Sometimes one is given a sudden flash of insight and understanding regarding how one’s nation is currently viewed from the outside by the way it is being portrayed in contemporary foreign cinema. Remember the good old days when it was all bowler hats, red double-decker buses and telephone boxes, Lady Diana and Hugh Grant’s accent? … Well, forget all that. If Tom Six’s “The Human Centipede part 2 [Full Sequence]” can in any way to be taken as a barometer (and I realise that that is a pretty big ‘if’) of the way these isles are seen by our neighbours these days -- at least in the Netherlands, Six’s neck of the woods -- then we are primarily a nation of insanely violent, foul-mouthed abusive yobs and slutty binge drinking party girls; of deranged pensioners living and going quietly insane in the midst of naffly décored poverty; all topped off with a smattering of sexually abusive health professionals and isolated, downtrodden perverted public workers -- each dwelling miserably in a grey concrete land of bleak-looking industrial warehouse lock-ups and grotty high-rise council estates that seem forever awash in a perpetual torrent of bucketing rain.
Come to think of it, this does sound pretty accurate.
The ‘hero’ of this follow-up to the award winning “The Human Centipede [First Sequence]” (which this time out of the traps switches location, foregoing the original’s German locales for a drably photographed, monochrome East London instead) seems to have been inspired by old episodes of the 1980s Ronnie Corbett sitcom "Sorry", in that the film features a diminutive fortysomething who lives a pinched life with only his overbearing mother for company. Granted, the gentlemanly attired Six embellishes his central character with a few rather unusual foibles not referenced by the much-loved evergreen British comedian, but the nose-thumbing writer-director surely missed a trick in not casting Corbett in the lead; it might’ve helped perk up the film’s apparently rather dismal box office, at the very least.
Martin (instead played by the physically unparalleled Laurence Harvey – a former children’s TV performer [I am not making this up!] but presumably not any more after this little number) plays a ‘mentally challenged’ attendant who works the night shift in a seldom-used but very dark underground car park. Unprepossessing in appearance, the dwarfish, pot-bellied, sweaty, boggle-eyed, slimily leering weirdo (you can tell from the publicity sheet’s coy use of the term ‘mentally challenged’ that his is a sensitive portrayal) spends his working nights cooped up in his broom cupboard-sized office (a reference to Harvey’s ‘Gordon the Goffer’-pestering past in Children’s TV, perhaps?) masturbating with a piece of sandpaper over an endlessly re-watched DVD copy of “The Human Centipede” (I hope it’s the official Bounty Films version and not a pirated knock-off) viewed on his laptop, only occasionally pausing to leave his favourite pastime in order to clobber the car park’s few unsuspecting East London clients over the head with a crowbar (after having first incapacitated them with a gunshot to the leg), and driving them off to a crumbling rented warehouse where he strips them naked on the oily cement floor (cutting off clothes with a pair of scissors) and ties them up with duct tape in preparation for his planned recreation of his favourite film’s atrocities.
This sequel actually opens proceedings by plunging us straight back into the very final moments of the first film as they are being replayed with Martin now watching them on his works' computer, in passing reminding one that despite its ridiculous and silly subject matter, the first effort actually managed pretty successfully to attach its pitifully sadistic, torture porn-inflected bizarro imagery-of-the-grotesque to a curiously straight-faced pastiche of clinical European arthouse sensibilities. That final sequence, as the camera leaves its humiliated trio of degraded, thoroughly hopeless protagonists and drifts serenely out of the bay window of the deranged Dr Heiter’s modernist abode, panning across the rooftop to gaze at the peaceful forests beyond, throughout presents its unpleasantness with a calm detachment that is far more unsettling than anything actually seen on the screen at any point.
But this isn’t the approach Six opts for when it comes to the content of the rest of this hyperbolic follow-up film, though. From its opening minutes, Martin is shown first gunning down a preening, unpleasant yob who verbally chastises him for staring at his girlfriend’s breasts; brutally and gleefully smashing in a number of heads with iron bars; and, in what Six doubtless considers the pièce de résistance, assaulting and stripping a heavily pregnant woman. Martin manages to do all this in full view of the security cameras he uses to select his victims, routinely leaving the parking bay area covered in blood and gore in the process, all without anyone apparently ever suspecting anything or coming looking for any of the victims he then routinely drives off to his dilapidated warehouse to leave stark bollock naked and bound up with reams of duct tape, waiting while he collects the full quotient needed to begin the coming operation. Suffering from a hacking cough and acutely asthmatic, Martin even has to pause to regain his breath in the middle of chasing down his prey -- yet still he seems able to get away with all this madness with an unerring ease, despite getting maced by a prostitute at one point.
