FEBRUARY 13, 2013
Since it's been a year and a half since its big premiere at Fantastic Fest, I've pretty much heard about every sick thing that The Human Centipede 2 [Full Sequence] has to offer its audience: sandpaper masturbation, rape with a penis wrapped in barbed wire, lots of shit, etc. - the only thing that I had somehow not been made privy to was (spoiler) the poor infant that gets killed by its own mother, but by that point in the movie you've probably shut it off if you're the type to get offended anyway. There's no "line" when it comes to this movie - I can't imagine someone sitting there saying "Well I was fine with seeing everyone shit on the lens before he wrapped barbed wire around his dick and forced himself on the ass end of the centipede, but when a not great puppet baby is killed, I was appalled!"
But this has also let all of my initial disappointment fade away. See, the reason I had skipped the movie for so long is that I was kind of annoyed that the sequel was basically reveling in all the sick things that the original carefully avoided, which is what made it a winner in my eyes. Writer/director Tom Six showed restraint in the original Centipede - it lacked much on-screen violence, the details of the surgery were skipped over, and the most icky scene (where the head realizes he has to defecate) was played entirely with just the pained groans of the three actors. It was also funny, and worked as a typical mad scientist/car breaks down and the heroes are taken in by a deranged madman movie as far as the pacing and suspense went. But everything I had heard about the sequel made it seem like Six had thrown all of that away in favor of in-your-face nihilism, shock value sight gags, and an overabundance of plain ugliness, which I had little to no interest in seeing.
However, I knew I couldn't avoid it for too long, and I'm once again running out of options at my Blockbuster, so I finally took the plunge, figuring that enough time had passed where I could watch it on its own and try to keep an open mind without all of my critic pals arguing about it on my Twitter feed. And I must admit, I was surprised to find it interesting in its own way, and not nearly as vile as I'd imagined. Yes, there's a lot of sick stuff here, but like Serbian Film, you've heard about the notorious parts - it's not like anyone is holding back even MORE disgusting scenarios, and they're also brief. Even in this unrated cut, I'd estimate only about five minutes are spent on gross out bits (again, all mentioned above, more or less), with the rest being no more violent than any Tarantino flick (I use him as an example only because he is mentioned by name in the film). The film takes a meta approach, following Martin, a huge fan of the original film who decides to make his own centipede, albeit with 12 members. He obtains his victims by knocking them upside the head in the parking garage that he works at as a security guard, and it's not until the film's 50 minute mark or so that he actually begins to assemble his masterpiece.
We also get to know him more than the original film's Dr. Leiter. It's pretty stock home stuff; his dad was abusive (physically AND sexually), he lives with his mother who hates him, his neighbor shouts obscenities at him, etc. But it seems Six has taken a cue from Rob Zombie here, because EVERYONE is a scumbag - even his shrink admits that he wants to sodomize him, and the people in the garage mostly sound like degenerates from their brief encounters. One notable exception is Ashlynn Yennie, the original film's "tail" who plays an exaggerated version of herself here, duped into Martin's lair under the guise of auditioning for Tarantino's new movie. In a way it helps undermine the gravity of the film's situation - not only are the characters cartoonishly evil (an abusive dad is one thing, but the shrink and the neighbor are just way beyond reality), but Yennie's played overly dumb (I've met her - I assure you she's definitely still acting a role here) and (spoiler) her character is left for dead at the end of the film, which obviously didn't happen in real life, so we know that Six is still operating on a fictional level. In fact I'm pretty sure in 3 we will learn that this was all a movie as well, but we'll see.
That said, it can still be tough to watch in spots, especially if you're easily squeamish about bodily functions. Again, the original left most of this up to our imaginations, but here we not only hear every gurgle and squirt (not to mention have 3-4x as many participants), but Martin is not a surgeon like Leiter was, so his clumsy staple job means that when a person defecates, it doesn't all get into the mouth of the next person. In what he calls an homage to Schindler's List (!) the only bit of color in the entire movie (which was shot in color and desaturated later) is the brown on the shit that sprays on the floor, on other characters' faces, and even on the camera lens. It's exaggerated enough to let us know that it's supposed to be funny, but I mostly just shook my head since even in actual comedies I never found people shitting to be that funny (Dumb & Dumber included - I remember the theater just erupting in laughter while I sat there wondering when the scene would end so they could get back to real humor), and it doesn't quite work anyway when the rest of it is NOT seemingly being played for laughs.
