'Heathers' is now streaming on Netflix

“Heathers,” a 1988 movie starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, which is now streaming on Netflix, could not have been made in the modern age. Indeed, a cable TV reimagining was abruptly canceled, even though the pilot was shot and aired on demand on some systems in the wake of the Parkland and Santa Fe, Texas school shooting massacres. In 1988 the idea of murder and even terrorism in high school was considered humorous, albeit of the dark variety.

Ryder plays a high schooler named Veronica, who is anxious to be accepted into a clique run by three mean girls, each named Heather. However, she also falls in with a bad boy named J.D. played by Slater who has smoldering good looks and a barely-buried madness that turns lethal. The two soon embark on a killing spree that takes out some of the Heathers and two high school jocks named Kurt and Ram. They make the murders appear to be suicide, which triggers the faculty and the student body to confront the issue of teenage suicide, a reoccurring problem even in the age before cyberbullying.

Of course, things start to spiral out of control with J.D. plotting an act that would, if carried out, become the worst high school massacre in world history. Veronica, who also finds herself the target of her boyfriend’s murderous plans, has to find a way to stop him before it is too late.

To suggest that “Heathers” is politically incorrect is to state the matter very mildly. No one in the modern age would make light of slaughtering teenagers, no matter how richly they deserve it. At least, they would not do so publicly, which one supposes makes “Heathers’ a guilty pleasure, if one is capable of feeling that particular emotion.

“Heathers” made Winona Ryder a star and might have done the same service for Christian Slater if his career had not suffered a premature flameout. Veronica is the only character for whom one feels the remotest sympathy. Murder is wrong, but who has ever attended an American high school and not at least fantasized about removing a mean girl or a rapey, testosterone-addled jock from the gene pool?

“Heathers,” by the way, became an off-Broadway musical, if one can believe it, playing several years ago. The play is currently showing in London. That only proves that a tale of high school angst and murder will still fly if set to music.