8MM (1999)

Before I had actually seen these films I always mixed up two late 90s Cage films; 8MM and Snake Eyes. One was supposed to be decent and the other is notoriously campy. You’d think Snake Eyes directed by the great Brian De Palma would be the one worth watching and the one directed by the trashy Joel Schumacher would be the unwatchable. You’d be dead wrong like me in this assumption.

Cage plays Private Investigator Tom Welles as a missing persons case sucks him into the world of the “snuff” film. With the help of Max California (Joaquin Phoenix), an adult video store clerk, Welles penetrates the underworld of illegal pornography and he crosses paths with sleazy talent scout Eddie Poole (James Gandolfini) and eccentric director Dino Velvet (Peter Stormare). In the film’s climax Welles takes down the adulterers one by one including the final bloody pistol-whipping of the leather-clad bondage fiend known as “Machine”.

This movie is nearly as Cuckoo’s Nest as Snake Eyes but with a much more controlled screenplay and direction. Credit goes to the combination of such talents as Se7enscreenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker and Joel Schumacher returning to his Falling Downroots after half a decade of putting nipples on Batsuits. The cinematography is by the great Robert Elswit who shoots all of P.T. Anderson’s films and there’s a wonderful tracking shot that follows Cage entering the creepy and porn-laden home of “Machine” as Aphex Twin’s “Come To Daddy” blares on the soundtrack. Its a moment that’s at once frightening and energetic, it reminds us that this director at one time did bring us The Lost Boys.

Its hard not to love Walker’s screenplay with character names like Max California and Dino Velvet. The supporting cast seems to take a few cues from Cage and ante up their live wire performances (from Gandolfini to Stormare). Its an underrated gem and perhaps its because of its release so soon to that of Snake Eyes. I think the following exchange says it all in the violence and debauchery to ensue.

Tom Welles: [on phone] Eddie?
Eddie Poole: Yeah.
Tom Welles: I know all about it.
Eddie Poole: Yeah, you know about what?
Tom Welles: About that girl. Six years ago. I know what you did to her.
Eddie Poole: Who is this?
Tom Welles: You murdered her. You and your friends.
Eddie Poole: What the fuck are you talkin’ about?
Tom Welles: You killed her on film. And now you’re fucked. You’re all fucked.

-John

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