See, apart from the baby - which may be intentionally bad - the special effects work (all practical, as far as I can tell - there's only one VFX artist listed so whatever CGI is in here couldn't have been much) is actually quite terrific, and the black & white approach also keeps the humor at bay. It's only Martin's ridiculous body movements during the diarrhea scene (he acts like he's conducting an orchestra) that really clue you into the silliness of it; the rest is played straight. And that's one thing I missed; Leiter's dry hatred of humanity was amusing, plus anything with the "triple-dog" had me rolling. Martin's just this creepy, pathetic slob, so while we might get a bit more insight into his past, he's not as INTERESTING, which is a big distinction.
Then again, I think that's part of the point - Six seems to be basically making the film his detractors accused the original of being, and Martin is taking the place of the sort of sick asshole who'd want to see, say, the shit coming out of the gaps between the mouth and the ass it was sewn to. At first I thought he was actually insulting horror fans in general, and there's still some of that left (Six claims he isn't, but then again he also claims that some fans asked why Leiter never raped his centipede, so some ARE as fucked in the head as Martin is if they'd question such a thing), but as it went on I realized he wasn't mocking us - he was mocking what highbrow critics THINK of us. Whether a 90 minute, largely plotless movie is the best way to make this point is questionable, but I kind of like that the movie is "No, THIS is vile, pointless trash, you smartass" in cinematic form. And I'm still not sure it was intentional, but my pal Devin considers this an attack on fan-films, and it's certainly easy to see his point - Martin is a fan of the film and tries to copy what it does without the skill or understanding of how it worked, and breaks down in tears when his mother destroys his scrapbook of the first film's posters and publicity photos (including one from Screamfest, which is where I saw it!), which reminds me of Bat-fans whining when Avengers breaks one of Dark Knight's precious box office records.
But that's the thing - you sort of HAVE to apply your own metaphors and such to the movie, because it's actually kind of boring and plotless at face value. The first hour is little more than a moebius strip of scenes where Martin knocks someone upside their head and brings them to the warehouse where he will be assembling his centipede. Things that could be considered subplots are largely skipped over or left vague - for example he is somehow able to secure Yennie under the guise of an audition, but how does he pull this off when he doesn't even seem to be able to speak? His mother slits her wrist at one point but somehow keeps on living long enough for Martin to kill her himself, making me wonder why they bothered with the wrist-slitting in the first place, and unlike the original there is zero police involvement at all. 12 people disappear from the same garage, a baby is left in a car for days on end, an actress is kidnapped without checking in with her people - all of this somehow escapes the police's attention? Again, this undermines any sort of realism Six might have been going for, so I hope that it was part of the point.
The extra features shed light on some areas, but not all. On the commentary (which he shares with Laurence Harvey, the actor playing Martin), Six does stress that Martin is not supposed to be a mockery of horror fans, but doesn't mention anything about fan films (at least not that I heard, I zoned out a few times). It's a pretty casual chat between the two men; oddly they start off by mocking Schwarzenegger's habit of narrating the movie and then do the same thing more than once, but they're also enjoying a few libations (at one point Six offers to get him another and asks his preference) and laughing at each other's jokes, so it's kind of charming to listen to. The "set tour" is actually a mini-making of doc, since it shows the process of putting together the centipede (the fake asses had pacifiers built into them for the mouth actor to suck on!) and even a bit of Six directing Harvey. The bit on the foley process is kind of worthless, however, and the deleted scene is just Martin barking at a dog - I can't even place where it would be in the film. Then we have a few trailers and an interview with Six where he covers most of the same ground he does on the commentary, so if you watch the commentary don't even bother (and if you don't have time for the commentary, the interview will offer a few of its highlights!). There's also a unique extra - an all-too-brief look at the creation of the film's poster, which is much different than the one gracing the cover of the DVD of course. I wish more special editions had looks at the marketing; in the few that have I've always found them to be among the better extras in that respective collection.
A lot of folks hate the movie, and I don't blame them, really. It's mostly an exercise in endurance, and again it lacks the things that made the original a surprisingly solid film despite its garish plot. But at the same time, I kind of admire the attitude Six took with his approach to a followup, and even when it's not always successful, at least it gives the audience something to chew on (indeed, this is my longest review in quite a while), and as a result I find myself actually excited about the upcoming third film.
What say you?