Dangerous Minds is once again covering the action at Fantastic Fest, the best damn movie festival in the known universe.
The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) had its world premiere tonight at Austin’s Fantastic Fest and director Tom Six was there to take questions at the end of the screening. I filmed the Q&A and you can watch it below. But first I’ll share my thoughts on the film.
I have not seen The Human Centipede (First Sequence) which was released in 2009 to mostly scathing reviews and howls of disapproval from cultural watchdogs all over the globe. Roger Ebert called it “depraved and disgusting. (It) occupies a world where the stars don’t shine.” Both the original and the sequel have been banned in England.
The new film is certainly graphic in more ways than you can imagine, however I think the outcry has less to do with violence than the fact that people simply cannot handle anything that subverts all notions of order in an increasingly disorderly world.
Since the first film got a shitload of press, most of you probably know what it’s about, but for those who don’t, here’s how the film’s distributor, IFC, describes The Human Centipede (First Sequence):
During a stopover in Germany in the middle of a carefree roadtrip through Europe, two American girls find themselves alone at night when their car breaks down in the woods. Searching for help at a nearby villa, they are wooed into the clutches of a deranged retired surgeon who explains his mad scientific vision to his captives’ utter horror. They are to be the subjects of his sick lifetime fantasy: to be the first to connect people, one to the next, via their gastric system, and in doing so bring to life ‘the human centipede’.
The sequel has a pretty nifty premise: A demented and delusional fan of The Human Centipede named Martin perceives the film as an instruction video and sets out on a mission to create his very own multi-legged monstrosity made out of hapless victims he lures to a warehouse under the pretext of conducting a casting call for the next Quentin Tarantino movie. Played with maniacal abandon by Laurence R. Harvey, who resembles a pudgy and bleached Peter Lorre, Martin performs all kinds of primitive surgery on his captives to create his centipedal masterpiece. This includes the removal of kneecaps, teeth, tongues and employing a staple gun and duct tape to attach mouth to ass to mouth to ass. You get the idea. It’s a particularly messy affair because, unlike the original mad doctor in First Sequence, Martin has no skills as a surgeon. His tools consist mostly of kitchen utensils and stuff you’d find in a tool box. The results resemble an explosion in a butcher shop.
Now I know for most of you this all sounds kind of tired. Torture porn is so 2005. But there’s something more going on in Six’s mad brain. First of all, the film is shot in stunning high definition black and white video by David Meadows. It has the stark glistening dankness of George Franju’s 1949 masterpiece Le Sang des bêtes which was filmed in a slaughterhouse. The scenes where Martin is at home with his deranged mother are clearly inspired by David Lynch’s Eraserhead, both in psychological tone and visually. Six is very skilled at controlling atmosphere and using camera angles to create a sense of disorientation and dread. The perspective is often from the point of view of something hovering in the corner of a ceiling like a ghost.
As to the film’s extreme transgressions, I may be going out on a limb here, but I think Six is up to something that is consciously political, a culture bomb dropped in the popcorn with the intent to detonate in the lap of the the status quo, to fuck with peoples’ heads, to dislodge the repressed from the dead formulas that no longer equate with freedom of thought and expression. The sight, in Centipede, of a throng of naked bodies lashed together, covered in blood and shit, and writhing on a grimy warehouse floor brought to mind films and images from the 1960s and 70s of the Vienna Actionists who were using violence to comment upon and mirror the carnage in Vietnam and sex and nudity as a tool to pry open those repressed areas of humanity’s collective psyche that keeps us domesticated like neutered poodles. I get the sense that Six’s provocations may actually be, like the Actionists, a deliberate attack on the new puritanism that is restraining our freedoms with the rusted chastity belt of religion and the uptight, politically correct, social standards that keep us civilized but miserable.
I also wonder if Six might not be using the torture porn genre to let us not forget, particularly Americans, that we do indeed torture people. There are moments in Centipede 2 where one is reminded of photos taken at Abu Ghraib. The piles of bodies, duct-taped mouths and hands bound by barbed wire.
On the other hand, maybe Six is just an exploitation film maker with a good measure of skill and no agenda beyond titillating a bunch of mouth-breathing teenagers. If so, he may have accidentally made an art film.
As an entertainment Centipede is about as much fun as diving into a tub of razorblades. Although I did find myself laughing out loud at certain scenes, most likely causing the people around me to question my sanity, the movie is not the kind of comedy that most so-called well-adjusted people will enjoy (which is probably the point). It’s too sick. As a horror flick , the plot has the slimmest of narratives is devoid of tension and not even remotely frightening. And it’s unimaginable as a date movie unless you’re dating Casey Anthony.
Ultimately, The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) is not a very good movie movie, but as pure cinema it is a force to be reckoned with. It will probably be shunned by a majority of film goers, disappear, and be resuscitated years from now as some kind of transgressive masterpiece. Or maybe not. The one thing I know for sure is that people are going to hate it. Which may be exactly what Tom Six is aiming for.
The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) opens October 7 in select theaters in the USA. If you live in England, forget about it.
The New York Times reports:
When it, The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) , was presented over the summer to the British Board of Film Classification, the equivalent of the Motion Picture Association of America, the board refused to give it any rating at all, meaning that the movie cannot be shown or sold legally in that country. Explaining its decision, the board said: “There is little attempt to portray any of the victims in the film as anything other than objects to be brutalized, degraded and mutilated for the amusement and arousal of the central character, as well as for the pleasure of the audience.” It added that any further editing of the film would not make it acceptable for presentation.
Tom Six and cast members interviewed by Fantastic Fest founder Tim League and members of the audience: