Arizona Son: The Cardone Files Vol. 7 — 8MM 2 (2005)

In the final chapter of his epic J.S. Cardone series, Dave walks the tumultuous path of a sequel that never was.

In a parallel universe, a film called ‘The Velvet Side of Hell’ would be regarded as an arthouse masterpiece. A vaunted composition that captures the dichotomy between the architectural opulence of Budapest and the seedy underbelly of its sex-saturated streets of ill-repute.

The reality is it’s just plain ‘ol 8MM 2 (2005).

With the dawn of the new millennium, Sandstorm Films, the company that Joe Cardone set up in 1995 with his wife, actress and producer Carol Kottenbrook, were in the midst of enjoying a fruitful partnership with Sony Pictures. They had produced both Sniper 2 (2002) and Sniper 3 (2004), with Cardone even scripting the latter, and had overseen a second sequel to John Carpenter’s triumphant horror western Vampires (1998), Vampires: The Turning (2004). For their next project together, however, Sony were looking for something a little different, as Cardone explains:

“The studio was keen on doing a sexual thriller – and for me that meant pushing the boundaries of sexuality. I think they were a little hesitant about where I would take it! I wanted to make a picture like the ones American filmmakers were making in Europe during the ‘70s.”

Well, he’s not American, but there’s certainly a brooding beauty to 8MM 2 that suggests the European flavour of Nic Roeg’s pièce de resistance, Don’t Look Now (1973). There’s even a distant connection as Roeg’s son, Sholto J. Roeg, was once Cardone’s regular assistant director, from Outside Ozona (1998) through to Wicked Little Things (2006).

“Do you remember what I told you about how hard it can be for a picture to make it into the world?” asks Cardone. “Because this is another example.”

“I’d gotten a call from the great producer John Calley [The Remains of the Day (1993)]. He liked the script and he’d been in touch with [Sony offshoot] Screen Gems and suggested that they should make it – which we did. However, there was upheaval at Screen Gems. Amy Pascal saw it and liked it but told me that she’d never release it theatrically. It was unrated at the time, and there were some pornographic sequences in it. No penetration, but that was my deal with Sony. If I’m going to make it, then I’ll make it the way I want.” [1]

“Anyway, it was all set to go out as ‘The Velvet Side of Hell’, and do you ever remember a guy by the name of Harry Knowles? It was slipped to him under that name and he loved it. I have a love / hate relationship with all of you, with critics and with fanboys. Actually, your site is not a fanboy site, I should not have said that. I was quite impressed with what the two of you do. With fanboys, I don’t make the type of films that they like. When they slipped it to Harry, I thought this wasn’t a smart move, except he really liked it, but then Amy decided to brand it with 8MM 2. And I hated that idea.”

“’The Velvet Side of Hell’ had nothing to do with the original 8MM (1999), the Joel Schumacher film. They had no connectivity at all. You can get away with that in other films I wrote like Prom Night (2008) or The Stepfather (2009) because you’re only taking a branded title and changing the storyline. But with 8MM, that was a Nic Cage character movie, you know what I mean? A sequel should follow along those lines. I was incensed.”

8MM 2‘s story concerns itself with David (Johnathon Schaech), an ambitious young diplomat, who’s visiting the city of Budapest to become a little more acquainted with his fiancée Tish’s (Lori Heuring) brood before their wedding. The in-laws are an unpalatable bunch of Republican stiffs whose patriarch (Bruce Davison) is the American ambassador to Hungary – and he seizes every opportunity to tell David that “because of where you come from, you will never understand the true power that great wealth can bring you”. A working-class boy whose family survived on food stamps, it’s clear to David that he’ll never be accepted, but he persists nonetheless.

As if things weren’t pressurised enough for the couple, date night transports them deep into Budapest’s decadent nightlife – and, consequently, into the arms of the seductive Risa (Zoe Görög) for a mutually agreed ménage à trois. The morning after finds a satisfied pair still confident in the strength of their relationship, but when a ransom note arrives that claims the tryst was captured on film, the race is on to find out who is extorting them, while fighting to keep details of their salacious evening away from the family.

There’s a moment in 8MM 2 – in fact, it’s the moment – when Tish submits to the tactile advances of Risa on a packed dancefloor, and it is, without question, one of the standout scenes in any Cardone movie full stop. It’s a captivating sequence with a throbbing sensuality that’s made even more intense by the director’s voyeuristic camera. What could have been an exploitative twist is elevated into artful eroticism, and it’s capped by a delectable cut from editor Elena Maganini (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)) that’s as smooth as the material in the film’s original title.

When Cardone first arrived in Los Angeles and became part of the famed Company of Angels theatre group, he was taken under the wing of Lonne Elder, the acclaimed black playwright renowned for his social and political consciousness. It’s clear to see that influence in 8MM 2: far beyond cheap thrills and shallow titillation, at its core is a biting commentary on class and social status. Political discourse dominates the dinner party table, and Tish and David’s prenuptial agreement – one that would leave him high and dry – lingers in the condescending air; an allegory that takes aim at the increasing gulf between the haves and have nots, and the futility of trying to breach the divide.

“Yes, you’re right, it’s a very political film,” agrees Cardone. “Amy’s criticism to me was that it’s too over the top. And – [whispers] they hated the ending. They wanted a Hollywood ending! But the whole film doesn’t work without it! I kept saying to them that NONE of the narrative and NONE of the plot works without the ending we have.”

With the immense financial riches that the home video success of Starship Troopers: Hero of the Federation (2004) brought Sony, it accelerated a brief era of sequelisation, specifically in the direct-to-video market. Retrofitting was also the order of the day (a la American Psycho 2 (2002)) – and although you can see the fiscal sense behind it, from an artistic perspective, such a move is a disheartening cash grab. The title ‘8MM 2’ creates a premeditated opinion, and Cardone’s sublime movie is one that should be consumed without the baggage that Schumacher’s original thrusts upon it.

“I did see some of the reviews for 8MM 2,” asserts Cardone, “And a consistent criticism was the line about how it wasn’t anything like 8MM. You can’t put out a preconceived notion and not deliver on it. Joe Ruben’s original Stepfather (1987) is a brilliant piece of filmmaking, and the new script I wrote was totally different from the shooting script that Amy forced us to write. It was much darker, and a really good story that went along the lines of the original. But still, we pulled off what we needed to pull off with the programmer. You know full well that you’re going to take hits by remaking a classic movie, but I have no problems with remakes.”

“However, it was a monumental mistake in changing the title of ‘The Velvet Side of Hell’. Knowles picked up on this too and ran with it. He was livid. I heard he made numerous calls to [studio head] Michael Lynton, saying how he was going to destroy this picture. He has his many, many, MANY faults, but he had a point.”

[1] “As a side note, all the scenes that featured elements of pornography were directed by Carol!” adds Cardone.

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