Why the dark heart of teen drama will be hard to beat

A TV remake of high-school movie Heathers won't touch the original

The news that American television channel Bravo is preparing a remake of Eighties teen movie Heathers focusing on the original characters' daughters sent shudders down my spine.

It's not just that the pitch-black teen movie was my favourite film as a teenager; the first film in which I had a crush, not only on the male lead (19-year-old Christian Slater giving us his best Jack Nicholson as anti-hero JD) but more importantly on the heroine, the self-aware and sardonic Veronica (a 16-year-old Winona Ryder, emotionally bruised, bitterly brilliant and never better). It's also that Heathers' power comes from the fact that it was a film of its time.

Watching again as Ryder progresses from accidentally-on-purpose poisoning her classmates to simply shooting them, while Slater's Holden Caulfield-style rebellion tips from firing blanks in the school cafeteria into an attempted high-school massacre, all you can think is, "How did this film ever get made?"

The answer is that in a post-Columbine and post-Newtown America, it wouldn't be. Even in 1988, the year Heathers came out, and 11 years before the shootings in Colorado, film executives were nervous enough about the original ending – in which Slater blows up Westerburg High – that they asked director Michael Lehmann and writer Daniel Waters to change it, allowing Veronica to save both the school and her tarnished soul.

Even with the gentler ending, Heathers makes for uncomfortable viewing. It's not just the scabrous dialogue – "Fuck me gently with a chainsaw, do I look like Mother Teresa?" my 15-year-old friends and I would gleefully mouth to each other – it's the bone-deep cynicism, the insistence that no joke is taboo.

Thus Veronica dumps her childhood friend, murders her supposed best friend and ends the movie lighting a cigarette from her boyfriend's burning flesh before asking the most unpopular girl at school back to hers to watch videos. As the camera lingers on her weary, worn-out face, erstwhile enemy Heather Duke remarks: "You look like hell". In truth, Ryder, her face black with soot and bruises, has rarely looked more radiant.

After Heathers, teen dramas fell into two camps. Shannen Doherty, who played Heather Duke, would go on to star in the highly successful Beverly Hills, 90210, a show which rejected Heathers' nihilism, preferring to peddle a brand of sincerity that was arguably more cynical for being perfectly pitched at teenage fears.

Yet while 90210 pulled in huge viewing figures, it was Heathers that had the last laugh. Today, almost 25 years after it came out, Veronica's heirs are everywhere, from Gossip Girl's Queen Bee, Blair Waldorf, to the quartet of beauties who scheme their way through Pretty Little Liars.

Tina Fey's 2004 Mean Girls (which was directed by Daniel Waters's brother Mark and starred a young and luminous Lindsay Lohan) was described as "Heathers with a heart", while it's no coincidence that the resourceful titular heroine of teen detective drama Veronica Mars bears that name. The film's tart dialogue can also be found in everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Ryan Murphy's pre-Glee hit Popular. As for Glee itself, what is McKinley High but a less brutal Westerburg, where the danger comes not from shotguns but slushies?

And while Bravo have put some thought into their idea – the new show will be written by Jenny Bicks, best known for acerbic cancer comedy The Big C – it can't hope to match the original. As JD remarks to Veronica, "The extreme always seems to make an impression." That extremism, the sense that nothing is sacred, is why Heathers compels viewers after all this time. It's also why the remake, certain to be watered down, seems similarly certain to fail.

Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us