(Welcome to DTV Descent, a series that explores the weird and wild world of direct-to-video sequels to theatrically released movies. In this edition, we get dirty with the follow-up to Nicolas Cage’s grim and grimy thriller about leather, latex, and the lurid world of snuff films.)

This column’s only six entries deep, but all of the featured DTV sequels have so far offered a direct connection to the film that came before it. The continued storyline hasn’t helped most of them in the quality department, but the return of characters and specific narratives at least works to draw in curious viewers hoping to see where a film went after the end credits finished rolling.

There’s a whole other kind of DTV sequel, though, and we’re getting our first taste of its nonsensical, disconnected nature this week.

Joel Schumacher’s 8MM is a solid, occasionally brutal and dramatic thriller with a stellar cast, and while it wasn’t a hit necessarily it made some coin, disturbed some viewers, and found a fan in Roger Ebert. The sequel – yes, there was a sequel made six years later – doesn’t manage any of that, but it shouldn’t be surprising because it also lacks any connection whatsoever to Schumacher’s film. It’s a sequel in name only, and that’s because it was originally called The Velvet Side of Hell during production before being retitled for marketing purposes and released as 8MM 2.

The Beginning

1999’s 8MM is the story of Tom Welles (Nicolas Cage), a private eye whose work sees him routinely in the muck with the lowest dregs of society. When he’s hired to find a missing girl to confirm if a supposed 8mm snuff video – hardcore home movie featuring the real-life torture and murder of the young woman – is legitimate or just the stuff of urban legend, he discovers humanity can always sink lower. He follows a trail of sin and sleaze through sex shops and even less savory locales before finally finding the men responsible. The further he sinks into their world, the further away he gets from his own family, and as his hands get dirtier and dirtier there’s no guarantee he’ll ever make it back out again.

The DTV Plot

2005’s 8MM 2 centers on David (Johnathon Schaech), an American diplomat with political aspirations who loves fornicatin’ with the ladies! He arrives in Budapest with his fiancée Tish, and after some hotel room canoodling, the couple head out to see how Eastern Europeans party. They meet a smoking hot brunette on the dance floor and head back to her place to play the beast with three backs, but a few days later, just as everything seems to be coming together for the couple, an envelope arrives in the mail containing photographs of their tryst. Ruh roh!

The couple stresses out for another few days before a blackmail demand arrives, instructing $200k be delivered to an abandoned amusement park in exchange for the negatives. The trade goes poorly, and as the gunfire dies down, so does the man who tried to take their money. Double ruh roh! With no video and no other option but to pursue the woman behind the blackmail, David and Tish set off on a montage filled with strip clubs, statuesque strippers, and naked people gyrating on poles (and on other naked people). Russian mobsters, excessive political chatter, and a steady stream of unclothed models follow, leading the couple towards a last-ditch effort to salvage their future (and our time).

Talent Shift

Director Joel Schumacher’s film immediately prior to 8MM was the legendary nipple-related disaster that is Batman & Robin, but before that, he was something of a powerhouse with a string of commercial and/or critical hits including Flatliners, Dying Young, Falling Down, The Client, Batman Forever, and A Time to Kill. Writer Andrew Kevin Walker meanwhile had dabbled in techno-horror (Brainscan, Hideaway) before delivering one of cinema’s finest serial killer thrillers ever with Seven. The clear talent flowed over in front of the camera as well, with Cage being joined by Joaquin Phoenix, James Gandolfini, Peter Stormare, Catherine Keener, and Chris Bauer. It’s a highly respectable cast and crew for such a bleak studio effort, and they carry viewers through the film’s grimmer beats.

By comparison, 8MM 2 director J.S. Cardone’s previous effort is something called The Scare Hole. I’m not knocking it as I haven’t seen it, but come on, it’s called The Scare Hole. Writer Robert Sullivan has no such questionably named titles in his filmography, but a big reason for that is because this is his only feature writing credit. Cast-wise, Schaech is a good actor joined by a small handful of recognizable faces in Lori Heuring, Julie Benz, and Bruce Davison, but only the first two get much in the way of screen time.

How the Sequel Respects the Original

As mentioned above, this was filmed as a wholly unrelated project and only turned into a “sequel” to 8MM once it reached Sony’s marketing department. That makes it pretty difficult for it to honor and emulate the earlier film. You’d be hard-pressed to find any accidental connections or thematic similarities either.

How the Sequel Shits on the Original

The original film is far from a mystery and instead works as a drama about a good man’s descent into hell in search of a lost youth and his attempt to climb back out again. It’s Paul Schrader’s Hardcore morphed into a slick and gloomy thriller about horrible people committing devastating acts of cruelty and violence, and there’s weight both in the events of the film and in Cage’s character’s final words to his wife. “Save me,” he begs her as the oppressive nature of what he’s endured and witnessed becomes too much for him to bear, and the moment works beautifully as a call for help. The sequel jettisons any attempt at a gut punch along with the S&M, snuff films, and the grotesquely seedy underbelly of Los Angeles in favor of a far more generic setup punctuated with live nude girls in a land where the U.S. dollar stretched longer than their legs. Rather than watch a man struggle with his own humanity in the face of horrific cruelty, the sequel asks viewers to watch a dude have sex and then get upset that someone filmed him. Meaningless political banter is tossed around to create the illusion of power plays and purpose, but it’s never more than a one-note thriller padded with naked flesh.

8MM drags viewers through worlds they’re unfamiliar with and may have never even heard about, but the follow-up is a simple tale of sex, blackmail, and more sex en route to catching the blackmailers. If it sounds like I’m selling it as a softcore thriller, that’s because it is a softcore thriller, one that never really thrills. The script fails at making viewers care about these characters – hell, it never really tries – and worse, it sets up an ending that’s quite literally announced in the opening 20 minutes.

There’s also the matter of our protagonists’ ridiculous thought process. Their goal is to secure a video showing them have sex with a prostitute because it would be a career-ender, and in order to avoid that possible embarrassment, they engage in shootouts, leave fingerprints at murder scenes, and have Tish strip down in a mobster’s office and in a brothel – both places where hidden/security cameras are almost certainly recording.

Finally, and this seems like something that should have been caught by the marketing department if no one else, there’s nothing in the movie even related to 8mm film.

Conclusion

Unlike the past few entries in this column, 8MM 2 has zero connection to its predecessor, and in this case, that’s ultimately its only real plus as it can’t betray characters or themes it doesn’t acknowledge. (The horny dudes among you may also find the copious nudity to be a positive, but I promise you it begins to blend into the production design well before the end credits roll.) Ignore the title, and instead think of it as a late night Skinemax watch that maxes out the skin and ends on a twist you saw coming an hour beforehand.

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