The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) Review
A Triumph in Biological Horror!
… or not?
Erm … not, actually.
It is easy to label Dutch filmmaker Tom Six as a pretentious shock-jock out to cause immediate outrage and infamy … because it is true. His basic idea for the original Human Centipede was revolting on purpose. That the resulting film gained immense notoriety simply because of this basic premise was just brilliant marketing of a way-out and quite ludicrous concept. Let's think of the most outrageous and disgusting thing ever, lads … and make a film about it! Even if it gets cut down or banned, our success will be guaranteed because people will feel they just “have” to see what all the fuss is about. I have to concede that it makes great business sense, Tom, and I heartily applaud you for that. Without a doubt, the easiest way to make some money in the film industry is to produce pornography, be it of a sexual nature, or of a horrific nature. Or, as in Six's case, combine them both into one slick, sick package. It's always been that way. Grunge is very cheap to make, and with a sure-fire, built-in audience just waiting for each new fix.
In this respect we cannot lambaste Six any more than we can Herschell Gordon Lewis, Luigi Cozzi or Roger Corman. Such audience manipulation is part-and-parcel of the medium of movies in general, and of the horror genre quite specifically. It is more common now to praise Srdjan Spasojevic for his statements regarding why he made A Serbian Film than to knock him, but the argument is still the same. He deliberately set out to shock and to gain massive infamy with his so-called depiction on the rape of his country, but there remains a seething intelligence and an angry artistry to his film that Tom Six can only dream of attaining with his self-penned and directed trilogy of faecal body-horror. But the ideology is exactly the same. Steam-roll over taste and rip asunder as many moral barriers as you can … and you've got a winner on your hands.
And there's nothing better for promoting a movie than having it condemned by the censorial powers and potentially even banned by them. And Great Britain is the place to get that sort of treatment – the sacred Land of the Video Nasty. So Tom Six will have been rubbing his glans with glee at the hullabaloo that Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) was swept into at the BBFC … because that is exactly, precisely what he wanted to happen. Thus, when his off-the-wall follow-up to 2010's wacky whack-job combination of Nazi-style experimentation, torture-porn and gallows-humour, arrived on Blighty's shores, it was greeted with a wholly expected storm of lovingly engineered controversy. Denied a theatrical release back in June, the film's distributors entered into a tennis match of negotiations to get Six's movie released. The BBFC deemed that the film was so repellent and shocking that it would be impossible to simply cut any offensive scene or image out of it and lessen its horrifically debased tone in any way. Their argument was that we, the audience, feel absolutely no sympathy towards the victims – who are just pieces of meat – and that this, by my extension, would make us little more than passive onlookers at best, morbid accomplices at worst. Also that the perpetual and deliberate tone of the film was geared completely towards the sexual gratification of the psychologically ill lead character via the imprisonment, violence, torture and mutilation of others and, that, by way of the forced act of defecating into someone's trapped mouth, the film did, in fact, become a contravention of the Obscenity Law. But, in a totally contrived fashion that only enhances my suspicions that the Board are a bunch of Tory backhanded buffoons, they finally went back on their word and relented to releasing a censored version on home video – just as they did with the infinitely superior A Serbian Film after an equally tortuous and abortive theatrical spell. This version, released by Eureka on region B Blu-ray, has now lost two-minutes and thirty-seven seconds of assorted graphic mayhem … and that, folks, is a lot of footage in visual terms and impact. I have seen the fullest version of the film that can be found until Australia release the complete and uncut edition, and can testify that, at the end of the day, it probably doesn't matter a jot which version you see. You simply cannot polish a turd, no matter how hard Tom Six might try. But, given the choice, you should never, ever opt for a version that someone else has scissored supposedly for your benefit. How dare they? What makes them so aloof and elitist as to tell you what you can safely watch?
So, before we examine the shabby remnants of Six's film, let's look at the BBFC's strategy for a second.
