Sunday, December 08, 2013

WINTER OF DISCONTENT: Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)

How often do sequels breathlessly boast that they open “just minutes after the first film ended”? Tom Six’s ‘Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)’ opens with the last five minutes of its undistinguished but hugely controversial predecessor. Followed by the closing credits. In black-and-white. Pan back: a corpulent car park attendant by the name of Martin (Laurence R Harvey) is watching ‘Human Centipede (First Sequence)’ on a laptop while he should be, oh I don't know, tending his car park.

Turns out this isn’t first time Martin has watched ‘Human Centipede’. Dude’s a big fan of the movie. He’s made himself a ‘Human Centipede’ scrapbook and the idea of recreating the film - only with a centipede of 12 conjoined people - provides solace during the lonely evenings. Martin lives with his mum and some bad memories of his dad abusing him. His mum won’t accept the truth of what happens and insists on Martin seeing a shrink. The shrink’s explanation of Martin’s obsession with caterpillars is one of the film’s comedic highlights.

(Having difficulty reconciling ‘Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)’ with the phrase “comedic highlights”? You’ll just have to trust me on this.)

One day (i.e. pretty much as soon as the film starts) Martin’s obsession spills out into real life and he starts clonking motorists who use the car park over the head with an iron bar. These poor unfortunates find themselves in a disused warehouse, denuded, hog-tied and their mouths silenced with gaffer tape. For an overweight shortarse, Martin sure gets in the exercise, hauling them from the back of his van and into the warehouse. He stops occasionally to toke on an inhaler.

He’s an equal opportunity sicko, and his victims include men and women, party-goers and mothers, the famous and the pregnant. The pregnant woman gets side-lined fairly quickly, only to reappear for a late-in-the-day escape attempt which concludes with the sickest scene involving a newborn this side of ‘A Serbian Film’. But it’s the celebrity victim on whom Martin lavishes most time and attention. In a film that’s already meta to the nines, Six goes meta plus VAT by having Ashlynn Yennie, the actress who played one of the victims from the first film, playing herself and being lured to the warehouse by Martin under the impression she’s auditioning for a film.

There are moments in ‘Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)’ where something almost intelligent seems to be happening. The most common reading of the film is that it’s a response/accusation/attack on those who complained that the first ‘Human Centipede’ didn’t go far enough with the blood and the shit and the gore.

And there’s no denying that ‘Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)’ goes further in every way possible. Where Dr Heiter makes a centipede of three people having failed in an earlier experiment involving his pet dogs, Martin makes a centipede of ten people having failed to reach his target of twelve; where Dr Heiter has a lab and a panoply of sterilized medical equipment, Martin has a draughty warehouse and a staple gun …

… and where the infamous bowel movement scene in the first film is more suggestive in the first film, it’s sickeningly literal this time round. Remember how only the little girl in the red coat disturbed the black-and-white of ‘Schindler’s List’? Six breaks the palette version of the fourth wall by having one colour erupt from the monochrome of ‘Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)’. Guess which colour?

Six also swaps the milieu of Heiter’s lavish country residence and its sprawling grounds for the three utterly grimy locations that the majority of the sequel takes place in: the car park, the warehouse, and Martin’s mother’s flat. It’s as if he’s ramping up the squalor and claustrophobia in direct ratio to the increase in viscera. Ditto the surgery itself: you want more segments to your centipede, Six seems to be saying, then you’ve got to sit through a more excruciating sequence. I opined in my review last month of ‘Human Centipede’ that “Six pulls his punches with the surgery”. Not here, he doesn’t.

The entire sequence, from pre-op (anaesthesia administered with crowbar) to the procedure itself (staple gun), to post-op (anal rape of the person at the end of the centipede) clocks in at a little over ten minutes and feels like ‘Satantango’ run at half-speed. Oh, and that rape scene? Martin wraps his member in razor wire first, a corollary to an earlier moment where he has one off the wrist using a sheet of sandpaper.

It’s at such moments that the “Tom Six does something almost intelligent with the material” prognosis deteriorates irreversibly to “Tom Six is an emotionally retarded fuckwit”. Likewise Martin’s backstory. What could have been an exploration of how one who is abused becomes an abuser – an all-too-real scenario which should have challenged the gore hound as to their expectations and responses to both instalments – is actually effected in the shoddiest, grubbiest manner possible by dint of a single line of dialogue that I’m not going to sully these already besmirched pages with.

Still, the film has some definite high points, not least the decision to utilize black-and-white and a Ken-Loach-on-a-real-downer kind of aesthetic. It’s certainly a more visually memorable film than the first, and the performances are better. Harvey is outstanding in a wordless role, creating a character who is equally pathetic, monstrous, childlike and perverted. Whether the poor bastard ever gets another acting job after this – allegedly, his career thus far has centred around children’s television! – remains to be seen. Six, however, is getting reading to unleash ‘Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence)’ upon the world. Apparently it’s set in an American prison and features a centipede made up of hundreds of people. It will be Six’s last centipede film. Allegedly.

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