When filmmaker Tom Six launched his revered and reviled cult classic The Human Centipede, he made it clear that the first film was part of a planned trilogy (hence the First Sequence subtitle). I was a bit skeptical as to whether we’d ever actually see a second and third title in the series, but when the film became something of a sensation for its disturbing subject matter a sequel was announced almost immediately.
That film, entitled The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence, found Six promising that fans who’d been shocked and disturbed by the first film hadn’t seen anything yet. Where the original made claims that it was “100% medically accurate,” the sequel promised to be as medically inaccurate as possible – and that’s one of the areas where the hype and advertising actually pay off. As for the rest of The Human Centipede 2, it’s hard to separate the film from the buzz and hyperbole surrounding it. It’s not gruesomely brilliant or a complete affront to good taste (although it’s more the latter than the former), but instead a weird example of a filmmaker trying so hard to outdo himself that he loses the path in the process.
In the first signs that this sequel might be in trouble, Human Centipede 2 opens by showing us its main character, mildly retarded and socially maladjusted parking garage attendant Martin (Laurence R. Harvey), watching the original Human Centipede on his laptop. Apparently, Six never bothered to watch Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows – which tried to craft a sequel around the idea that the first film was all just a movie – because if he had, he’d have realized this was a terrible idea.
Undaunted, Six moves forward with this plot device and attempts to up the artistic ante of the film by shooting the whole thing in black and white. That latter decision is slightly more impressive than the first, but it’s sort of like trying to polish a turd – no matter how much you try to gussy it up, a piece of crap is still just a piece of crap. That becomes something of a recurring theme in the film – perhaps by design, given Six’s fascination with coprophagia.
Anyway, Martin is obsessed with The Human Centipede – he watches it religiously, has built his own nifty scrapbook about that movie that would make a teenage girl weep with envy, and now he’s desperate to build his own monster. With that in mind, he starts assembling the human components and stores them in an isolated warehouse. That’s pretty much the entire plot of the film. Martin kidnaps people, stores them in a warehouse, assembles 12 segment human centipede, cue terrible ending, roll credits.
Hopefully, this highlights one of the major flaws of Six’s sequel – there’s not really enough material here to justify a nearly 90-minute feature film. The idea of crafting a human centipede works in the first film because it’s so absurd. I mean, really, what’s the point of stitching together three people mouth to anus – other than the fact that you can? We accept it in the first film because Dr. Heiter is a madman and we know there are crazy people in the world who do awful things because they’re disturbed.
For a second (and third – Six has already announced a final Human Centipede film) feature, there has to be something more to it – and this is where Human Centipede 2 really comes up short. Martin’s ultimately just another riff on Dr. Heiter’s character – another deeply disturbed individual, albeit one without the vision of Heiter. Where Heiter’s character comes up with the idea out of his own twisted medical genius, Martin’s just a plagiarist, a copycat mimicking something he saw onscreen without adding anything (other than more segments) to it. Because of this, Human Centipede 2 often feels sort of pointless. The film, like its lead character, is just copying something that was already out there – and done better to boot.
Star Harvey is the film’s one bright point. The actor, who’s never been in anything other than this film (and has been lined up for the third installment as well), is genuinely unsettling. He’s a bug-eyed, chubby little monster, prone to coughing up spittle and sweating profusely. You can almost smell the rancid stench of this character through the screen, which is quite impressive.
Unfortunately, a character this demented (despite Six’s attempts to humanize Martin by making him the victim of sadistic sexual abuse, there’s absolutely nothing that elicits sympathy from the audience for this man) needs a counterbalance – otherwise the whole thing spirals off into a nihilistic abyss. Six’s script is uninterested or incapable of giving us such a character. Even when the first film’s star, Ashlynn Yennie, turns up as herself, we can’t really root for her. She’s so stupid that she not only flies to Martin’s home under the guise of auditionining for a Tarantino film (like agents don’t check these things out before sending their clients abroad?), but walks right into his lair despite a million signs that things are hideously wrong.
Of course, this all brings us to the ending – which I won’t spoil here, although I really should. Six’s big revelation, the denoument of all this insanity and unpleasantness, is to resort to a narrative cliché so old and hoary that it’s really an insult to the viewer. For all of Six’s assertions that he’s an artist and his work is art, it’s shocking to see him so devoid of creativity that he’d turn to this sort of supposedly ambiguous closing segment. Worse still is that the whole thing is telegraphed throughout. There’s no meaning to any of this – other than to be as “controversial” and “shocking” as possible, which is a point Six drives home with absolutely no subtlety in the film’s final moments.
Expecting restraint or subtext from Six was probably misguided in the first place, though – Human Centipede 2 is a film more concerned with being “extreme” than it is with saying, well, anything about the human condition or experience. I’m not a hater of films that are extreme for the sake of being extreme, but it’s hard to find anything redeeming in Six’s latest effort. It’s as if the first film were made by an entirely different individual.
Human Centipede 2 is, in its simplest terms, a geek show. Six is so focused on grossing out his audience and reaping the praise for pushing the envelope that he’s forgotten almost everything else about making a film. Yes, this title does pile on the gore and atrocities – there’s the cut barbed wire rape scene, the disastrous birth sequence, the explosive diarrhea coprophagia (which still pales in comparison to anything in Pasolini’s Salo, truthfully), teeth removal with a hammer, and countless knee ligament slicings – but it all loses its impact early on. There’s nothing to counter this steady stream of atrocity so it’s all quickly rendered meaningless. That’s really a shame, because the first film showed Six as a much smarter – and more technically gifted – director. The original Human Centipede isn’t nearly as gory as the sequel, but I’d argue that it packs way more of a punch when it comes to unsettling the audience. Sometimes less really is more.
Ultimately, The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence is a step backwards for Tom Six as a filmmaker. The man who intrigued horror fans with his twisted vision in the first film is missing in action in the second. It leads one to wonder if Six is really as gifted as some of us thought in the original title’s wake – or if he’s just a one-trick pony who got lucky and audiences are just now realizing that the new emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. I suspect we might have to wait until after Six finishes his Centipede trilogy to know for sure, but at the moment things aren’t looking particularly positive.
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