EW Staff
May 30, 1997 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Pssst! Wanna see Anne Heche make love to a woman? Wanna own the video? The cheap-thrill barons at NuImage are betting on it.

Just one year ago, the film production company, known for broads-and-bullets treats like Cyborg Cop II, counted its $3.5 million gamble on cult director Donald Cammell (eternally cool for codirecting Mick Jagger in 1970’s Performance) as a loser. His movie Wild Side was supposed to have been an arty, sexy thriller with Christopher Walken, Joan Chen, and rising actress Anne Heche as Alex, Long Beach banker by day, sophisticated call girl by night. Trouble was, Wild Side seemed too arty and sexy. At two hours plus, it had Heche getting kinky with money launderer Walken, getting raped by his chauffeur (Steven Bauer), and getting it on (and on and on) with his paramour, Chen. ”It was too explicit to get the R rating we needed,” says NuImage president Avi Lerner, calling in from Cannes. ”The moment you go with an unrated version or NC-17, you eliminate a lot of potential sales.” So the company recut the film into a shorter, simpler, more salable version. Or so Lerner thought. Wild Side, first shown on HBO in February 1996, never made it into theaters and made no dent on the video charts.

But that was before the most public self-outing since…her girlfriend’s self-outing. After appearing on Oprah April 30 to talk about loving Ellen DeGeneres, the bisexual-playing bisexual Heche (whose big notices for Donnie Brasco and Volcano don’t hurt) suddenly seems like an extremely marketable commodity. So NuImage is preparing to do what it previously refused to do — issue Cammell’s full-length version of Wild Side — and is doing it, sad to say, over the director’s dead body. On April 23, 1996, at the age of 62, Cammell shot and killed himself in his Hollywood Hills home.

NuImage’s cuts had prompted Cammell to remove his name as director (he retained the writing credit with his wife, China Kong). While some obituaries reported a link between Wild Side‘s fate and Cammell’s depression before his suicide, Lerner calls the inference ”outrageous.”

”I talked to Donald until about two days before it happened,” he says. ”It wasn’t like he said to me that it was the end of the world. We disagreed on the cut of a movie. I even talked to him about releasing it in England, his version, and he was very happy about it.” Cammell’s widow couldn’t be reached for comment; cast members declined to comment.

Now NuImage has the task of constructing a posthumous ”director’s cut” from the rough assembly it originally rejected. While some may celebrate the resurrection of a distinctive director’s work, Lerner is celebrating one of show business’ oldest rules of thumb: Sex sells. Cinemax plans to bring back the R-rated version for a cable encore this July; and come fall, in any store that dares, NuImage hopes to unload more than 100,000 copies of a movie that has Heche saying ”Do I look like I have tendencies?”

Although Lerner’s not even sure he’ll be allowed to put Cammell’s name back on the film, he’s busy perfecting his Wild Side pitch. ”This picture is really something you haven’t seen before on any screen,” he boasts. ”Every man will have something to keep in his home, and it’s something every woman would like to see.”

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