Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Post-Halloween Purge: HC2 [Full Sequence] Review

Halloween is always one of my favorite nights of the year. Giving strange children candy makes me laugh in an off-handed "haha, pedophiles..." sort of way, and it gives me ample opportunity to dress up like a freak of nature and torment my sweet little wife with unwatchable gore and sadism for about 48 hours. This year was pretty low key, on account of the both of us being broke and fucking exhausted - no costumes, no theaters, and even the miserable weather kept the number of kiddos ringing the doorbell to something of a minimum. I also promised Mrs. Kentai that we could have one year that didn't involve faces being peeled off with butterknives, so instead we caught up with the horror-franchise du jour in Paranormal Activity... I'll shrug and say that they're slightly better than I had expected with "Part 3" in particular being a legitimately good half-of-a-larger horror film, but will note to the shock of absolutely no-one that it's clearly not the franchise to get my panties exceptionally wet.

The day after was when I took a little time to myself and watched a film that's piqued my curiosity ever since the BBFC told the world that it was blatantly unfit for human consumption: THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 [FULL SEQUENCE]. The film passed through the BBFC with 2:37 worth of cuts and an "18" certificate back in June, but this controversy's not over yet, as Australia - the one country to have passed the film uncut so far - has recently ordered a second classification process which will happen at the end of November!

Writer/Director Tom Six's first feature, 2009's The Human Centipede [First Sequence], was largely reviled by the mainstream press as "the sickest film ever made". I question the validity of such a bold statement when, for all intents and purposes, the film is surprisingly sedate in its presentation of a mad scientist who stitches three hapless victims mouth-to-anus to create a "new life form" with a single digestive track. Yes, they're eating each other's poop, but you don't fucking see anything - how could you? Their misery is totally implicit, and the "mouth" of the centipede doesn't even speak English, giving the audience - unless they speak some pretty basic Japanese - yet another level of distance from the plight of the titular character(/s)' suffering. That said, the film wasn't bad. It was a totally unique concept and was delivered in a way that was more psychologically affecting than outright gross, and at face value Tom Six deserved a lot of credit for crafting a unique and smart exploitation film in an era when it seems that literally everything has been done to death. Honestly, anyone who would say that The Human Centipede is more disgusting than Men Behind the Sun, Ichi the Killer, Antichrist, KichikuAftermath, August Underground Mordum, Crash or Nekromantik (to name just a few candidates!) is a man who's never seen any of these films, and as such their opinion on "Sickest X Ever" means nothing because they haven't even tried to find them.

With the ignorant public having embraced The Human Centipede as the new standard, Tom Six was regularly assaulted with hate mail, and even death threats over a made-up film that people went out of their way to watch on their own free time. Tom Six (much like myself) was amused by the attention that the conceptually icky but visually sterile film had raised in people, and swore to create a film that, and these are his words now, would make the first film "look like a Disney movie". I'll give Tom Six credit, because that crazy Dutch bastard delivered exactly what he promised... I'm just not sure at what cost it came.

Forgive the blatant memetic breakdown of my prose for a minute here, but to understand why The Human Centipede 2 [Full Sequence] exists, one most understand internet culture's concept of "trolling". If, for some mind bending reason, you have internet access, are reading this page and DON'T know what I'm talking about, it's that thing where people do intentionally stupid or contrary things, solely to get everyone else around them pissed off so they can laugh about it as a shitstorm billows up over absolutely nothing. Trolling is essentially the lowest, simplest, and - goddamn it, sometimes the funniest - form of attention whoring, but people fail to realize that it's an art, not just a passtime. Andy Kaufman was proof that trolling can be done IRL (that is, in the usual meatspace all non-interntet people inhabit), but you have to be pretty damned good at it to make a gig out of it. Making films, or books, or any other narrative work - particularly sequels, which are easier to get greenlit - gives some clever and sadistic types the chance to troll their own audience... this might not sound like a great idea, for obvious reasons, but I can't accuse Tom Six of being a trailblazer.

