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Shocking, Effective, and Without Reason
on January 6, 2012
In 2010 writer/director Tom Six unveiled The Human Centipede (First Sequence), a horror film with a plot so outlandish, so vulgar that it got a lot more attention than a typical low-budget, small release horror film. Six immediately promised a sequel, divulging little detail about it except that the first film would be "My Little Pony compared with part two." The first Human Centipede, promoted as "100% medically accurate," was remarkably tame and tastefully done considering the extreme subject matter, the brunt of its cultural impact coming from the premise rather than the execution. The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) substantially ups the ante, going so far as to promoted it as "100% medically inaccurate." With the film being banned in the UK until 32 cuts were made, Six proved himself an honest filmmaker who truly delivered on his promise. What's scary is that a third film is already planned and he has said it will make this installment look like a Disney film. Discussing a film like this is not easy, because The Human Centipede is a film you enjoy the same way you enjoy a freeway car accident. There's nothing redeeming, entertaining, or significant about it, but it's hard to take your eyes off of it. These films fall into their own niche of "shock horror," horror films that don't intend to evoke fear but shock and disgust. Despite the decided lack of artistic value, I do enjoy seeing filmmakers push the limits of a genre and make something as extreme as possible. While the fact that someone not only had this idea but actually immortalized it on film may destroy any lingering faith you have in the human race, it's an admirable effort that, despite being soulless and demoralizing, accomplishes its intended goal.
Opening with the final scene of the first film, the camera pans back to reveal it being watched on a laptop in a parking garage tollbooth. The viewer is Martin (Laurence R. Harvey), a stout, bug-eyed, asthmatic British man who watches the first film obsessively at every opportunity, has a scrapbook dedicated to it, and even has a pet centipede. His extraordinarily creepy childlike appearance and demeanor coupled with this obsession make it quite clear that Martin is mentally ill. It's revealed that Martin, who never speaks a word in the film, was sexually abused by his father as a child and lives with a mother (Vivien Bridson) who blames him for getting her beloved husband sent to prison. Frequently alone in the parking garage at night, Martin uses this solitude to start attacking and kidnapping people. After gaining access to a warehouse, he begins storing those he has kidnapped with the intention of recreating the human centipede in the film he so loves...But, there's a twist. Martin wants to create a human centipede with 12 people.
This film goes into some of the dark, unheard of places and Six's decision to pull the story into the realm of reality adds an extra level of horror to the happenings. Unfolding in stark black and white (although originally shot in color), this film is cut from a different cloth than the first. The tone and atmosphere, as well as the gratuity and fearlessness, recall the films of German director Jörg Buttgereit, particularly Nekromantik and Schramm, while the black and white imagery and haunting use of silence is reminiscent of David Lynch's Eraserhead. It's easy to dismiss artistic credibility when it's utilized within the torture porn genre, as even torture porn that attempts to be artistic is still just torture porn. While some may (and have) called it artless, Six is a capable director. There are scenes that don't involve violence or gore that are both effective and eerie, but if Six's ability is ignored it's his fault for making such a no-holds barred film. Nothing is off-limits in The Human Centipede II, with even pregnant women and newborns falling victim to the horrific violence. Six is a director gleefully free of pretense and for all of the artistic intentions it appears to have, it never takes itself too seriously. Despite how staggeringly violent it becomes, it's pretty tongue-in-cheek. When Martin actually lures Ashlynn Yennie, the actress who played 1/3 of the centipede in First Sequence, to his warehouse under the guise that she's auditioning for a Quentin Tarantino movie, it's clear that that this film, as well as being horrifically violent, is self-aware. It's easy to forget that the idea of sewing people mouth-to-anus is a rather ludicrous premise and that Six has made it the horrifying premise of two films rather and kept it from being unintentionally funny is an accomplishment in and of itself.
The final 30 minutes will make you realize how conservative the first film was, with Six taking everything as far as his imagination will allow. All of the disgusting elements that were only alluded to are allowed to come to light. He holds nothing back, allowing his potent mix of the horrifying and lack of seriousness to collide when he finally allows a single color, the color brown, to enter the palette. You must recall that the procedure in the first film was performed by a surgeon, with the tools and ability to perform this procedure. Martin is no surgeon and when the time finally comes for him to make his own centipede he uses whatever tools are on hand (hammer, knife, staple gun, etc.). Needless to say, the procedure is much more crude and stomach-churning. Many scenes made me squirm and there are images that will stay with you for a long time after the film has ended; this is not a film for the faint of heart.
I regrettably confirm that this is not the most disgusting, depraved film I've ever seen, but for the average moviegoer it probably will be. How can you critique a film of this sort? It's immune to criticism as there's no way to simply point out the good and the bad. Even the most ardent fan can't ignore that this is a piece of filmmaking with no substance behind it. The Human Centipede II does not function under the façade of a metaphorical social statement in the way last year's A Serbian Film did nor does it even try to make up a reason for its existence. If you look beneath the depravity of the film you'll find only more depravity. In that sense, this is a soulless, obscene, and trashy film. Yes, the acting is solid and say what you will about the film itself, Harvey gives a chilling, effective performance. It's well-made except for some jumpy editing, sound effects that seem out of sync with what is shown onscreen (pay particularly close attention whenever Martin uses his gun on someone), and an ending that is disturbingly ambiguous but also feels like a cop out. There may not be a reason for its existence, but Six has made the film with the intention of shaking his audience. If you make a film with the sole intention of making your audience nauseous and you succeed, how can the work be dismissed solely because it offends your moral and cinematic sensibilities? Six has not made a "good film" here, but he has made a well-made one that succeeds in exactly the area it intends. Those who will be most offended by it will be those who haven't seen it and those who are forced to watch it. If you consciously embark on the journey, you know where it's going to take you.
It's rare that a film makes you feel unclean just watching it. The effects this film could have on your psychological well-being and how effectively it offends all sense of moral decency is something that can't be ignored. This film is a success when looked at in that light. This is not a movie you like or dislike; it's a movie that simply exists and it's your decision to choose how you cope with its existence, be it by watching it or ignoring it. At its most primordial level, it's effective in its desire to offend. It's certainly unforgettable. The need to assign this film a rating has pushed me into a corner, confused on how to choose something which will be looked at as indicative over whether it's a good film or a bad film. With a sigh, I give The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) a 3/5 and throw up my hands.