‘Heathers’ screenwriter: TV show’s delay is a mistake

‘Heathers’ screenwriter: TV show’s delay is a mistake

Daniel Waters, who wrote the 1988 movie “Heathers” — about two teens murdering their high school’s popular clique — says he disagrees with Paramount Network’s decision to delay the premiere of its “Heathers” reboot after last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Paramount said it would delay the premiere of “Heathers” until “later this year” after an ex-student gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Feb. 14.

“I think they made a mistake pushing the show back because of the Parkland shooting,” says Waters, 55, who’s not affiliated with the TV series. “When it comes to dark comedy, you just have to throw it out there and have people chew on it and argue about it.”

The big-screen movie starred Winona Ryder and Christian Slater as misfits Veronica and JD, who violently disrupt their school’s social order (by murdering their classmates). It was a box-office flop, but has since earned cult status — spawning an off-Broadway musical and references on “Buffy,” “Will & Grace” and “ER.” It even inspired the music duo The Veronicas.

In Slater’s introductory scene in “Heathers,” JD pulls a gun on fellow students, which didn’t seem so outrageous until 11 years later, when two student gunmen killed 13 people at Columbine High School in Colorado.

“When I brought homicide to high school, it was like science fiction back then,” says Waters. “It was not playing off anything real. So [today] you definitely can’t have Christian Slater pulling out a gun and it’s just a big joke. But any time you push the envelope of what you expect a high school [story] should be, you’re going to get in trouble. Once somebody says, ‘This [topic] is off-limits,’ that’s when my satire juices get flowing.”

Even before the Parkland shootings, the “Heathers” TV show garnered criticism for its spin on the original “popular” clique (in the film they’re WASPs; in the show they’re people who are traditionally more marginalized).

“These past few weeks it’s cracked me up that ‘Heathers’ has suddenly become ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ or something — like an undisputed classic,” Waters says. “People forget when the movie first came out, it was a lot more divisive.”

Waters attributes the movie’s cultural longevity to the fact that it’s corrosive. “People always come up to me and say [‘Heathers’] got them through high school — not by inspiring them to pick up a gun and kill the popular students, but by the catharsis that a good comedy or drama gives you,” he says. “If you play it easy as a work of art, that’s not helping anybody. What people like about it is the harshness.

“If anything, everybody’s too gooey in love with ‘Heathers’ now — which is fine, because I’ve written some movies people don’t love,” he says. “To me, ‘Heathers’ doesn’t belong to me anymore; I’ve given it to the people.”

The movie ends with Veronica thwarting JD’s attempt to blow up the school. “In the original version of the screenplay, the school blows up and it ends in a prom in heaven,” Waters says. “Some critics said, ‘That should have been the ending, you didn’t go far enough.’ I can’t win with these people!”

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