There’s nothing muted or remotely downplayed here, then. Instead, Six attempts the same trick of presenting a perfectly rendered arthouse visual aesthetic to go alongside the kind of subject matter that would churn the stomach of a diehard Troma fan, but this time approaching the idea from a quite different angle and filling the screen with as much disgusting and offensive material as possible while shooting it all, with deadpan ponderous seriousness, in inky, Bergmanesque black & white. The monochrome photography presents and dwells on the striking physique of lead actor Laurence Harvey as though he were the subject of a luridly grotesque Francis Bacon painting, distorted through a funhouse mirror. Harvey appears almost naked for most of the run time, has absolutely no dialogue whatsoever and communicates only in childlike tantrum-squeals and yelps. The fact that it seems entirely unbelievable that such a stunted, deranged and dependent creature could successfully abduct the twelve people -- one by one -- he needs in order to fulfil his ‘dream’ without ever even coming close to getting caught is neither here nor there, for the entire film is clearly a total parody, both of the torture porn genre in general and of the kind of respected arty black and white foreign films its visual appearance seeks to replicate. The brutal violence, the deviant sexual prurience and the quagmire of blood and excrement that has decorated the screen by the end of it all, seems all just part of one great big joke on behalf of the writer-director, the punch-line finally coming when Six turns to parodying “Shindler’s List” by introducing a brief hint of colour to the final reel of the film. I won’t spell it out, but needless to say, that colour is not red!
Six relentlessly drums home the absurdity and unreality of the exercise in his amusingly overwrought portrayal of the utter grimness of the central character’s squalid home life: Martin lives in a tiny flat with his Mum but has to keep his Human Centipede press kit and his sketch book jottings of operation diagrams (they’re in fact merely copied from the rudimentary ones shown in the first film -- as though they’d be at all useful in the crazy venture he has planned) hidden under his mattress. The dreary flat’s patterned wallpaper is eye-searingly hideous and the flowery carpet nausea-inducing (thank god this isn’t in colour), but when he’s not gazing lovingly at his pet centipede, Martin is fending off his mother’s random attempt to kill him as part of a double suicide pact, either by creeping into his room at night and stabbing at his mattress with a kitchen knife, or by thumping on the ceiling while their bald-headed, tattooed bruiser of a neighbour is playing his weird ambient industrial sound collages at high volume upstairs, and inviting him in to ‘kill the both of us’ when he thunders down to confront the complainers (instead he merely smashes up the kitchen and kicks Martin in the bollocks). If that isn’t enough, Mother invites in a heavily bearded doctor to come and have a look at her son because she’s worried about his obsession with ‘a centipede with twelve people’. Dr Sebring (Bill Hutchins) turns out to be a Father Abraham look-alike who touches up Martin in full view of his mother while explaining that the centipede is a phallic symbol, and that Martin’s obsessions are probably caused by his having formerly been sexually assaulted by his dad (now residing in prison).
Most of the running time is taken up by repetitive scenes of Martin collecting the succession of subjects needed for his twelve-strong human centipede experiment, punctuated with deadpan comic vignettes from his pitiful home life that end with mother fulfilling her death wish in rather a more gruesome fashion than she’d probably anticipated. Martin’s crowning achievement comes when he finally manages to lure the rather naive lead actress from the first film, Ashlynn Yennie, to his warehouse on the promise of an audition for the latest Quentin Tarantino movie. This self-reflexive meta-nod is touted by Six as being wholly original in the disc’s accompanying interview (he’s not heard of “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare”, then?) and allows the director to plant a few jokes in the script where the actress emotes about the seriousness with which she approached her original role, all of which merely end up making her on-screen version of herself sound dumber than the character she’d previously played in the film. Yennie gets a much rougher time of it here though, despite getting to be at the head of the centipede this time rather than at the back; she has to endure having her tongue ripped out, being expected to eat cold tinned baked beans from a dog bowl and then, when she refuses said delicacy, having a tube rammed down her throat attached to a funnel, with which Martin force feeds her tins of bilious-looking gloop. She’s also more obviously visibly naked for nearly the whole film.
The last act, in which most of the above nonsense occurs, begins with Martin finally setting to work on constructing his version of a human centipede -- a much longer, bloodier and painful exercise than it was in the first film: not being a surgeon and having no operating facilities or anaesthetic available to assist him in carrying out the ‘procedure’, the enthusiastic amateur subdues his subjects by repeatedly hammering them on the head so that they are groggy enough to allow him to remove their teeth one by one -- smashing them out with a claw hammer. The operation itself consists of his crudely nail-gunning the group together, arse to mouth, and ripping out the tendons from their kneecaps.