If you'll forgive a tangent, I've been convinced to some degree that Rob Zombie's Halloween 2 - the sequel to his own remake of the John Carpenter film of the same name - was the man trolling long time fans of the franchise by literally destroying both the iconic masked-nobody Michael Meyers and the original "Final Girl" character Laurie Strode, by completely and reimagining them as a filthy dog-eating hobo and a mentally shattered PTSD victim respectively. The only proof I needed was when the director told audiences in a behind the scenes interview "This film has NOTHING to do with the old Halloween 2. It's a completely original story, all new. So, here we are at the location we're using for Haddonfield Hospital..." Understand that the 1981 version of Halloween 2 was set entirely at that very same location! He was just giving the fanboys who hated him even more scraps to chew on and go onto forums and rip him a new asshole, because... well, why shouldn't he?

Zombie was tasked with reimagining Halloween in the 21st century and created a stylish, twisted reality that fused a distorted sense of dysfunctional nostalgia with the boundless cruelty and psychological dissection that made his prior film, The Devil's Rejects, so goddamn interesting. In short, he made a remake that took a new approach with the source material... and, instantly, the whole world hated it. It didn't matter than the behavior of the young Michael Meyers - the largest update to the story - was based on the behavior patterns real life boogeymen like Henry Lee Lucas and Jeffery Dahmer. Nor did it matter that he worked in elements from the second film, playing up the mythology that fans supposedly dig while simultaneously inverting the style and tone of the film into something modern and harrowing. Nope, everyone just said "Fuck you, Rob Zombie, go back to making shitty music." At that point, why should he care what they think, and why shouldn't he go out of his way to piss them off just to make himself happy? If he re-made the film verbatim they'd bitch anyway (see Gus Van Sant's Psycho - or better yet, don't!), so why not take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really stick it to all those fanboys who said Rob Zombie's remake was the worst idea ever and then paid to see it anyway? I'm not saying that Rob Zombie's Halloween 2 is a great film - it's not, I know. But it's at least a fascinating abortion in a franchise that's basically been one long series of varying embarrassments that range from Druid drivel to Busta Rhymes... seriously guys, the White Horse bullshit is not the dumbest thing Michael Meyers has been through at this point.

And I digress. Back to the shit-eating.

Tom Six only has his own film to work with, not a legacy of crumbling sequel-driven mediocrity and expectations that the villain will be the exact same thing every single time or else nobody will like it. So rather than troll audience expectations by turning the concept on its head, Six has literally trolled the viewers themselves, delivering the film they all claimed the original Human Centipede was - sick, depraved, disgusting filth with absolutely nothing socially, morally, or stylistically redeeming to speak of. A Serbian Film may have set the standard in grotesque cinema of the 21st century, but the film has a point - it's a clever narrative exploitation film in which the first half is a dramatic tragedy, leading up to the explosions of abuse and murder that have made it so infamous. [Full Sequence], however, is so far removed from the 21st century concept of "torture porn" that it's returned to the cinematic underground of yesteryear, in which explicit violence was literally the only quality the video existed for. I'm talking about conceptual gutter filth like The Guineapigs, August Underground, Onna Hara-Kiri and Pink Flamingos - films that, good or bad, right or wrong, art or trash, existed for one reason and one reason only: to disgust the audience to the breaking point.

Minimal dialog. Long, unflinching takes. Shot in color, but presented in stark black-and-white. The soundtrack is little more than uncomfortable background noise, and often times is simply not present. There is no stylistic juxtaposition to cling to, or ironic detachment to distance yourself from Martin's bleak, disgusting obsession; the entire film is driven by his impulsive need to create what he loves, and the film has virtually nothing else to offer. Human Centipede 2 [Full Sequence] is a singular vision of debauchery and dares you to look away. You are a sick, sad little pervert for watching this film, and it - intentionally so - puts you in leagues with Martin. It's not a character you want to be associated with, but that's the only choice you're given, and this alone makes the film harder to watch than the first. Dr. Heiter was at least a generally handsome, charismatic, and intelligent bastard of a mad scientist. He was crazy, certainly, but he had lofty, idealistic reasons for carrying out his crimes. Martin is nothing more than an obsessive, perverted little worm... and with none of the victims having a history or a personality to latch onto, he's the only person you've even got a chance of empathizing with. I don't want to make this comparison, but it's valid in this once instance: Not since the final scene of Salo has a film ever so brutally told its own audience "You're a fucking creep".

