Though I pleaded with her for three weeks in a row when it was playing locally in a theater last fall, Isabella absolutely refused to see The Human Centipede 2 with me. Since it was only playing at midnight, I never did see it on the large screen. The thought of me, a middle-aged man, attending a midnight movie by himself, especially this one, just seemed too depressing. At midnight the audience would likely be filled with drunken teenagers who just wanted to see how gross it was and most likely they would be yelling unfunny jokes at the screen through the entire thing. And I take this sort of thing seriously- I hate it when people yell out lame jokes while watching horror movies. In fact I usually loathe most of the audience at horror movies, which is why its best to see them as part of a genre festival, where the audience is comprised of serious fans, and not a bunch of goofs out on a date.
For the four of you who may not know about The Human Centipede, the first film was about a mad doctor who dreams of stitching together human beings cheek to jowl, so to speak. He succeeds, using his own "100% medically accurate" procedure, creating the title creature out of three humans. The film garnered a tremendous amount of notoriety and featured an unforgettable performance by Dieter Laser as the doctor, giving Udo Kier's performances in the Warhol/Morrisey films of the 70's a run for their money in camp nastiness.
The movie itself, written and directed. Tom Six, actually wasn't very good. In fact I thought it was kind of lame, but Laser was a lot of fun to watch and I did sit through the whole thing if for nothing else to see how it all came out in the end. It certainly wasn't as horrific as Martyrs or A Serbian Film, and if it wasn't for the mostly implied coprophagous element of the central plot point, no one would have paid much attention to it at all. At the time of its release, Stuart Gordon's 1985 film Re-Animator was much more beyond the pale with its severed-head cunnilingus scene.
But people did pay attention, and the film was even satirized on South Park (don't take that as an endorsement- the appeal of that show has always been inexplicable to me). As John Waters proved with 1972's Pink Flamingos, making a movie featuring people eating shit will get you noticed. For fans of horror, The Human Centipede became mandatory viewing- the latest movie to up the ante in the decade-long run of the genre's extreme, torture-porn wing.
And many of those fans came away disappointed- after A Serbian Film, Martyrs, and the much lesser Inside, to name a few, The Human Centipede came off as little more than a county-fair freak show to an audience that has been increasingly exposed to things they never expected to see in a film, albeit one with a nauseatingly great premise.
However, a film doesn't have to be great to become a franchise, so a sequel was announced, accompanied by a teaser trailer featuring director Six responding to his critics by telling us to "prepare for part 2, which really will be the sickest movie of all time." Notice he didn't make a claim for the scariest, nor the most disturbing- just the "sickest," featuring "the sickest bastard of all time: Martin."
How could one not want to see it after hearing that pitch? Count me in.
In his three-star review of Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects (2005), Roger Ebert wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times:
Here is a gaudy vomitorium of a movie, violent, nauseating and really a pretty good example of its genre. If you are a hardened horror movie fan capable of appreciating skill and wit in the service of the deliberately disgusting, "The Devil's Rejects" may exercise a certain strange charm. If on the other hand you close your eyes if a scene gets icky, here is a movie to see with blinders on, because it starts at icky and descends relentlessly through depraved and nauseating to the embrace of road kill.
How can I possibly give "The Devil's Rejects" a favorable review? A kind of heedless zeal transforms its horrors. The movie is not merely disgusting, but has an attitude and a subversive sense of humor. Its actors venture into camp satire, but never seem to know it's funny; their sincerity gives the jokes a kind of solemn gallows cackle.
Ebert's take on The Devil's Rejects pretty much sums up my reaction to The Human Centipede 2, except that I would give it at least another 1/2 star, possibly even four.
And I'll quote Ebert's review again before going on:
OK, now, listen up, people. I don't want to get any e-mail messages from readers complaining that I gave the movie three stars, and so they went to it expecting to have a good time, and it was the sickest and most disgusting movie they've ever seen. My review has accurately described the movie and explained why some of you might appreciate it and most of you will not, and if you decide to go, please don't claim you were uninformed.
It should be enough to just state the film really is about a very creepy lunatic who kidnaps twelve people by hitting them over the head with a crowbar, loads them into a station wagon, and takes them to a deserted garage where he begins to assemble his own human centipede fashioned from the unlucky victims, including a pregnant woman, with tools taken from his kitchen drawer. And a lot of duct tape. And a staple gun. You really don't need to know any more than that.
Except that its a pretty damn well-made film, with an absolutely knock-out performance by Laurence R. Harvey as Martin, the heretofore undiscovered love-child of Peter Lorre and Jabba the Hutt. Shot in richly saturated black and white, it's very good looking and while the plot is obviously preposterous, there aren't any jump-the shark moments in the script. It moves with an Aristotelian flow from the first scene to the unexpected denouement, with an equal balance of moments that are so gross they are actually funny and others that actually made me say "ewww" out loud, which I think is a first.
Even though the version I watched on Netflix's streaming service was edited (the notorious barbwire masturbation/rape scene was cut, along with I don't know what else), it still feels like Six didn't pull a single punch, hell-bent to live up to the hype he promised in the trailer. Is The Human Centipede 2 the sickest commercial movie ever made? I don't know- who really cares about such distinctions once you're past puberty? Does it deliver the goods? In spades.
I have no idea what Six has planned for part 3 (yes, there will be a third and final installment), but the next time, even if I have to see it alone at midnight, I'll be there.