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Published 15 April 2002

"8 mm", by Joel Schumacher

A Commercial for Death Row

This is an effective, Hollywood suspense movie which takes us down into the underground sleaze of snuff movies. The plot is pretty basic: Nicolas Cage is a private investigator inquiring about porn and snuff productions for a rich, old lady who has found an awful roll of 8mm-film in her late husband’s belongings. She wants to know if that disgusting scene of sex and murder is bogus or real. What makes the film interesting is not really the rather conventional course of the investigation but the tense and gloomy atmosphere. I guess it can be rated above the average standard action movie, even though many ingredients come from the same stock. Now I’m relieved the Hollywood kind of cinema should not be concerned with artistic expression of truth or meaningful cultural impact on people, because in that case, we would have to study and to identify the kind of ideas or messages conveyed by Schumacher’s work, and I would be very skeptical, and possibly upset, with what we would find out.

If you decided to analyse the implicit meaning of the film, you would find quite stinky stuff indeed. First, have you noticed how often US action movies end up with the good guy eventually killing the bad guy after giving him a last chance to survive? You always have that stupid, boring, final big fight which always comes out with the victory of the lead actor. The baddie always does something in the ultimate second that forces the hero to execute him, usually in a very dirty way (a stake through the body is how Hollywood films regularly exorcize the figure of Evil). Not a murder - legitimate defence, for the sake of Good.

Schumacher’s 8mm abides by the rule: "Machine", the beastly, sadistic executioner, gets pierced in the belly. The "special" climatic moment occurs in the fight, when he takes off his mask: how incredible - he’s no monster! He looks like any good old daddy selling you stamps at the post office... "I wasn’t molested, I wasn’t raped..." he insists: he’s no weirdo victimized by his family, he simply likes killing people. He’s the gross, unbearable embodiment of gratuitous evil; the kind of nasty filth that spreads all over our streets like rats in the gutter. The devil with the face of your clean, polite neighbor. Just die, noxious bastard! Die! You deserve to die. Justice is everyone’s job. Violence is everyone’s method. How come all those perverts haven’t grilled yet on Old Sparky, at a quicker pace? Evil is not the consequence of your background - evil is rooted in your personality, Schumacher yells at us in Dolby Surround, so burn them all to free our country from all those perverts... That’s the kind of stinky stuff that you find out if you dig in the film’s possible meaning. A pure incitation to murder - because killing evil guys is not killing, it’s showing that you care for the innocent victims... Disgusting.