[Full Sequence] is not a narrative film so much as it is an excuse to show the audiences so upset by his first film what they so easily could have been subjected to, which paradoxically will probably never be viewed by anyone who actually found [First Sequence] so morally reprehensible that they'll never seek it out anyway! This cinematic experiment stars the hapless antagonist Martin (Laurence R. Harvey), a thoroughly disgusting, bloated, bug-eyed little troll who's mute, retarded, masturbates with tools of genital mutilation, and in general is the single most unpleasant protagonist... well, probably ever. Seriously, hanging out with Michael Rooker in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is downright pleasant after this mess. He's repulsive in absolutely every possible sense of the word - intellectually stunted, physically disgusting, emotionally scarred beyond repair, and the only reason he gains even a scrap of our sympathy is because it's clear everyone in his world treats him with nothing but scorn and abuse. His own mother wants him dead and blames him for his father being put in prison - mind you, Martin's father is in prison for having raped his mentally deficient son as a child. His psycho-therapist crosses the line into horribly uncomfortable territory. And the only solace he can take is obsessing over the brutal, phallic power that comes from watching the original Human Centipede DVD daily, and comforting himself with plans of a "12 Human Centipede"...

Calling the film diabolical is an understatement. I've used the term "Cinematic Terrorism" before to describe experiences like Henry, Martyrs, Subconscious Cruelty, Cannibal Holocaust and Antichrist - you don't "enjoy" them so much as you do survive them, trudging through the grotesque and unflinching imagery in the film because they have some deep rooted meaning behind their acts of sadism and degradation - even if some of it turns out to be pretentious and misguided bullshit, these films use their harrowing narrative to try and dissect the problems of humanity, forcing us to acknowledge our own hearts of darkness and walk away with a better understanding of just how terrible we can be... I love these films, flaws and all, and while I understand that not everyone has a need or a want to ever see them because of their extremely volatile content, they serve to prove that just because something is offensive does not mean it's worthless. Sometimes a message is so unpleasant, so grim and important to being alive that there's no more subtle way to illustrate it than by sheer cruelty, proving why something is wrong instead of trying to describe it and hoping the audience "gets it".

However, [Full Sequence] is not one of these films. It's literally the over the top wank-fantasy of a degenerate mind. It is, in short, everything Tom Six's critics were afraid the film might spawn, and it's only within the confines of being a "meta" film that this was entirely possible. By showing the perpetrator of the horrifyingly DIY-Centipede as a socially and mentally deficient bastard, he's found a way to continue the concept without literally just repeating the same exact story (something too few sequels work out): Martin is the only human being who could ever worship the horrible concept of this franchise, and the film is wise enough to show that a mind must be diseased before it can carry out acts of violence, regardless of what inspiration those acts might take. Critical acclaim for this film has been sorely lacking, and on the surface I can't blame them; it's a single minded, retch-inductively filthy, and almost totally joyless exercise in showing human filth visit degradation upon itself. Some critics love to discuss "the joy of movies", of the triumph and wonder of Hollywood's golden age of charming musicals and vast epics... this is the crushing, soulless, black hole of movies, one so gruesome you're unable to turn away, but so joylessly abhorrent that you're not entirely sure why. It is, without a doubt, an immeasurably more explicit and horrifying film than Tom Six's prior's "Sickest Movie Ever Made", and if absolutely nothing else, it proved that everyone who was offended by the first film really just needed to shut the fuck up already.

[Full Sequence] a boundless success for what it is; a dreadful, painful, ugly slog through a world so bleak that the profound moment of pitch-black humor that pokes out of it all involves a newborn being-- well, I refuse to spoil it here. Suffice to say it's absolutely deplorable, and so asinine in both concept and execution that I laughed. Hard. Yes, I am a terrible human being, but this sequence was literally inserted at the point when the film had done absolutely everything it could possibly do with its concept*, at which point Tom Six simply shrugged and said "fuck it all" with his narrative. Any pretension of the film taking its' utterly contemptible subject matter as anything but a sick joke is crushed into a fine jelly, and we're left only with Martin's realization that his fantasy must, as with all good things, come to an end. The people calling the film narcissistic need to consider that the only person in the film who's doing the worshiping is the single worst human being on the planet; if that's Tom Six's way of saying he's a really cool guy, he's doing it wrong.

