Written and Directed by: Tom Six
Starring: Laurence R. Harvey, Bill Hutchens, and Vivien Bridson
Reviewed by: Brett G.
“He’s going to stitch us together ass-to-mouth!”
I sometimes like it when sequels go in a completely different direction from their predecessors; sure, I’ll never knock it when follow-ups deliver more of the same (after all, that’s sort of what they’re supposed to do). But there’s something to be said about the rare sequel that not only dares to go in another direction, but also legitimately adds something to the legacy of the original. Human Centipede II is one such film, for better or worse (the resolve of your gag reflex will determine your answer to that). Taking a meta-fictional approach this time around, director Tom Six delivers a film that’s more twisted, depraved, and vomitous than his infamous first outing; however, it also happens to be one big joke (and I mean that in the most positive way possible).
Taking its cue from another great part II, this one begins exactly where the previous film ended; however, it pulls back to reveal that it’s just a movie playing on a laptop. Its lone audience is Martin (Laurence R. Harvey), who is obsessed with The Human Centipede--he’s even crafted a scrapbook of the film’s characters and perverse moments. He’s also taken the “100% medically accurate” to heart; even worse, he’s been taking notes on how to construct his own version, which he dreams of containing twelve unfortunate victims instead of just three (it is a sequel after all--gotta go bigger).
From the premise alone, it’s pretty easy to see what one of Six’s many targets is here--the absurd notion that fictional violence inspires real violence. He’s so on the nose and plays this to such extremes that it’s hard to ignore--Martin literally watches the film over and over (with the especially violent parts being focused on), and each viewing ends with him capturing another victim in the parking garage where he works. At first, it seems like the film is even satirizing obsessive horror fans--Martin is unsightly (that’s putting it nicely), still lives with his mother, and literally masturbates while watching gruesome stuff. This guy clearly needs a life, especially since he’s taken his love of The Human Centipede way too far.
Then something odd happens along the way--we find out he’s mentally handicapped and was abused as a child by his own father. He sees an absurdly bearded Freudian therapist who posits that Martin not only loves The Human Centipede, but also centipedes in general for their swift, predatory nature; in other words, they’re everything he isn’t, which is something that obviously disturbed his father. There’s themes of manhood and what it means to be a man running throughout; for example, he and his mother clash with a boisterous, burly upstairs neighbor who threatens them both. That Martin seemingly has to eventually claim his masculinity in such a disturbing way (by killing everything that moves) seems to be a not-so-subtle jab at violence that tells you where Six really lies on the issue of force.
Martin himself is one of the chief ways this film is so different from the first; far from the cold, Kinski-esque lunatic that Dieter Laser portrayed, he’s a keg-bellied dwarf who never speaks. Harvey’s performance (along with the rest of the cast’s, obviously) is brave, particularly in the way he brings a little bit of pathos to such a deplorable human being. Like the demented doctor he so idolizes, he’s simply a man with a dream, and a very acute one at that. For example, he’s looking for just the right lead for his centipede, and he’s met with a nice surprise that’s doubly interesting for audiences, as Six tosses in some more meta stuff that allows for subtle jabs at the industry, particularly vapid stars and starlets. When his final star arrives, it allows Martin to realize his dream; not only that, but he actually does get his Kinski moment, as he becomes Fitzcarraldo conducting a symphony of scat and gore. Whereas Kinski wanted to move mountains, this guy wants to move bowels…twelve times over.
That moment is actually built towards slowly; instead of being constructed early on like in the first film, it’s the ungodly crescendo here. As you might imagine, Martin lacks the surgical precision of his predecessor, as he crudely and bluntly stitches together his own creation. Let’s just say they handed out staple removers as part of the Human Centipede II survival kit at the premiere*. This is emblematic of Six’s approach as a whole; lacking the refined, almost discerning gloss of his first film, this follow-up is raw, gritty, and shot in black in white to give the film a level of grim authenticity. Though I believe the film can be read as a morbidly dark satire, some stuff is genuinely disturbing; for example, the filthy warehouse he’s co-opted for his construction is a nightmarish abode with flickering electricity. This is not to mention the vile, sleazy characters populating the film--somehow, Martin’s not the worst guy here, which is kind of scary.
And then there’s the last half hour where Six almost completely loses it. He seemingly reveals his other main intention here: to skewer the outrageous reaction his original film received. Given the central concept, it’s kind of appropriate that these two link together in a way that they feed off of each other; those who got past the ludicrously demented ass-to-mouth linkage and actually saw The Human Centipede will remember that it was relatively tame in terms of on-screen violence. Six shows little to no restraint the second time around---if there’s a taboo, then he breaks it in an outrageous finale that’s loaded with obscene, gratuitous violence. However, with every crowbar to the head and every explosive coprophagic display, you can almost hear Six asking, “isn’t this the film everyone thought I should be making?”
Given that he was very adamant about topping the original (he claimed this would make it look like “My Little Pony,” and it does), I’m close to thinking that Six began to believe the mountain of crap that piled up around The Human Centipede. It’d be so easy to say he digested it and spit this back out as a result, but I’m not so sure. He seems to be too smart for that; in fact, as someone who didn’t love the original film precisely because I wasn’t sure about the comedic undercurrent, I’d say he pulled one over on me a couple of years ago. As sick and perverse as The Human Centipede II is, it seems to be an excessive confirmation that Tom Six just wants us all to lighten up a little bit. It’s not a fun film, and I think the excessiveness hurts it, but it’s just an exercise of stretching the limits; that we recognize a breaking point makes us different from Martin and should make us long for the restraint of part one. Ultimately, I think this is a bit of a richer experience due to its braininess; that final half hour will no doubt be a dividing line, but I (barely) came out on the side that could see it as more than gratuitous violence. Buy it!
*Also at the premiere: a pre-show “shit-eating” contest, which contestant number two won. Smells like a ringer to me.
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