Looking back at Joel Schumacher’s 8MM

We continue our look back at the work of Joel Schumacher, with his Batman & Robin follow-up, 8MM...

He’s a producer-slash-director-slash weirdo. He’s like the Jim Jarmusch of S&M.” – Max

The Recap

After the horror that was Batman & Robin, you couldn’t blame Joel Schumacher from stepping away from that genre of filmmaking completely and going down a road of drama/thriller. After all, he had success with it in the past. Nothing could go too wrong, right?

Following the death of her husband, wealthy widow Mrs. Christian (Myra Carter) comes across an 8mm film in his safe, depicting the murder of a teenage girl by a man in amask. Unsure as to the origin of the tape or if it is, in fact, real, she instructs her lawyer, Daniel Longdale (Anthony Heald), to hire the services of private investigator, Tom Welles (Nicolas Cage), to find out the truth.

Ad – content continues below

After searching through missing persons files, he matches the girl on the tape to that of teenager Mary-Anne Mathews (Jenny Powell). With a connection made, he makes a visit to her mother Janet’s (Amy Morton) house and discovers Mary Ann’s diary, which explains that she ran away to Hollywood to make it in the movies.

Before he leaves the house, Tom asks Janet if she wants to believe the fairytale that her daughter is in Hollywood following her dream or wants to know what really happened to her. She tells him she wants to know the truth, so he begins his journey to find it.

Knowing he will have to pretend to be interested in the genre of film that was kept in Mr. Christian’s safe, Tom flies to Hollywood and makes contact with a employee of an adult video store, Max California (Joaquin Phoenix), who puts him in touch with a talent scout called Eddie Poole (James Gandolfini), who introduces him to director Dino Velvet (Peter Stormare), who specialises in the type of snuff movie found in the safe, with his star being the masked man.

Hoping to prove what really happened, Tom poses as a client wanting to have a hardcore bondage movie made and he arranges to meet with Velvet in New York. When he arrives, the masked man, known as Machine, overpowers him and Mrs. Christian’s lawyer appears, explaining that he was the one who arranged for the movie to be made and has warned Velvet in advance that he would be contacting him.

Ad – content continues below

Realising the film in the safe was, in fact, real, Velvet produces a beaten Max and demands that Tom bring the movie to them. When he does, the three burn the film and kill Max anyway.

Before the three can turn on him, Tom lets Velvet and Machine know that Mr. Christian paid a million dollars for the movie to be made, much less than they received. Now knowing that Longdale kept the biggest part of the pie from himself, the three begin to fight with Longdale and Velvet, eventually being killed and Tom escaping.

After his brush with death, Tom contacts Mrs. Christian and tells her the truth behind the movie and urges her to go to the police. When he arrives to take her to the station, her butler informs him that the news of what kind of man her husband really was had driven her to kill herself, leaving only two envelopes, one with the remainder of Tom’s fee and one for Mary Ann’s family.

Still angry and upset, Tom decides to get vengeance on the remaining people involved with the movie, tracking down Poole and killing him, and the tracking down Machine. Before he kills him he takes off his mask, revealing a very unremarkable man underneath.

Ad – content continues below

A few months later, Tom receives a letter from Janet thanking him for his help and, although at first she hated him for telling her the truth, they were the only two who really cared about what happened to her daughter.

Thoughts & Reaction

I’m going to say straight off the bat, 8MM is probably one of my least favourite Schumacher pictures. Although the story itself is a solid enough thriller, it just leaves a nasty taste in the mouth after. Now, this is partly due to the subject matter in hand, but also because I just don’t feel it was handled in the right way.

Firstly, there is the story. Written by Andrew Kevin Walker, who is probably best known for his script for Seven, 8MM was a much darker, thought provoking film when the rights to it were first bought.

Being as it was, the studio wanted Walker to tone it down, but he refused and when Schumacher was brought on he was thrilled, as he thought he was finally working with somebody on his wavelength. Sadly, this was not the case and Schumacher made his own changes to the script which lead to the much publicised feud between the two and ended up with Walker walking off the set and disowning the film.

Ad – content continues below

Had Walker’s original script been kept, I believe the movie would have been much more interesting and tense and, as with his previous work, would have left you with a sense of unease rather than a sense of dirtiness.

Secondly, is the casting. I’m going to jump straight in here and say that I think in the leading role of Tom Welles, Nicolas Cage was miscast. This is nothing against him personally. When he wants to be, Cage is a brilliant actor. Although his recent choices have been far from ideal, he could still turn it around and get back to his Leaving Las Vegas Days. However, saying that, in this movie he does just seem to be going through the motions and in some cases overacting to the point where you end up rolling your eyes thinking is he for real?

What I think this lead role needed was somebody not unknown, but not the star Cage is. But then again, I also realise that a movie is sold on its leading star, not on its integrity. 

The supporting case does, in fact, prop Cage up on many occasions and I cannot fault the casting there. I do think, though, some were underused and, just as you get to understand where they fit in the story, they come to a rather sticky end, which again I can see why they did that ,but at the same time I don’t see why everybody had to die.

Ad – content continues below

The eventual point of this movie was for justice to be done for the girl who died, yet not one person was tried and convicted and, although key players were taken out of the picture, the actual industry was still going, Personally, I wanted a bit more justice than just an eye for an eye.

The one thing I cannot fault about this movie is the way it looks on screen. Schumacher really does have an eye for making things look gritty and dirty and this was perfected in many ways when he directed Falling Down.

In 8mm he takes it a step further and you feel the saturation of the movie cover you and, although in this case it isn’t very pleasant, it does exactly what it needs to do.

It seems, however, I am not the only person in the world not to be impressed by the movie. When it was released the critics really gave it a pounding, as did the audience, with the movie not making its budget back upon US release, but finding a bit of a larger audience worldwide, which made it a modest success. It was followed up by a direct-to-DVD sequel with which none of the original team or cast were involved.

Ad – content continues below

Although down but not out, Schumacher’s next project was a step away from his work here and focused more on the relationship between two very different men.

Next time, I will be looking Flawless.

8MM Key Info:

Released: 26th February 1999 (US) / 23RD April 1999 (UK)Distributed By: Columbia PicturesBudget: $40,000,000Box Office Gross: $96,398,826Best DVD Edition: 8MM DVD