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
'I do think a woman's place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there.'

Is this the end of the Dowager Countess?tv
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Martin of Coldplay performs live for fans at Enmore Theatre on June 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith from The Office ten years on

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Albert Hammond Junior of The Strokes performs at the Natural History Museum on July 6, 2006 in London, England.

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

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

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

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.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn