REVIEW: 8MM (1999): If you dance with the devil, the devil don't change. The devil changes you.

in Movies & TV Shows3 days ago (edited)


I love this quote from this film and it sums up the main theme of this entire movie.

8MM stars Nicolas Cage as our protagonist, Tom Welles in a film directed by Joel Schumacher. Mr. Welles is a private investigator doing the dirty work for high profile clients. While not a household name yet he's wishing to be on the speed dial of the elite. Highly recommended by those that need answers while remaining discreet. The two most important details for those in such a profession. He's doing well but not solidified as the go to guy or a "fixer" even though he's been making his brand known for some time now.

We learn all this information within the first five minutes of the film. Nicely done screenwriters, show don't tell. We realize this man is smart, discreet and good at his job.

Mr. Welles is contacted by an attorney of a recently widowed Mrs. Christian. The elite among the elite. Upon her husband's death she has discovered an 8mm film within the secure safe of her late husband. The film is horrific while apparently depicting the death of a young woman otherwise known as a snuff film. Mrs. Christian wants Mr. Welles to investigate the matter and determine the validity of the film. No expenses spared, she wants answers and hopes this is pure fantasy and not reality.


Snuff films. Urban legend or the real deal? This is the real debate. A snuff film shows a person killed on film. This is the clinical definition.

Many films have been made on the subject such as the early Snuff (1975), the Japanese Guinea Pig series mostly done in the 80s, the notorious Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and more recently the films by Fred Vogel in his August Underground series in the early 2000s. These films deal with the subject in their own artistic viewpoints on the so-called genre. Not easy to watch and can appear ultra realistic, in the end they are fiction and thank goodness for that.

The genre is interesting while the film I'm discussing right now, 8MM was a surprise gateway film for the modern viewer that I was not expecting to see released in the Hollywood system. Much of this content is considered taboo for good reason and many have never heard the term "snuff" before.

Mr. Welles is aware of the subject matter but he too doesn't believe it. Real or simulated? Our journey begins.


He sits down and the film is shown to him in their private screening room. We see bits and pieces of the film and the reactions by Mr. Welles. He's visually disturbed but made it through. To him, he realizes this is a very good fake or real. He takes the job.

Where to start? This is the burning question. We have a nondescript 8mm film with no leads. First we need to analyze the film as best we can. The film starts delving into the common procedural detective story trying to find answers by hitting the bricks. Talking to people, visiting locations and trying to determine any piece of information however minute.

The case eventually lands him in Hollywood, California. He also realizes this case is more than likely tied the world of pornography. Hold on to your hats as we delve into the underground of the scene. He finds a local shop and starts loading up on magazines and local papers trying to make an inroad in the subculture. Nothing mainstream but the illegal underground scene. While picking up the standard material he runs into Joaquin Phoenix, known as Max California clerking in this pornography shop. Once befriended, Max is the gateway to the underground that Tom Welles was looking for. 20 years his junior he knows the scene and is invaluable to his investigation. They become fast friends.


The case moves forward as the audience starts to see the underground, seedy and illegal aspects of the pornography world. They both dig deeper trying to find this elusive genre known as snuff and many do not like them here.

The film moves at a brisk pace while more and more interesting characters emerge from the shadows. James Gandolfini appears as a seedy pornographer and a scene stealing Peter Stormare comes out of nowhere as a visionary filmmaker with a specific niche within the pornographic arts.

Tom Welles does eventually receive the answer to the initial question. Real or fake? You must join him for the journey and it's well worth the trip.


I'd be remiss to not mention my favorite scene from this movie. Located near the end with a perfect use of Aphex Twin's track Come To Daddy. You'll know the scene when your ears are assaulted by this song and then nothing. A great builder of suspense.

Speaking of sound, the score done by Mychael Danna is very unconventional. A Middle Eastern flavor grates against the seedy world of Hollywood nicely. Not something I would ever think would mesh but it does.

The atmosphere is done exceptionally well, the viewer feels like they would need a shower at the end of this film. Kudos to those that accepted such a role as some of the supporting characters feel right at home in this world.

I did enjoy this film up to a point. The procedural work and the mystery held my attention but it delved into a revenge for hire bit near the end. There are some interesting scenes in the later half but the tone shifted too drastically in my opinion. A bit too much revenge for my tastes. I understand the reasoning and the character changes do make sense but again it's too fast for me.


The memorable quote as mentioned earlier "If you dance with the devil, the devil don't change. The devil changes you." is so apt. Tom Welles sees the real aspects of a certain subsection of society and emerges but not unscathed. He is changed and moving on with his life and family.

I would still recommend this film. Interesting but not for everyone and yes we have a Nicolas Cage freak out moment too. Something different coming out of the Hollywood at the time and I'll always remember it.

Aphex Twin – Come To Daddy


All images captured by myself from the original source.


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Pizza from the source? Thank you @pizzabot you're very kind.

I haven't seen the film, but I added it to my list. But I haven't seen it yet because I had the idea that it's the kind of movie that has a good synopsis, but then doesn't satisfy expectations, Nicolas Cage is a bit to blame for that. I will try to see it soon. Good review.

I watched this film several years ago and I enjoyed it. A harsh story but very intriguing and with top-notch performances. I was worried about this movie being too extreme for my tastes at the time, but I ended up enjoying it quite a bit.

Oh, I saw this at the movies. The script is by the same guy who wrote Seven. I liked 8 mm, but as you say, its final part is the one I liked the least, there was some excess, maybe they wanted to shock more the viewer of the time. Although I wanted to see something more extreme

You're right about the writer it was the same guy. A little more grittier than the mainstream films coming out in at this time. I'm with you on a little bit more of the harder edge. People were taken aback somewhat when this came out but they couldn't go full on for obvious reasons.

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