Since this is the YouTube era, you can think of “Heathers” as a video response to John Hughes’ movies. While Hughes’ films were enjoyable for the most part, some of them — in particular, “The Breakfast Club” — were so saccharine that “Heathers” functions as a nice sour counterpart. Hughes’ work, unsurprisingly, comes up several times during the commentary and two featurettes in this new edition of “Heathers.” Screenwriter Daniel Waters notes that while he liked Hughes’ films, he wanted to create what he thought would be the ultimate high school movie, a work that would be the final statement in the genre.
Interestingly, Waters also thought that his initial draft of the film, which clocked in around 260 pages, would be perfect for Stanley Kubrick and tried to reach the notoriously reclusive director, without success. Typically, those two things would scream “Clueless newbie” and result in Waters continuing to work in a video store, but there was clearly a spark in his script that producer Denise Di Novi and director Michael Lehmann responded to. Luckily, Lehmann didn’t seem to mind being Waters’ second choice.
I don’t think I need to rehash this film’s plot, so I’ll simply say that while “Heathers” certainly looks dated, the issues it deals with aren’t. As the main creative types note in the new featurette in this set, “Return to Westerburg High,” this is a movie that probably couldn’t be made in a world in which Columbine and 9/11 have happened. The scene where J.D. shoots blanks at the two jocks probably would have been enough to spark outrage. Sadly, what that tells me is that we need a “Heathers” for the 21st century, a new movie that will shake us up the way this film did two decades ago.
And, no, I’m not referring to a sequel, another topic comes up in the supplements. I don’t really see the point in “Heathers 2,” and the half-baked plot Waters relates in one of the featurettes probably would have been a disaster, something that, of course, he acknowledges. Thankfully, he has resisted the desire of Winona Ryder and others to write a sequel.
“Return to Westerburg High” runs 21 minutes and features Lehmann, Di Novi, and Waters looking back on the movie 20 years later. It’s a wistfully nostalgic piece that serves as a nice complement to the 30-minute “Swatch Dogs and Diet Coke Heads,” which appeared on Anchor Bay’s original DVD release. “Swatch Dogs” includes not only the trio but also Ryder, Christian Slater, and other members of the cast as they dig into the making of the movie, complete with behind-the-scenes shots and production anecdotes.
The commentary track on disc one with Lehmann, Di Novi, and Waters is more of the same, although it’s one of the better group tracks I’ve heard. While many group commentaries tend to devolve into either silliness or people sitting in silence watching the movie, the three of them keep the conversation going by prompting each other to discuss certain topics. Clearly, they prepared, an idea that other commentary participants should take to heart. While they repeat some of the stories found in the featurettes, there’s also plenty of other interesting information to mine, especially if you’re a big fan of the film.
The commentary also came from Anchor Bay’s earlier DVD, and it sounds like it may have been on a laserdisc release in the 1990s (Di Novi makes a comment about viewing the film nine years later, which would be circa 1997), but I’m not certain of that. At any rate, if you have the earlier DVD, the only thing you’re missing is the new featurette, so it’s your call if care about the film enough to double-dip for it.
Finally, disc two includes the trailer and the PDF of Waters’ original ending, which I think could have worked as well as, if not better than, the one that made it to the final cut. The “Return” featurette also details a few other ideas Waters had for the ending after he lost the fight to retain his original version, which the studio couldn’t stomach. Those endings, however, don’t make as much sense as the other two choices, and the bottom line is I’m fine with the third act as it is, even if it does feel a bit like it could have come out of a John Hughes movie. Ah, the irony.