Retro Review: 8MM

There have long been rumors and urban legends about the existence of “snuff” films. That is the idea of recording the murder of a person for commercial gain. Not the same as most of the stuff found on some of the better, more highbrow websites that have existed over the years. That was caught on camera by regular people, the news media, or even cartel members and terrorist groups themselves. They aren’t true “snuff films.”

Snuff films, if they even really exist, and I’m sure they do, feature someone killed for the express purpose of making the video. There is an excellent film about the extremely sleazy subject. 8mm starring Nic Cage.




In 8mm, Cage is a private detective hired by a wealthy widow after she cracks open the personal safe of her husband who just recently went Tango Uniform. In that personal safe, she finds an 8mm film which she makes the mistake of firing up onto his projector. The film shows a younger girl beaten and then killed on camera. This puts her off her lunch, as you can imagine, so she gets her lawyer to hire Cage to try to find out if the movie is real or just a really good fake. She hopes to do this by Cage locating the victim/actress and finding her safe and sound.

8mm then plays out, as Cage finds out who the girl in the film is through clever means and obtains information from her ex-boyfriend and her mother. She ran away to California to be a big movie star (of course!) and her mom has heard nothing of her since. Never a good sign.

Hot on the trail, Cage lands on the left coast and hooks up with a fellow who works at a local hardcore porn store. Yes, there used to be such a thing before the internet found its true purpose in the universe. This young fellow is Joaquin Phoenix. Phoenix knows all the local smut peddlers and pornographers, so he takes him (and us) on a tour of the seedy world of barely legal hardcore porn, AKA California.




In the process Cage tracks down the last known location of the missing girl to a porn studio run by James Gandolfini. He spooks Gandolfini via a telephone call and gets a reaction from him that tells Cage he has hit pay dirt. From here things unravel, and they fall into a trap while the whole conspiracy is revealed. I won’t go into any more of it because it is a great reveal and leads to a tense, violent, emotional climax. I will say that 8mm does not end happily for anyone involved.

8mm is a great detective thriller that is darker than black. The story is a nice, slow boil with plenty of time to let the plot breathe. You can see the changes that happen to Cage’s character as he sinks into a dark world of hyper-perversion. One of the themes of the movie is how porn, and the desire for more extreme porn, wreck the mind. 8mm was ahead of its time for sure.

It was not a hit with the critics, of course, but filmgoers liked it. It is my personal favorite Nic Cage movie. The story is ultra sleazy and sordid. Exactly the kind of things I like in a movie.

Check out this forgotten gem from 1999.






If the subject matter intrigues you, there is an excellent documentary on the subject that someone uploaded to youtube. I also recommend it. It is obviously age restricted so you will need to log-in. It is not for the feint of heart.


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