It was "42nd Street" with pasties, "All About Eve" with a G-string. Only those movies were cinema classics, while "Showgirls (search )" was so bad that adjectives such as awful, wretched and appalling somehow seemed too kind. But if a film festers in video stores long enough, its audience eventually will sniff it out.
Since it imploded critically and commercially in 1995, "Showgirls" has gained such a fringe following of movie masochists that distributor MGM is releasing a "V.I.P. Edition" DVD set on Tuesday, playing up the film's campy atrociousness.
The elaborate package includes shot glasses and playing cards for "Showgirls" drinking games; glossy pictures of star Elizabeth Berkley (search) plus pasties, a blindfold and a poster of Berkley for a "pin-the-pasties-on-the-showgirl" game.
Among DVD extras are a tutorial on how to give a lap dance and audio commentary titled "The Greatest Movie Ever Made."
"We've targeted the DVD release to adults who have embraced the campy, fun and even outrageous aspects of the film and provided extras that deliver on that notion," Blake Thomas, MGM executive vice president for worldwide marketing, said in a statement.
Still skittish over "Showgirls," MGM executives declined interviews for this story. But the studio clearly has recovered from the drubbing well enough to realize it can recoup some of its bad investment by mocking the movie.
"They're finally allowed to admit what they have on their hands and run with it as fast and hard as they can," said David Schmader, a writer and monologuist in Seattle who provides the "Showgirls" DVD commentary.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven (search) and written by Joe Eszterhas (search), the team behind "Basic Instinct," "Showgirls" was meant to kick open the door for mainstream acceptance of adult-only, NC-17-rated movies.
Instead, the movie was laughed out of theaters after grossing only $20 million, half what it cost to make.
For critics, "Showgirls" was like shooting fish in a barrel with a Gatling gun. Berkley took the worst of it for her garish masquerade as a stripper turned Vegas showgirl, but the movie also was a career low for co-stars Kyle MacLachlan and Gina Gershon. The actors declined interviews for this story.
Verhoeven was castigated for purveying soulless sleaze. Eszterhas barely worked in Hollywood again after writing the outlandish dialogue of "Showgirls," which included a bizarre exchange where Berkley and Gershon's characters discuss eating dog food.
"That one is so surreal you just can't believe you're watching it," said Schmader, who estimates he has seen "Showgirls" 100 times. "It seems like this great lost Pinter scene where subtext is everything, until you realize that there absolutely is no subtext. They're just talking about eating dog food."
Schmader did not see the movie until a couple of years after its release, then became obsessed with its awfulness and began inviting friends over for "Showgirls" video parties. He has done live commentary for the movie at screenings in Seattle and at film festivals, pointing out how the filmmakers unintentionally made an "amazing comedy."
Lin Tucci, who played stripper Henrietta "Mama" Bazoom, said she occasionally runs into fans who watch the movie for laughs.
"I do still get, `Oh, we rented the movie, we had a party. It was fun,'" Tucci said. "It's become this campy cult classic like `Rocky Horror Picture Show.' Why it became this, how it became this, it's a mystery. I don't know."
Patrick Bristow, who played the choreographer, said he could see during filming that dialogue and character were taking a back seat to the filmmakers' "NC-17-breaking goal."
Three or four minutes into the "Showgirls" premiere, Bristow and his partner, who sat holding hands, were almost breaking each other's fingers as they agonized over how bad the movie was, he said.
Bristow said he sympathized with Berkley, for whom "Showgirls" could have been a big-screen breakthrough after her role in the teen TV series "Saved By the Bell." Berkley was a young actress following her director's lead, he said.
"Yes, Elizabeth went over the top in certain sections. But who was supposed to rein her in, and didn't? And who let her take it in the face when the movie came out?" Bristow said. "I don't expect to be working for Mr. Verhoeven again, obviously."
The stigma of "Showgirls" has hindered her career, but Berkley managed to keep working with supporting roles in such movies as "The First Wives Club," Woody Allen's "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion" and the independent film "Roger Dodger."
Berkley recently made her Broadway debut in "Sly Fox."
"It would be a true Hollywood story for her if in five years, 10 years, 20 years, she turns in an Oscar-winning performance," Bristow said. "And everyone who had been so mean and dismissive just had to eat crow."