complains to Veronica that Heaven is so boring.
    Heather Chandler: God, Veronica. My afterlife is so boring. If I have to sing Kumbaya one more time...
  • Hidden Depths: Played straight and subverted. Played straight in that, after being coerced into performing fellatio on a college student at a party, Heather Chandler rinses her mouth and spits on her reflection in a mirror. It's the only scene in which the audience sees her completely alone and says a great deal about her perception of herself and her self-loathing, which is unseen in any other scene where she is flanked by her subordinates and/or doling out abuse to those she considers her social inferiors. Subverted with the same character, as well as Kurt and Ram after their respective (fake) suicides: other students in the school, including those who were verbally bullied by Heather and physically bullied by Kurt and Ram, come to believe that the dead students weren't as shallow as their abuses would imply.
    Peter: Heather and I used to go out, but she said I was boring... but now I realize I really wasn't boring at all, it's just that she was dissatisfied with her life.
    Stoner Girl: Sorry to hear about your friend. Thought she was your usual air-head bitch... Guess I was wrong.
    Veronica: [voice-over] Suicide gave Heather depth, Kurt a soul, Ram a brain.
  • High-Class Glass: Subverted. Veronica wears a monocle whenever she writes in her diary, but it's not to show off her wealth or class, but rather that she's kind of an oddball.
    • Word of God on the commentary says that her monocle pegs her as part of the "Reich" that controls the school, however, so there is status in it.
  • High School: It's named after Paul Westerberg, lead singer of Alternative Rock band The Replacements, who was Winona Ryder's favorite band at the time.
  • Hippie Teacher: Played straight with Pauline Fleming.
  • Hollywood Blanks: J.D.’s Establishing Character Moment has him scaring a couple of Jerk Jocks by shooting them with blanks. In Real Life, the range at which this happens could seriously burn or even kill the kids just from the force of the gunpowder and/or fragments of brass shell or wadding
  • Identically Named Group: The three title characters are a clique.
  • Ignoring by Singing: Veronica screaming "Mary Had A Little Lamb" with her fingers in her ears as J.D. tries to convince her that she was much more cognizant of her assisting in the murder of Kurt and Ram than she'd like to admit the morning after in the school parking lot.
  • I Lied: J.D. tells Veronica that using "ich luge" bullets will only pierce the skin of the jocks, not kill them. "Ich lüge" is German for "I'm lying."
  • The Illegible: Despite her talent for forgery, Veronica's own handwriting is rather poor.
  • Important Hair Accessory: A red hair accessory passes from owner to owner, symbolizing the transfer of power among the girls.
  • In with the In Crowd: The film has a dark, dark take on this trope. It opens with a dream sequence in which the titular Heathers use Veronica's head as a croquet peg.
  • In Love with Your Carnage: Deconstructed. Veronica becomes attracted to J.D. after he pulls a gun (loaded with blanks) on some bullies, and likes his general "screw society" attitude. Even after she learns that he's into all too real violence, she can't stop thinking about him even as she knows what he's doing is wrong and desperately wants out.
  • Insult Backfire:
    Veronica: You're not a rebel, you're fucking psychotic.
    J.D.: You say tomayto, I say toe-mato.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: A fixture of Veronica and JD's relationship. They have a flirtatious, postcoital conversation about wanting to hurt or kill the first Heather. After killing Kurt and Ram, they start making out, partly as a ruse but seem pretty into it. And after beating each other up in the boiler room, JD forcibly starts kissing Veronica even after she repeatedly tried to kill him.
  • Ironic Echo: Subtly. After killing Kurt and Ram, Veronica burns herself, and J.D. uses the burn to light his cigarette. At the end, Veronica uses the explosion that kills J.D. to light her cigarette. Also uses the Rule of Three; The first time Veronica tries to burn herself is at the Remington party.
  • Jerkass: Heather Chandler, Heather Duke, and Kurt and Ram.
  • Jerk Jock: Ram and Kurt. Despite that, it's later revealed that their families loved them a lot. Bonus points for their shirtless-and-underwear scene right before J.D. murders them.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Veronica's not as openly cruel as Chandler or Duke, but she is very passive-aggressive and has a bit of a superior attitude. And after the shock of the murders wears off, she comes off as extremely callous and snide. Still, her interactions with Betty show a kinder side that basically nobody else at Westerburg has.
