The Critics Are Wrong About 'The Human Centipede' Film Trilogy
This week sees the release of the final part in the disgusting trilogy. Here's why you should go see it.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
The Human Centipede III (Final Sequence) marks the end of an orifice. When the first of Tom Six's Centipede films splattered onto our screens in 2009, it quickly garnered a reputation as the most comically depraved motion picture this century has seen so far. There have been other nasty works (Lars Von Trier'sAntichrist came out the same year), but what makes the THC trilogy stick out is that it's a cut above plain, gratuitous grot. In my opinion, the films are unfairly maligned and should be viewed as surrealistic, cleverly politicized fables of corruption, excess, and lunacy.
The story of the first film follows a mad doctor, who kidnaps tourists and surgically binds them to one another, ass to mouth. Six's hypothesis and social diagnosis—a thesis written symbolically in feces—is stunningly bleak: The message is that humans are completely, inherently, undeniably evil. It's goodness that is the true perversity in our universe.
I first saw the series around the time its notoriety peaked: when the second film got banned in the UK. The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (2011) saw the British Board of Film Classification lose both their minds and their reasoning. They accused it of "... encouraging a dehumanized view of others, callousness towards victims, and taking pleasure in the pain and humiliation of others." However, after outlawing the release of the film altogether, the board did a 180 when the distributor appealed.
Aside from the fact that the BBFC is an archaic and next-to-useless institution (because: hello, internet search engines), what the whole affair actually did—as Six pointed out to journalists—was provide the sort of advertising that money can rarely buy (although it did dent his final cut; two minutes and 37 seconds were ordered to be removed by the BBFC). The same goes for all the bad reviews pumped out by critics, who never miss an opportunity to get on their high horse and feel superior to horror as a film genre.
However, like the very best horror flicks and transgressive dramas, the THC films are not interested in silly jump scares, but in peeling off society's mask of civility, unleashing the id, examining contradictions and hypocrisies, questioning the unstoppable desire in some for power and dominion over others, and refitting pornographic tropes into grim reflections of our inhumanity. The films create a physical response, yes, but also an intellectual one. Deviant and outsider art must express a higher purpose if it is to ever provoke any reaction beyond bare bones disgust. It must be meaningful beyond the cheap but noble goal of making audiences want to puke.
Many people would balk at the very thought of watching a bunch of sorry folk stitched bunghole-to-mouth being forced to pass multi-digested excrement through their successive digestive systems, while being brutalized and tormented by a villainous figure. In their eyes, genre movies are trashy and shallow in comparison to the grandness of arthouse films. These naysayers judge horror fans as a bunch of sickos who get off on misery and violence, proclaiming that horror films are dragging art to the dogs.
The truth is, these films are as valuable to us as any other type of cinema. Of the series, The Human Centipede: (First Sequence) (2009) is the most classically structured. After that, it's fair to say, they may have got a bit high on their own notoriety and turned into movies about offending polite society. But they're still rare and worthy tributes to Pier Paolo Pasolini's cult classic Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom (1975).
The second film boldly pays homage to itself: a playful envisioning of society's anxiety and fears that cinema can directly inspire and influence. In the film, security guard, Martin Lomax (Laurence R Harvey), loved The Human Centipede (First Sequence) so much that he re-stages the film in a grubby London garage, taking revenge against those who have wronged him in the past. It truly does, as many would agree, leave more of an impression on you than most films you'll see in your lifetime.
The third film goes Stateside and appropriates right-wing political rhetoric as a plot device. The majority of the action takes place in a maximum security prison, where the centipede format is used as a panacea to cut down costs on the running of the place, and to stop all the in-house fighting among inmates. Six removes all barriers. There is no such thing as "over the top," "too much," or "reining it in." This is all-out nuts, approaching the Rimbaudian principle of the rational derangement of the senses.
Even when THC III opts to look terrible, it's artfully and purposefully bad. It's also a film that obliterates the critical "star ratings" reviewing in spectacular fashion. Give it one star, give it five, Six doesn't give a fuck. THC (2009) is exactly disturbing and confounding because you can't knock it for looking unpolished and like lots of the low-budget pieces of crud that go direct-to-DVD.
It's visually elegant in terms of shot composition and camera movement, and it's complemented with stylish lighting. THC II looks even better. Switching to gorgeous black-and-white cinematography, the film is a cross between those iconic Guinness TV ads from the late 1990s and the works from the early 2000s directed by Nekromantik chief, Jörg Buttgereit. The only inclusion of color is when flying excrement splatters against a garage wall.
And you've got to admire the actors for their dedication to looking beyond ridiculous. Dieter Laser has become a horror icon in his august years. A well-respected actor of the stage and screen in Germany, Laser's portrayals of villains Dr. Josef Heiter and William Boss (the latter in THC III) are poles apart and yet equally extraordinary. The cool-under-pressure German sadist Dr. Heiter "doesn't like human beings," as he tells two unlucky captors. Boss, however, is so unhinged and misanthropic that, in one memorable scene, he sticks his head into a metal bucket and yells with all his might: "I FUCKING HATE HUMAN BEINGS!"
Dr. Heiter is all about the classic stereotype of German control, and Boss is more like an Oliver Stone-penned caricature, but even crazier and more flamboyant than Tommy Lee Jones's cocky prison warden in Natural Born Killers (1994), upon whom, I suspect, the character is partly based. Watching Laser play Dr. Heiter in THC III is like seeing an amateur dramatic society lead, wasted, playing King Lear, forgetting all his lines and instead screaming insults. As with the sweaty visual tones, Laser's performance is artfully terrible. You have to try to be that bad, I'm sure of it.
Ultimately, The Human Centipede trilogy is a benchmark in the cinema of transgression, holding a shit-smeared mirror up to the audience, redefining the concept of quality and reminding us of a crucial home truth: that, as a race of people, we're a bunch of cruel, sick fucks.
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