They refuse a troublesome film a certificate at the cinema, where it is much, much easier to regulate who sees it, and yet they give it a certificate and a release on home video, where we all know it is - aye, you guessed it - much, much harder to regulate who sees it. This totally flies in the face of their arguments about people, and especially the old bugbear of minors, being corrupted by such offensive material. Their reasons for banning the movie, originally, were sound – by their own guidelines, I hasten to add. I don't necessarily agree with their views, but I would understand them a whole lot more if they'd stuck to them. The way in which they have done a U-turn so glibly smacks of sheer behind-the-scenes orchestration, or a complete Jekyll and Hyde mentality. At first they maintained that they couldn't change the loathsome tone or theme of the film by cutting individual scenes or images, and it was, indeed, this loathsome tone and theme that they were objecting to in the first place and not the explicit imagery … but now it seems they can? I'm afraid their decision makes no sense. The instances that have been arbitrarily cut are, themselves, no worse than individual images seen in many other movies that are currently available in the UK, and often only amount to seconds of butchery. Their excision here may serve to dilute the nastiness, but the theme they so revile is not so much as left intact, but possibly reinforced. Now you sort of wonder just what the hell the deranged amateur surgeon is after, which actually makes the film a little more awkward to sit through … until you realise his goal and then just shrug your shoulders and go, “Meh” at what should be the most distressing image of all. So even if you were beginning to assume that we were living in a far more lenient society, with many favourite old Nasties back on sale, and more on the way, I still think that the BBFC are taking their role too far. They need to be reminded that the “C” stands for Classification, not Censors, like it used to. Yeah, right. Mind you, we all know it stands for something else entirely, don't we?
Unless, of course, you choose to look at the possible bigger picture.
In which case, the cynical amongst you could possibly argue that this was a sort of sneaky back-door policy that would deliberately lead to another tabloid-fuelled Video Nasty campaign … and one that would see a clampdown on downloads, the importing of titles and the removal from shelves of things such as the Saw or Hostel series. Now we all know that this is a pretty much unworkable plan, and that in the age of the internet, everything is available to those who really want it (which renders the BBFC largely redundant as anything other than a handy reference tool through which to pick and choose juicy foreign versions), but I cannot fathom the double-standards and the volte-face that the Board have undertaken. Especially as they have even relented with a BD release of Deodato's once vilified Cannibal Holocaust from Shameless in a version that is only slightly cut (by 15 seconds) and still contains a lot of the real-life animal killings – one of the things that the BBFC really hate. So now it's okay to butcher living creatures on film for sake of a cheap thrill, but it wasn't for around thirty years? Look and you will also find Meir Zarchi's I Spit On Your Grave, Craven's The Last House On The Left and Fulci's The New York Ripper, which was, itself, once escorted out of the country as an obscenity. Is this a sign that the BBFC are getting smart or getting more lenient in their old age? Or are these movies, and others such as A Serbian Film just scapegoats sent out in legally sanitised versions (that conveniently absolve the BBFC from any backlash) to bait the moral guardians once more. When the first major Video Nasty witch-hunt was conducted, there was huge economic stress, mass unemployment, riots, and a Tory government looking for something, anything else to take the heat off themselves and garner a groundswell of popular opinion that they could champion. I hate being political – it isn't in my nature at all – but I can't help viewing such things as being cyclical and it really wouldn't surprise me at all to find that “something bad” happens to make the guardians suddenly whip-up hysteria at these potentially leaked titles and, ahem, rather handily distract the masses from the more important issues.
Think about it for a moment, conspiracy lovers.
Folks, did you see what I did there? I manufactured something to deliberately incite and goad certain quarters. I think you'll find that Tom Six has done the exact same thing with no other motives whatsoever. That's how easy it is. And there's no artistic value in it at all.