  • "Jump Off a Bridge" Rebuttal: The film answers the question, "If the coolest kids in school committed suicide, would others follow?" with a resounding, "Yes!" A dark way to address Truth in Television. This is made explicit in one of the film's most poignant moments, after Veronica prevents Heather M. from killing herself:
    Veronica: If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you?
    Heather M.: [beat] Probably.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Veronica murders three people with J.D.'s help. She gets away with it completely at the end, except insofar as she suffers minor injuries in the course of killing J.D.
    • Heather Duke gleefully mocks Martha for trying to kill herself and later drives McNamara to try kill herself as well by exposing her suicidal thoughts to everyone. In the end, the worst she gets is dethroned by Veronica.
  • Lady in a Power Suit: This is the idea Heather Chandler is trying to invoke by having her clique wear blazers at school : to mark their(her) superiority over the other students. Notably, she, as the leader, is wearing the most attention grabbing blazers, and, as soon as she dies, the others abandon the style entirely. Unusually for the Trope, the Heathers abide to the padded shoulders style, but not strictly to the suit part, as they prefer a more youthful approach to the look.
  • Lame Last Words: Heather Chandler's final statement is a halfhearted "Corn nuts!"
  • Laser-Guided Karma: What J.D. thinks he's doing.
  • Leitmotif: J.D. has one. Although most of the score is technopop-inspired synths, there's a harmonica playing in any scene that scene features or is about him.
  • Line-of-Sight Alias: When the radio host asks Heather McNamara for her name, she struggles to give one. Then she spots her canary and comes up with "Tweetie".
  • Lovable Alpha Bitch: About halfway through, Heather McNamara.

  • Manipulative Bastard: J.D.
  • Mood Whiplash: An in-universe example. Veronica and J.D. are giggling at Kurt and Ram's funeral ("How would he react to a limp wrist with a pulse?"). A young member of the family turns around and she's crying. Veronica shows her first sign of deep remorse.
  • Morality Pet: Betty Finn for Veronica. While the other Heathers are nearly always catty and rude in public, Veronica will unabashedly reveal a kinder side whenever she encounters Betty. The ending implies she's appointing Martha Dunnstock to this role as well.
  • Mugging the Monster: In J.D.'s first scene, the resident school jocks Kurt and Ram decide that it would be a good idea to try to bully J.D., not knowing that they're dealing with a murderous psycho. He grabs his revolver and fires at them in front of the whole cafeteria, only for it to be revealed later that he was using blanks, but Kurt and Ram were still scared shitless.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: There's a Veronica and a Betty, which you might think is a coincidence until you notice their equally significant last names - Sawyer and Finn respectively.
  • Near-Villain Victory: JD nearly succeeds in his ultimate scheme to blow up the whole school and frame it as a mass suicide. The bombs are already planted, the clock's ticking down with less than a minute to go, and only Veronica's determination, not wanting herself and all her friends to die before they've even turned 20, manages to convince him to end it.
  • Never Speak Ill of the Dead: Much of the humor comes from the utterly preposterous reactions to the suicides, ranging from sudden adulation of the deceased to rejoicing to shameless cash-ins to ultimately glorify suicide itself—but reserving it for the popular kids.
  • New Media Are Evil: Adults are quick to blame MTV and video games for the cause of the suicides.
  • Nobody Calls Me "Chicken"!: How J.D. gets first Heather to drink his "Big Blue". Initially, Heather denies but immediately succumbs to her pride.
    Heather: Think I'll drink it just because you call me chicken? ... Just give me the cup, jerk!
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: No one knows why Christian Slater decided to play J.D. as a teenage Jack Nicholson (probably because Nicholson is famous for playing psychos...), but he did do Nicholson quite well (well enough that one viewer was convinced the two actors were related). Christian Slater has said that it was because he is a big fan of Jack Nicholson and also that that was just the way he talked at the time.
  • Non-Nude Bathing: Veronica does this in the girls' shower upon hearing that Heather Chandler's death is being venerated.
    • Word of God on the commentary says this was intended as a parody of the common Shower Scene in films like Porky's, wherein the boys drill a hole in the shower room wall to watch the girls. As originally conceived, the other girls in the locker room would have joined Veronica, clothed, in the shower, thus confusing the boys.
