The movie that made you cool just by mentioning it back in the day is finally available on Netflix Instant, bringing with it the answer to the question we’ve been afraid to ask: Does it hold up after (gulp) 23-or-so years? Of course it doesn’t — how could it? Heathers seems almost embarrassingly tame and oddly flip today, but back in the late ’80s, this was the teen movie to see (if you could find it), a witty and wicked satire on high school hierarchy featuring young Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder, sexy and gorgeous and already a movie star) hooking up with the rebellious (and psychotic) J.D. (Christian Slater, delivering his one truly great performance/Jack Nicholson impersonation) to rid their school of its bitchy matriarchs: a trio of she-devils all named Heather (one of which is played by a perfectly cast Shannen Doherty). Even though time has been most decidedly unkind to the Heathers, try to watch it out of any contemporary context and you’re in store for at least a nostalgic treat, albeit one that might now be a little hard to swallow (“Corn nuts!”). Also, ten points to you if you owned a “BIG FUN” T-shirt — and ten more points if you made it yourself.
Those who doubted that director Larry Clark could paint a more harrowing portrait of teenage debauchery (and cruelty) than Kids were soon slapped in the face with Bully, a rough and tumble true-crime account of a group of hopelessly stupid and naive Florida young ‘uns who like to smoke, drink, do drugs and have sex plotting to murder their unofficial ringleader, a manipulative and abusive future Death Row prisoner in the making (Nick Stahl). The entire cast, including Brad Renfro, Bijou Phillips, Rachel Miner, Michael Pitt and Kids star Leo Fitzpatrick, is excellent, which makes this relentlessly mean-spirited tale even more depressing — why do so many young actors need the most subversive material possible to truly showcase their acting chops? Anyway, if you can stomach it, Bully is great filmmaking — raw, uncompromising and practically pulsating with a sense that it could maybe just explode at any second‚ and take you with it. Sure, Clark may go a little too far sometimes (the candle wax during the Phillips-Pitt sex scene seems not only gratuitous but unrealistic for such relatively unimaginative white trash characters), but then again, so did these kids.
Another true-crime account of murderous teens, though director Peter Jackson takes a more whimsical approach to the material with this dark flight of fancy chronicling the obsessive relationship between two teenagers, Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme (Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet, both making their film debuts), in 1950s New Zealand. The two girls share an immersive fantasy life with distinct sexual undertones, a unique and sensual bond that prompts their parents to separate them — and leads to the brutal murder of Parker’s mother (Sarah Peirse). Jackson’s mischievous and playful style (really, some of the art direction and creature work here serves as a warm-up to the stunning visuals of his Lord of the Rings movies) actually makes the story more ominous and dreadful‚ and the climactic murder scene is one of the most disturbing moments of ’90s cinema. Both of the girls are excellent, though Winslet’s more flamboyant performance in playing the more histrionic character unfortunately overshadows Lynskey’s brilliantly subtle work — and led to her getting the much more lucrative film career.
“Why won’t you play with us?” This creepy French flick serves as a text book how-to for “simple but effective” horror filmmaking with its tale of a young couple (Olivia Bonamy and Michael Cohen) who move from France to a remote country house in Romania, where they’re almost immediately terrorized by a group of hooded strangers causing all sorts of mischief that soon turns deadly. The ruffians end up being a bunch of kids between the ages of 10 and 15 — which, of course, makes the whole situation even more puzzling and frightening. There’s not much to Them (or Ils, as it’s called in its native country), but there doesn’t need to be — the film is little more than an exercise in creating and maintaining tension, which it does perfectly. It’s also brutally violent, as only contemporary French horror films can be — if you prefer a more watered-down version (and one without subtitles), you could watch The Strangers, the American sort-of remake starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman‚ but as that movie really ain’t so hot, we recommend you go hard and French with this nasty little yarn.
You didn’t think we wouldn’t include a Gregg Araki movie in this feature, did you? The Doom Generation tells the wild and weird tale of sexy Amy Blue (Rose McGowan) and her dum-dum boyfriend, Jordan White (James Duval), two teenage lovers who hit a downward spiral of sex, drugs and ultraviolence after they pick up a handsome drifter named Xavier Red (Johnathan Schaech). As you can see from the names of the characters, Araki’s earlier work didn’t quite have the subtlety and finesse of his later films like Mysterious Skin, though The Doom Generation doesn’t really call for restraint — this is a no-holds-barred portrait of disaffected American youth, filled with stunning visuals and some truly disturbing moments, all bursting forth from Araki’s unhinged imagination. For the record, Doom probably qualifies as one of his lesser works, but even so-so Araki is a hundred times more exciting and thought-provoking than most of the crap that passed for ’90s indie cinema. This is the second in Araki’s Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy, following Totally Fu**ed Up (another decidedly unsubtle piece) and preceding our personal favorite, Nowhere.