This year I’ll be making my maiden voyage to Fantastic Fest (actually my first time to Texas at all, unless you count driving through Amarillo and stopping at the Big Texan when I moved to LA), having grown tired of hearing about great movies that it might be months or even years before I get a chance to see them, depending on their distribution fates. It comes one year after I finally did the same for UK Frightfest, however my timing was poor as the 2010 festival unfortunately delivered what was considered by many longtime attendees as sub-par, and apart from getting early looks at gems like The Pack and Monsters, I had very little to boast about later. “I got to see Dead Cert before you!” - something no one has ever said.
But this year’s Fantastic Fest lineup seems worth the dough so far; even if the movies turn out to be shit, I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing films like Livid (at long last, a followup from the Inside team), You’re Next (home invasion tale from the folks behind A Horrible Way To Die), and Last Screening, which combines two of my favorite things: Gialli and repertory cinema! And that’s just the horror stuff; if I don’t get to see You Said What?, which re-imagines Audition as a romantic comedy and stars Peter Stormare, I might just openly weep.
However, there is one I’m on the fence on, and that is Human Centipede II (Full Sequence), which as of this writing may not even see release in the UK (where it was shot!) because the BBFC has labeled it obscene and has refused to reclassify it should director Tom Six re-edit/re-submit, as “no amount of cuts would allow them to give it a certificate”. Ouch.
Now, this alone doesn’t diminish my desire to see a film; if anything it would just encourage me to seek it out under any other circumstances. But this is a sequel to a film that I genuinely enjoyed, and a big part of why I was such a fan was that the first Human Centipede, for all its notoriety, was actually pretty “tame” in the violence/gore department, and surprisingly funny as well. Of course, if you haven’t seen the film (or are just ignorant) you probably find that wholly irresponsible to say, but it’s true. If you go back and look at the “First Sequence”, there is actually very little on-screen violence in the film (mostly gunshots, and a tooth extraction that is also largely audio based). The entire procedure is left off-screen, and apart from the sight of the stapled mouths of the two girls, there isn’t really any prosthetic gore/makeup either. If you think it’s technically any grosser than that, you just let your imagination run wild.
And again, it’s funny! The first 10 minutes or so intentionally run through every silly horror movie cliche in the book (they get lost AND get a flat tire!), with Ashlynn Yennie and Ashley Williams giving wonderfully overacted performances in these scenes, as if they’re almost aware that they’re in a generic horror movie (or so they think). And if you don’t laugh at Akihiro Kitamura boasting about the strength of Japanese people when backed into a corner, you have no soul. But the real treat is Dieter Laser as Dr. Heiter, who openly hates human beings and mourns the loss of his beloved “triple-dog” (I don’t know what’s funnier, the photo of Triple-dog on his nightstand or the photo of the bear in Hobo With A Shotgun). His dry, matter-of-fact, and arrogant demeanor is hilarious and the film’s best asset; I particularly loved how he described the procedure to his unwilling patients as directly and calmly as your dentist might explain a root canal.
The dark humor of the film is the reason it works, I think. If it was just a gross-out movie that took the Toe Tag approach of trying to be “the sickest/most EXTREME movie ever!”, I’d probably get bored/sick after a half hour. However, the humor, along with some genuinely great suspense sequences (the centipede climbing the stairs) allows the film to work as, for the lack of a better word, a fun time. Replace the centipede with a more typical mad scientist plot (perhaps he was just trying to create “a race of atomic supermen!”) and it still plays as a suspense/horror movie with well-placed humor, not an exercise in audience endurance.
However, from what I hear about the sequel, it doesn’t sound like Tom Six has that sort of approach in mind anymore. Maybe I’ll be eating my words later, but it sounds like this one is going to be more sexually driven, with Six attempting to make the most repulsive movie ever (spoilers ahead!). According to the BBFC, our main character not only masturbates with sandpaper wrapped around his dick (!), but later he rapes the tail end of the centipede, this time with his manhood covered with barbed wire. To some that might not sound any more sickening than someone’s ass being sewn onto another person’s mouth, but I don’t see how I could find myself laughing, even out of perverse nervousness, at these scenes, as there was nothing sexual about the events in the first film. And in turn, I don’t see how I could possibly defend it as “not as sick as you’ve heard” as I do with the original.
I also don’t know how much I (spoilers again) want a “meta” version of this story. This isn’t a direct followup, as the main character is a fan of the first film and decides to make his own centipede, presumably with less medical expertise than Dr. Leiter. It just seems like an excuse for some self-wanking, and few are the meta horror sequels that actually work - didn’t Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows teach us anything about making sequels focusing on fans of the original*?
The sad thing is, folks like me may be to blame. If Tom Six really wanted to disturb everyone with the first film, I could see how he might be dismayed at reading reviews that describe it as “surprisingly funny” (according to the Wiki article on the first film, he was surprised when one Spanish audience laughed through it). All I know for sure is, I can’t say I’m sad that I’ll be missing it at Fantastic Fest (I don’t get in until Friday), because while I usually avoid “spoilers” and the like, I think I want confirmation and maybe a few details before I see it. I’m trying not to actually pre-judge the movie, but when I heard about the plot of the first one, it made me want to see it, whereas the details about this one just makes me think “ugh, no”. As much as I enjoy the original, I might want to keep my memories of it (and everything else in the world) untainted by the sight of a bleeding penis raping the ass of a woman who may have swallowed some dude’s poop. But for everyone else attending the screening, enjoy!
I am curious though: what do you guys think? Are you excited that Six has seemingly lived up to his claims that this one makes the first look like “My Little Pony”, or would you prefer another, for lack of a better word, “subtle” Human Centipede movie like the original? Or perhaps are you a sandpaper masturbator who is excited to finally have one of your own depicted on film?
*If you have any interest in what went wrong with that ill-fated sequel, I suggest you rent the DVD and listen to Joe Berlinger’s commentary, in which he explains that the film was re-edited without his consent, as well as explains in detail how his version would have went. If he had been left alone, I think it would have been pretty good, actually.