Now, as regular readers and podcast-listeners will already know, I am a massive fan of horror films, with particular leanings to the more outrageous and taboo-breaking of the form. Let's face it, James Whale broke the mould with the original Frankenstein and shocked cinemagoers to their core in 1932, and almost every year since then, a genre film has attempted to push boundaries and to shock audiences and sensationalise some monstrous new conceit. The genre thrives on the breaking of rules, via narrative, idea or image. It needs such outrage in order to prosper. Although Universal was often accused of being too graphic and even blasphemous over the decades, and RKO made severe psychological indentures with Val Lewton's acclaimed series of chillers, it was the arrival of Hammer Films that introduced the explicit and addictive blend of sex and horror, and the pivotal year of 1968 that saw trends in the depiction of physical violence alter forever. The seventies then saw Texas Chainsaw, The Exorcist, Taxi Driver and Dawn of the Dead drive home a nihilism, a bleakness and a threat that was modern, raw and right on your doorstep. The eighties brought with it the deranged splatter of excess, and what was once considered foul became fun, but it also allowed you to take the Nasties home with you … and we all know what happened next. The nineties was the era of the credible serial killer, and it was revealed that he could be anybody … and he could do anything. This was the reflection of society's grave concerns over law and order and sickness that had been fostered within such a liberal, yet closed-minded social structure. Since then, we have had home invasion and torture-porn served up as entertainment, which was crafty and convoluted in Saw, rather more worrying in Hostel and, if anything, Human Centipede, which is an extreme offshoot of this, is the most comical-minded of the current crop of crudity. When placed alongside A Serbian Film, there simply is no contest in either the gross-out or the shock-effect. Paying heed to one of Spasojevic's most reprehensible moments, Six even tries to throw in some newborn baby-horror in what is, possibly, the most repugnant and unnecessary scene which, faint-hearts (who surely won't even be reading any of this) will be pleased to know, has been cut from this version.
The first film was amazingly restrained in what it showed, and smirking pretentiousness aside, Six proved to be quite accomplished in his creepy style. Technically, he is an assured filmmaker. Morally and intellectually, he is merely out for the fast buck and the easy outrage. This said, the sequel commences with a rather nice, though certainly not unique pitch. Almost breaking the meta barrier by positing that the first outing was, indeed, just a movie, 2 finds us in the grubby urban squalor of London, as asthmatic parking-lot attendant, Martin (Laurence R. Harvey) finds his obsession with the original film and mad Dr. Heiter's outlandish experiment finally compelling him to recreate the agonised titular monstrosity with an assortment of reluctant passersby for his own sordid, sexually depraved pleasure. But with no medical skills, the bloated, bug-eyed looncake has to resort to a hammer and a staple-gun to construct his own improvised human centipede. Pour in a few laxatives to help speed things along and the job's a good'un, if you'll pardon the pun. It's not perfect, perhaps, but it'll do for our dedicated deviant.
A noisy neighbour, a whore and her client, some other unfortunates and even, in a spectacular coup that Six must have thought as inspired as the odious Martin does, Ashlynn Yennie from the first trio of spliced victims, here playing the supposed actress from the first film, are butchered and battered into shape. Domestic violence, self-abuse and lecherous ass-to-mouth DIY surgery abound. Before this is over, there will be weeping from every orifice, including some freakish tears of euphoria. You'd think this would be anything but soporific, wouldn't you? But Tom Six has no idea of how pace his film. A daring and grim plot swiftly becomes repetitive as Martin formulates his plan and captures his various segments, his mucky creation slowly and painfully taking shape in a rented warehouse. The sight of around twelve nude, bound and gagged captives writhing on the floor is like looking at a slew of wriggling maggots. When they come to, dazed and brain-bashed, and realise what is happening to them, as Martin scuttles about from one to another with hammer, scalpel, duct-tape and stapler, and their eyes widen in pain and terror when he sets to with maniacal gusto, there is no proper sense of fearful dread delivered to us. In fact, the whole enterprise is so absurd that it is difficult not to giggle. This is meant to be shocking. Apparently. But the harder Six tries to disturb and inflame, the more stupid and irritating the film gets.