  • Noodle Incident: This line from the principal: "I've seen a lot of bullshit - Angel Dust, Switchblades, sexually perverse photography exhibits involving tennis rackets." Another teacher even seems to do a Double Take on the last point.
  • Oh, Crap!: Heather Chandler's reaction when she realizes she just accidentally drank pipe cleanser as a "hangover cure".
    • Veronica and J.D's reaction when their plan of humiliating revenge causes Heather Chandler to keel over and die.
  • Oh, the Humanity!: A Running Gag line in the film (mostly by one of the cops).
  • Odd Name Out: Veronica is the only member of the title clique not named Heather because she's a recent addition.
  • One Last Smoke: J.D. lights up right before he goes boom.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted. There are three characters named "Heather" in all.
  • Only Known by Initials: Everyone calls Jason Dean "J.D.", even Veronica's parents.
  • Only Sane Man: While everyone at the school seems to glorify the teenage suicides and J.D. becomes increasingly murderous, Veronica seems to be the only person who doesn't like where this is going.
  • Pet the Dog: As he was riding home, J.D. glared at Kurt and Ram when they were torturing the nerds after Heather Chandler's funeral. Even before Veronica was humiliated by them, you can tell just by the look he was ready to kill them.
  • Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo: Veronica mistakenly picks the poisonous cup to give to Heather.
  • Poisoned Drink Drop: When Heather Chandler drinks the drain cleaner-laced milk that JD mixes for her, she drops the mug, and immediately clutches her throat before plummeting into and shattering a glass table.
  • Police Are Useless: Played for laughs with the two rather incompetent policemen.
  • Pom-Pom Girl: The nicest of the Heathers is one, which makes sense when your job involves trying to help people have fun.
  • Popular Is Evil: Played straight with one half of the Heathers and subverted with the other half.
    • Heather Chandler and Heather Duke are straight examples. Heather C rules the school with an iron fist, not caring if the other students think of her as a beast, just as long as they keep kissing her feet. After she does, her Beta Bitch and successor, Heather D carries on the tradition of terrorizing the school, just as ruthlessly as her predecessor, if not more so.
    • Heather McNamara and Veronica Sawyer are the subversions. They are not evil deep down, but they are pressured to be mean girls to their classmates by Heather C and D, lest they lose their popularity and become outcasts.
  • Precision F-Strike: Weirdly subverted, due to Executive Meddling, according to the DVD commentary. In the alley scene, when Heather calls out Veronica ("You stupid fuck!" "You goddamn bitch!"), they were supposed to use the word "cunt," (See Country Matters) as "fuck" had already been used several times. But censors thought this was too much (!).
  • Product Placement: Swatch watches abound, and the company provides a ton of freebies to the crew.
  • Public Medium Ignorance: The priest at the first funeral blaming teenage suicides on "MTV video games", as if they're the same thing.
  • Rage Against the Reflection: In a variation of this, after performing oral sex on a Jerk Jock, Heather Chandler takes a drink of water and spits it at her reflection in the mirror. The self-loathing in that scene certainly explains why Heather Chandler is so rotten to everyone else.
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: These are the school colors. This makes the antagonistic cheerleaders wear red and black.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The Heathers are symbolically presented as the school's "aristocracy"- they play croquet and Veronica wears a monocle when writing in her diary. The town being named Sherwood is said to be a reference to Robin Hood, a hero who lashes out against corrupt aristocrats - which is what J.D. thinks he's doing.
  • Rule of Three: Happens a few times. We see croquet three times: first in the opening credits, second after the cafeteria scene where J.D. shoots at Kurt and Ram, and third when Veronica invites Betty over to hang out. We see a funeral three times: Heather Chandler's, Kurt and Ram's, and then Veronica's dream about Heather Duke's funeral. During her call to "Hot Probs," Heather gives three names: Heather, Madonna, and Tweetie. And Veronica interacts with both of her parents three times: the first two times when she eats pate, has a near-identical exchange, and then runs off; and the third time when her mother confronts her about her whining.

  • Secondary Character Title: The three "Heathers" (Heather Chandler, Heather Duke, and Heather McNamara) who lend the film its title are actually supporting characters, as Veronica is the protagonist and J.D. is the antagonist.
  • Self-Harm: Veronica will partake in this in moments of strife, be it out of guilt, seething rage, or possibly to check if she's dreaming. Starting with her burning her hand with a match in the Remington party in a "God why am I even here" fit. After the deaths of Ram and Kurt, Veronica burns herself with a car lighter, prompting J.D. to light his cigarette with the resulting burn.
