That was my reaction when I saw 8MM on opening night, Friday, February 26, 1999, with a few friends at our nearby multiplex. We knew we were seeing the new Nicolas Cage thriller, but otherwise we didn’t know what the film was about. Imagine our surprise when we got a crash course in the world of underground, industrial sex, and violence videos. 8MM soon after became a short-hand joke with all of us (“Riske got dumped. He’s sad. Like 8MM sad.”). The only way we could reconcile this movie and all its implications was to laugh it away. Personally, 8MM was a thing that disrupted my pursuit of happiness for a week in 1999. For example, later that weekend I met a girl who was smoking a cigarette at a bowling alley and got her phone number. I called her. She never called me back and naturally I assumed she had become the victim of an 8MM scenario. These things happen.
Se7en (both films were written by Andrew Kevin Walker) and Cage and a floundering, post-Batman & Robin Joel Schumacher (who directed) wanted a change of pace from the mainstream blockbusters they were most known for the previous several years. But why are audiences (including myself) drawn to a film whose intent is primarily to make us feel like shit? Is it the safe release of dark feelings like when you watch an extreme horror movie? Does it tap into the same fascination people have watching dark true-crime stories? I don’t have an answer (or expect one) for why “we” watch movies like 8MM, but it’s interesting that “we” do. This was a popular movie. Considering its subject matter, it did decent business at the box office and I can attest it rented well when I worked at Blockbuster. In retrospect, casting Nicolas Cage was a wise decision because it made an unseemly story more mainstream. You’re being given permission to watch something really fucked up.
The part that messed me up the most this viewing had nothing to do with the snuff film (thankfully most of which is implied and shown off-screen). It’s during Cage & Joaquin Phoenix’s odyssey and they stop at what looks like a basement baseball card/horror convention, but instead everyone is selling sex & violence videos and paraphernalia. What’s most messed up about it for me is that the vendors selling goods look like the guys you see at “normal” conventions selling things like bootleg movies and TV series. It makes me wonder: are some of the people at a con that sell the de-specialized editions of the original Star Wars trilogy (for example) also Merchants of Snuff (great band name)? They are now in my mind. Quick digression: Why do bootleg movies you buy at cons always have that smell? You know the one I’m talking about. They have a unique sin odor.