Harvey, mate, there's something wrong with you. Sorry, but there is. You've appeared in kids' television but, Jeez, even then you must have looked like the stuff of every parent's nightmare … and that's before you made this. And what prompted you, or any of the performers who end-up stapled to someone else's ass for that matter, to want to appear in this in the first place? I mean, this is hardly going to be a career-boost is it? What might I have seen you in before this audition, love? Oh … that. And what part did you, um, play? Ahh … the last segment. It's not exactly a step up from the back end of the panto-horse, is it? And Harvey, you can forget kids' TV for a while … and that won't be because Hollywood has come knocking on your door. He is not a good actor – nobody in this is – but, wow, he looks the part. It's been said before that he is like an inflated Peter Lorre, and this description is absolutely spot-on. Watching him in action is naturally unpleasant, as he waddles around in a white, cack-smeared doctor's coat, opened-up to reveal his obese belly barely concealing his tiny package in some flimsy underpants, and, as low-rent as he is, you can't deny that he nails the portrayal of Martin's saddo with consummate believability. But, on the downside, he doesn't make you afraid. Even the diminutive and patently non-threatening Kevin Spacey in Se7en was intimidating in his reserved cruelty and fiendishness, and Dieter Laser's leering nutjob in the first Centipede made the skin crawl with his outlandish face and schizoid eyes. Martin is neither pitiable nor terrifying, qualities that this character definitely needed. He is pathetic, mute and vile. Whether he gets away with his crimes or not is hardly something that will haunt you … unlike, say, Henry from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (another Nasty on parole) or Hannibal Lecter. And the asides that attempt to detail his abused and hellish upbringing that Six allows into the first half of the film amount to nothing … because we just don't care.
Now, lest we forget that the morally dubious pantheon of atrocity that Tom Six is fitting his films into includes actual classics of taboo-breaking such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Cannibal Holocaust, Night of the Living Dead and Straw Dogs, all films that deliberately go out there in order to capture a true essence of raw and disturbing horror, it is only fair to understand that he isn't doing anything all that different, in theory, to the extremes that Sam Peckinpah, George Romero, Tobe Hooper, Ruggero Deodato and Lucio Fulci reached. But whereas those jaded and yet distinguished luminaries had genuine stories to tell and, in many cases, critical observations and statements to make about society and the nature of Man, Six patently uses the notion of the censor's once-powerful allegation that films have the ability to corrupt the viewer and influence them. Cronenberg used this metaphor in Videodrome, of course, but Six merely takes the original idea and bolts it, all ripe and knee-jerk, onto this apparent “evolution-on-a-theme”.
Is he just having a laugh or what?
Well, in a sense he is playing the censors at their own game. The moral high-ground once purported, with all manner of spurious psychological statistics and research to back themselves up, that watching such material would induce certain “less stable” audience members into imitative acts of violence and depravity that could be directly linked back to the scenes they had witnessed on the screen. Six now undoes, either haphazardly, inadvertently, deliberately or ironically (you choose), all the sociological work that has been conducted to refute that idiotic claim from the tabloids and the Whitehouse Brigade by stubbornly adhering to the ethos they expounded so arrogantly. Here was an opportunity to analyse the cause and effect of horror movies upon susceptible minds and possibly even have something important to say on the subject. But Six blows this out of the water and literally sh*ts in own his bed by categorically showing the old doctrine to be true. The idiot.
But, most crucially of all, we need to remember this.
Human Centipede 2 is actually a load of rubbish. It is incredibly boring. It commits the cardinal sin of generating neither fear, suspense, nor even, as hard to believe as this may be, any true sense of actual revulsion. Even the full version has little that would actually upset or disturb, and that goes for protracted teeth removal, knee-cap slicing, barbed-wire rape and well, the consuming of explosive turd-burgers. There is a Monty Python-esque feel to the depravities which consistently undermines their impact. Even with the extra grue 'n' poo of the uncensored take, the film is an interminable slog to sit through, boasting some of the ugliest characters to shamble, gloat and leer at the camera – check out the Rabbi-cum-Wookiee psychologist who was being serviced by the prostitute in the car, for example - and such a pointless narrative that, come the finale, you are totally apt to wonder “what the hell was all that about?”
Effects-wise, the gruesome elements are very well achieved. Even in this shorter version, we get slit tendons and wrenched tongues, pulled teeth and bullet-wounds, a mashed skull, cut throats and a prosthetic baby, which is a little more convincing than the one used in A Serbian Film, which looked like the mutant Kuartu in Total Recall! Perhaps surprisingly, the main make-up team is comprised mostly of women. The use of black-and-white photography is a fake pandering to the grimy, punked-up artistry of David Lynch, and there is even a coy little nod to Schindler's List with a rather obvious (and odious) splash of colour during one of the dubious highlights. Six clearly wants to evoke something of the nightmarish, yet visually sublime vogue of the awesome Eraserhead, but his efforts come to nought when we realise that he is nothing more than a laborious hack who is spinning his joke upon us. The lack of much in the way of a musical score, barring uncomfortable industrial droning (again all very Lynchian) is also a grating piece of self-conscious attitude. You know implicitly that Six has only done any of this out of posturing self-indulgence. Although, unlike so many other directors tackling a follow-on, he is unafraid to break new ground and adopt a completely different style to the original.
Even so, watching this cut version is, furthermore, a complete waste of time because not only are you losing the very ingredients that you came to watch in the first place – and don't even dream of denying that, folks – but the very crux of Six's story and Martin's oddball quest is robbed away from it. Now, I don't particularly want to see the ghastly ogre masturbating with his tool wrapped in sandpaper, and nor do I want to see him commit rape with barbed-wire coiled around it … but when this sexual gratification, as grotesque and as unpleasant as it is, has been removed, then the whole pivotal cornerstones of the plot's fabric have been bashed from under it, leaving what remains a rambling, unfocussed and teetering folly that is sickly funny, when it should be stone-cold shocking.
Should it be banned? No, of course not.
Should it have been cut? Again, no, of course not.
You should be able to walk into any video store and pick this up off the shelf in its full, uncensored form. I am fundamentally opposed to “someone” who believes that they have the right to deem what you or I can or cannot watch. I don't, however, have a problem with some classification board viewing material first and then making it very clear to me what type of movie I am considering looking at, and what imagery it contains. To me, that makes a fair bit of sense. But for someone to sit through it all and then deem that, although they have the ability to differentiate fiction from reality, I haven't, I believe is a bloody insult. For that reason alone, I think you should utterly boycott this truncated release and seek out the uncut version. Otherwise, what is the point?
So, I am not against the movie for its theme, or its imagery at all. But this is still, ahem, bottom-rank garbage by a pretentious wannabe shockmeister who is so far up his own backside that he can probably eat his words for real. Geddit? Ahh well … it was a crap joke, after all. But, hey, he is not as bad as Lars von Trier because Tom Six is, at least, very well aware that he is taking the proverbial out of the genre and obviously chuckling like a mad monkey from behind the camera. His pretentiousness is all part of the gag … and this ongoing story is all about gagging, is it not?
At the very least, the UK release of The Human Centipede 2 gives us a good reason to analyse the behaviour of the BBFC a little more closely.
Anyway, don't be suckered-in by any of the hype surrounding this scatological tripe. If even the full version is bizarrely, and unexpectedly bland and yawn-inducing, yet still boastful of some impressive make-up effects, then this cut down UK edition, shorn of a multitude of material, is absolutely worthless to anyone, fan or fiend.
If you feel that you have to see it, then seek out the full – or fullest – version. And if you don't feel the urge, then just forget about this tiresome non-shocker altogether. You aren't missing much.
A terrible waste of time and effort. And chocolate sauce.