Heathers (1989)

Directed by: Michael Lehmann

Starring: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker

Awards: Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature (1990) and nominated Grand Jury Prize at Sundance (1989)

The 80’s were a magical time. Big hair, synsthesized music, and let’s not forget shoulder pads. A lot of bad movies also came out of the 80’s, but thankfully, there was also a few great ones such as the film Heathers. This dark comedy, written by Daniel Waters, tells the story of four high school friends who rule the school as the popular clique. Heather, Heather, and Heather use intimidation and sex appeal to get what ever they want while Veronica (Winona Ryder) is torn between being “cool” and doing what is right. Along comes the mysterious outsider J.D. (Christian Slater) who helps Veronica make a choice meanwhile taking her down a dark road of murder, suicide pacts, and high school bombings.

Heathers is a movie that may have some difficulty being made in a post-columbine world. Featuring such subject matter as students killing fellow students and an attempted bombing, one might find the subject matter a little difficult to find funny. The film doesn’t use such themes lightly though. They are used to show the difficulty of teenage angst, the futility of suicide, and the fleeting duration of popularity. Even though the movie was made before the recent spat of high school tragedies, the subject matter was still troublesome for many at the time of production. Several actors turned down the roles due to the nature of the script, including Jennifer Connely, Brad Pitt, and Heather Graham. The original ending was also much more darker but I won’t spoil it for you. The DVD has the script or you could read it here at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heathers and remember, teenage suicide… don’t do it!

Other Notable Films by this Director: Airheads (1994), The Truth About Cats & Dogs (1996), 40 Days and 40 Nights (2002)


Pump Up the Volume (1990)

Director: Allan Moyle

Starring: Christian Slater, Samantha Mathis, Ahmet Zappa, Seth Green
Once upon a time there was no Internet. Without chat rooms, blogs, and social networks like Myspace and  Facebook, it was much more difficult for younger people to socialize, share ideas, and even just vent. The early 90’s film, Pump Up the Volume, demonstrates this perfectly through the eyes of it’s main character Mark Hunter, played by Christian Slater in his prime. Mark is a very shy high school student who recently moved to Arizona. Being a loner and an outsider, Mark decides to start a VHF pirate radio station out of his parent’s basement as a way of venting his frustrations. Taking on the persona of “Hard Harry” and “Happy Harry Hard-on,” Mark quickly gains a fan base amongst his fellow peers as well as becoming the scorn of several of the high school faculty. Eventually this leads into trouble for Mark as he becomes entangled with the FCC, the troubled lives of teenagers, and a cover up at his school.

When I first saw this film as a teenager, it hit pretty close to home. I had many of the same hang-ups Mark has when it comes to talking with others. Watching Mark overcome his debilitating shyness was therapeutic. Pump Up the Volume is more than your typical teenage movie by leaving the viewer with a message that does not come off as preachy or heavy handed. At the heart of this film is the empowerment of teenagers. Mark’s act of rebellion shows his listeners that it is ok to have a voice and to not fall prey to the hardships of being a teenager. Also of note is the excellent soundtrack with several covers and rare songs that didn’t even make it to the officially released version. If you happen to enjoy this film, check out the director’s follow up, Empire Records, and remember… Talk Hard. 

Other Notable Films by this Director: Empire Records (1995)