  • Serial Killer: J.D. kills off other high school students that he doesn't like. Later, he aspires to become a mass-murderer when he tries to blow up the whole school.
  • Shoot the Television: Radio, rather. J.D. shoots the radio in his living room when he and Veronica are "celebrating" the fake suicides they orchestrated. This is the moment when Veronica realizes that J.D. is simply Ax-Crazy and rejects him.
  • Shout-Out:
    • According to the DVD commentary, the first lunchroom scene is an homage to Full Metal Jacket in its lighting and framing. The writer originally wanted Kubrick to direct "the ultimate high school movie."
    • The Barbie doll hanging from the ceiling late in the film is a Shout Out to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, according to Word of God. The victim in that story hangs herself after the killer suggests it.
  • Shout-Out Theme Naming:
    • Westerberg High is named for Paul Westerberg, singer-songwriter and then-frontman of The Replacements.
    • Veronica Sawyer and Betty Finn are a play on Betty and Veronica as well as Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, symbolizing how close they used to be.
    • J.D. has a lot of this. He's obviously named after J.D. Salinger for obvious reasons. His surname is Dean, as a reference to James Dean. His given name recalls another Jason notorious for killing stupid teenagers. And of course, J.D. really is a J.D.note  Heather McNamara refers to him as "Billy the Kid" and "Jesse James".
    • The movie is basically a dark inversion of the typical '80s John Hughes teen movie, so Sherwood, Ohio is probably named in honor of Hughes' Shermer, Illinois (though Sherwood is a real place).
  • Shower of Angst: The day after Veronica kills Heather #1 and makes it look like a suicide, she hears other girls in the locker room buzzing about how her death has raised her status even higher. Veronica staggers, still clothed, into the shower. It may look to the others that she's stunned by the news, but it's more because her plan backfired.
    • Or because she's testing the waterproof-ness of her Swatch.
  • "Shut Up" Kiss: J.D. employs this a lot. The creepy variety.
  • The Snark Knight: Veronica.
  • Slasher Smile: J.D. has a resting Slasher Smile face. Even when he's talking about his mother's death, he never loses the glib tone.
  • The Sociopath: J.D is a tragic example. He's initially seen as charming, but he's also reckless and has poor impulse control, manipulates and lies to people around him, doesn't consider other people's feelings beyond what they mean to him personally, and has a constant need for stimulation and gets off on the murders he commits. It's emphasized that his horrible life partly made him what he is, though, and ultimately in his own twisted sense of morality, he believes that he's doing people a favor.
  • Soft Glass: When Heather Chandler dies, she falls onto a glass table- and it shatters so completely that it makes you wonder if the filmmakers had ever used an actual glass table.
  • Staged Shooting: Subverted when J.D. tells Veronica that the bullets in the guns he's provided for a "prank" are fake-but-realistic-looking tranquilizer darts; but which turn out to be very real and very deadly. This is played strictly for laughs.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Darkly invoked; see "Bury Your Gays", above.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike:
    • J.D. creates a package to leave at the scene of the football players' "suicide," which includes a bottle of mineral water. Later, that bottle (along with the note) convinces the policemen that the two were, in fact, gay.
    • Veronica writes the word "myriad" in Heather Chandler's fake suicide note, pointing out that she had gotten the word wrong on a previous English test. When the teachers are discussing the 'suicide', one of them says how impressed she was that Heather used the word in her suicide note.
  • Strip Poker: J.D. and Veronica play strip croquet off-screen.
  • Stylistic Suck: Teenage Suicide... don't do it!
  • Suicide by Pills: Heather McNamara attempts suicide in the school bathroom by overdosing on pills. Fortunately, Veronica arrives in time to force her to spit them out and then comforts her.
  • Suicide Pact: Invoked. What looks like a suicide pact between two gay lovers who were also the stars of the high school's football team is actually a case of murder. Later, J.D. tries to blow up the whole school and frame it as a mass suicide pact.
  • Talking to the Dead: J.D. to Veronica... which doubles as a reveal for her, since she was only Faking the Dead.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: See Deadly Prank.
  • "Take That!" Kiss: Veronica to Heather Duke.
  • Team Title: The titular Heathers are the school's most powerful clique.
  • Teens Are Monsters: With the exception of Martha.
  • Those Two Guys: Kurt and Ram.
  • Time Bomb: In the boiler room, the Incredibly Obvious Bomb with its huge display and three big red buttons can be stopped Just in Time at 0:04.
  • Totally Radical: Zig Zagged. While some of the dialogue has a definite 80's feel, the screenwriter made up his own slang terms (see Memetic Mutation), which still don't feel dated over a quarter-century after the film's release.
  • Trick Bullet: The Ich Luge bullets, which pierce the skin and tranquilize, without killing. Subverted in that they're actually completely ordinary bullets, and Veronica is being lied to.
  • Tricked to Death: J.D. tricks Heather 1 into drinking drain cleaner by telling her it's a hangover cure.
  • Troubled, but Cute: J.D. Emphasis on the "troubled".
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Veronica (Blackadder-type).
  • Villain Has a Point: At Kurt and Ram's funeral, after the impassioned and teary "I love my dead gay son!" speech, J.D. snarks "how do you think he'd react to a son that had a limp wrist with a pulse?" That's rich coming from the guy responsible for the funeral in the first place, but given what we've seen of the town, he's almost certainly right that an alive gay son would receive significantly less love and acceptance.
  • Villainous Crush: After Veronica breaks up with J.D. after he starts murdering other teenagers for fun, he is still very much in love with her.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Veronica and her dad, mildly. Any of the Heathers with each other and Veronica, even more so.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Veronica, the "drop under screen" variety.
  • Waxing Lyrical: Kurt to Veronica.
    Kurt: When I get that feeling, I need sexual healing.
  • "What Now?" Ending: J.D.'s last few lines invoke this:
    J.D.: Pretend I did blow up the school - all the schools. Now that you're dead, what are you going to do with your life?
  • Wire Dilemma: J.D.'s bomb can be switched off by pressing one of three buttons, all of which are red. He refuses to tell Veronica, but somehow turns it off himself by sticking his knife into it.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: J.D. tries to blow up the whole school and kill everyone inside in a staged mass suicide. He thinks he's doing them a favor by sending them to Heaven, which he thinks would be a more peaceful place without social strife.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: J.D. For starters, his father is a sociopathic bastard who doesn't care for him (when asked if he even likes his father he responds with "I haven't given the matter much thought"), and his mother killed herself in front of her son's eyes to get away from her husband. His entire life has been spent moving around from town to town and school to school wherever his father's demolition job took him, where it is implied he saw the same scenario of clique groups bullying other students at every high school he's attended. He starts out by murdering Heather Chandler, then Kurt and Ram, and makes their deaths appear as suicides (also implied to be something he's done before). He ultimately resorts to trying to blow up the entire school. He explains his intentions are such because he believes nobody loves him, and that "the only place different social types can genuinely get along with each other is in heaven", somehow seeing the school as a representation of society itself.
  • Worthy Opponent: What J.D. comes to see Veronica as:
    J.D.: You got power — power I didn't think you had.
  • Would Hit a Girl:
    • J.D. knees Veronica in the head while in the boiler room.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy:
    • Everyone thinks they're in a tender, emotionally-charged teen drama about the pressures of high school life and the horrors of teen suicide... except Veronica and J.D., who know firsthand that the school's just caught up in a serial killing spree. Veronica, weirdly enough, winds up Becoming the Mask, counseling the suicidal and breaking down the social barriers.
    • J.D. seems to think he's exacting justice on bullies and a corrupt social order Just Like Robin Hood, with Veronica as Bonnie to his Clyde. He's actually just a twisted little psycho and Veronica comes to be terrified of him (fittingly enough, he's pleased to be nicknamed "Jesse James", who also gets romanticized but was also basically a brute).
  • You Are What You Hate: By the start of the movie, Veronica realizes she doesn't really like the Heathers... but she's been with them so long that she mostly goes along with their Jerkass passive-aggressive cattiness and bullying without question. When she sees Duke basically become the new Chandler, she's horrified to realize that she might do the same thing if she gets the opportunity.
  • You're Insane!: Veronica to J.D.
    Veronica: You're not a rebel, you're fucking psychotic.
    J.D.: You say to-may-toe, I say to-mah-toe.


Video Example(s):


Heather Chandler

Why exactly corn nuts were on her mind during her last moments is a riddle for the ages.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (14 votes)

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