As everyone no doubt knows by now, this UK release has had 2 minutes and 37 seconds censored by the BBFC after the film was, earlier this year, initially banned outright because of its portrayal of the protagonist’s sexual arousal at frequent on-screen images of sexual violence and forced defecation. Unlike in the first film, none of the characters are ever fleshed out in anyway during its eighty-eight minutes; in fact they’re made almost entirely anonymous. None of the film’s run time is devoted to creating empathy with them by showing them in futile endeavours to escape, for instance (they’re a conveniently pliant bunch who just roll around naked on the floor of their warehouse prison for what must be weeks until Martin is ready); and in its original cut, Martin’s motives for abducting them are made explicitly and primarily sexual. The unpleasant matter of what happens when someone in the chain needs the toilet was previously rather more discreetly dealt with than it is this time out, since Martin’s primary objective is to masturbate over people shitting into each other’s mouths, apparently!
To this end, he tries to encourage them by making ‘raspberry’ farting noises; and when that doesn’t work he resorts to injecting them all with a laxative that results in a grim, domino effect bout of diarrhoea. In the craftily edited cut we’ve now been allowed to see in the UK theatrical and home viewing version that has since been created by UK distributors Eureka Entertainment, Martin comes across more as a motiveless nutcase than an out and out sexual deviant and sadist, although there are echoes of this original intent, still, in what remains of the sandpaper masturbation scene and in the climactic rape sequence (which in the uncut version makes clear that Martin has first constructed a barbed-wire condom before brutally raping his by now chronically defecating centipede creation [or rather the unfortunate person at the back end of it]).
Is all this silliness really liable to deprave and corrupt -- either in the bastardised form we have here or in its original uncut version -- ‘a significant proportion of those likely to see it’, as the BBFC maintained? I very much doubt it. The whole thing is presented in such a wholly surreal, absurdist and ridiculous context, coming at the behest of a character that is far too outré and comically grotesque to be identified with by anyone, that it defies belief that the BBFC ever took it seriously enough for it to be thought worthy of all this unnecessary fuss. It’s too daft to be truly offensive, and made by someone who’s only intent as a filmmaker it seems, is to snigger at crudity and ‘obscenity’ wherever he can. Six is a talented enough filmmaker to be able to achieve suspense or subtext or even beauty in the midst of squalor if he wants to. He simply isn’t interested. A subplot involving a pregnant woman who gives birth while she’s attempting to escape, is clearly only in the film at all for the shock value (she’s not even part of the human centipede to begin with) but the pay-off, in which the new-born’s head is seen crushed beneath the break-peddle of a car, is among the stuff that’s been jettisoned by the censor so it all rather falls flat anyway (and one gets the impression in this cut that the woman escapes with baby intact, so all’s well!). The film’s piss-taking atrocity visuals play out over a deadpan, ironic musical palette of unobtrusive, almost ambient sonic effects, as though this were a serious arthouse piece to be solemnly pondered over (an effect enhanced by the trendy lack of opening titles). There is next to no dialogue for most of the film apart from in a few scenes -- but what does exist has clearly been included with the sole intent of being quoted back in reviews like this one. Thus, two girls coming back from a night out on the razz, catch Martin watching his favourite film in his office, prompting the immortal line, ‘hey, there’s a midget wanking in there!’ And when Martin spies Dr Sebring getting a blow job from a prostitute in the back of his friend’s car, the good doctor expounds how, ‘I’d rather fuck that retarded boy … but this’ll do!’
A futile act of censorship on behalf of the BBFC will affect nothing of course, since the target audience will merely import uncut versions from abroad when they appear, leaving this poor relation for the causal, curious mainstream horror fan, who will probably find the ‘arty’ visuals bewildering and the lack of story or dialogue pretentious. The extras packaging is significantly lacking this time, as well. No commentary track is included, but Six provides an 11 minute interview in which he promises a Human Centipede Part Three is in the scripting stage at the moment. There’s a 9 minute behind the scenes tour conducted by likable star Ashlynn Yennie; three minutes of behind the scenes footage of a foley session in which effects for the rape scene are show being created by the sound effects artist; and a 22 second deleted scene featuring Laurence Harvey encountering a dog in one of the parked vehicles in the underground car park. The black and white visuals look clean and sharp and the extra details of squalor in the warehouse set come across particularly vividly in the HD transfer featured on this Blu-ray version.
Read more from Black Gloves at his new blog Nothing But The Night!