The entire film is taking the piss (or, more accurately, taking a diarrheal shit) all over the people who decried his film as the most horrible thing on the planet, and on that one, simple level, it's a rousing success - but that makes the entire film a joke. An 88 minute, completely tasteless, and virtually endless joke that nobody it's targeting will have the stomach to actually see through to the end! The fact that Tom Six was smart enough to convince a production company to let him even make it is impressive, and as something of an unconventional cinematic endurance test [Full Sequence] may well become this generation's Faces of Death... but that singular amazing achievement in trolling history alone doesn't make it particularly good. What impressed about [First Sequence] was that it was a serious, measured meditation on a concept that, at face value, is horrifying. This is exactly the schlocky, empty gruesome posturing that people erroneously vilified the first film of, and while it does all of that incredibly well... I'm not certain that's really a step forward. The film clearly offends from start to finish, but it doesn't really impress in the way that A Serbian Film, Hostel Part 2 or Martyrs have.

It was a film designed to draw attention and ire and hatred, and at that - if absolutely nothing else - boy, does it excel. Personally, I wouldn't go as far as to say it's "boring" - the pacing and constantly rising stakes of torment and mutilation do a fine job of not becoming literally monotonous - but the film is absolutely one note, and it's mushy, indecisive final shot does little to convince me that the film has a lot under the hood. This is pure, heinous exploitation made for all the wrong reasons... but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't incredibly mean-spirited and meticulously constructed to fuck with the viewer's gag reflex. It delivers exactly what it promises, and in abundance. That should be enough, considering what the film is trying to be; giving all of his fans what they say they want, but knowing full well that even the most hardened of gorehounds are going to think twice about sitting through the sight of a man choking to death on a mixture of his own puke and another man's feces. Honestly, the actual audience for this film who would appreciate it (forget "like it") is so small that it's amazing it even exists. I don't want to convince you that The Human Centipede 2 [Full Sequence] is a bad film, though... it's neither bad nor good - it simply is. The film is sure to make even the most jaded viewer wince, but it's not going to stick with you on any moral or artistic level once the credits have rolled. It's a grim, exhausting experience that's causing controversy and generating word of mouth over how depraved it is, and that's what it was born and bred to do.

Remember my memetic talk earlier? [Full Sequence] isn't a narrative experience, it's this:

I acknowledge, nay, I think I even appreciate what Tom Six has created here. Who hasn't wanted to tell idiots where to stick it in the most brilliantly obscene manner possible? I'll even buy it on Blu-ray, assuming an uncut version actually surfaces and the original cut isn't banned into oblivion. I'm even looking forward to seeing how in the name of fuck he thinks he can top this with [Final Sequence] - I just can't with a clear conscience call the second film in this trilogy good. It's trash, and Tom Six knows it. Sick, vile trash that's just as filled with contempt for the first film's detractors as it is its fans... and honestly, that's fine by me. Go in expecting 88 minutes of unpleasant misery - like Schindler's List was somehow raped by the works of Jorg Buttgereit, and this film is their congealing stillborn spawn - and I'd say it delivers. Just don't expect it to be a smart-assed, tongue in cheek take on [First Sequence] in the "meta" vein that Wes Craven reduced the concept to. This isn't New Nightmare, not by a long shot.

I can't honestly recommend The Human Centipede 2 [Full Sequence] to anyone with the slightest bit of sanity or good taste left, but I'm glad I've watched it, and have no doubt I'll watch it a few more times over the next few years - and surely force a few friends to sit through it head to tail, just to watch them squirm. Underneath the behind-the-scenes layers of spite and on-screen misanthropy, there's something almost, well, beautiful nestled in its' simple minded monochromatic sadism... exactly what that beautiful thing is, however, I still can't say.

* Mind you the only available print of the film is IFC Midnight's US edit, which actually cuts the "barbed wire" scene the BBFC was so quick to spoil. So despite the print I've watched running 88 minutes, I know it's missing footage... a pity, but I just wasn't interested in waiting until next year and hoping that Australia doesn't ruin everyone's fun by renigging on their uncut R18+ certificate.

I'm very confused as to which version of the film is available and where; the US cut runs 1:28:01with a 15 seconds of logos/warnings. The BBFC submitted "uncut" print ran 1:26:50! Why is the US version LONGER, despite not having the barbed-wire version the BBFC confirmed is missing? There's also talk of a woman being stabbed in the face with a kitchen knife - but that's not at all how the scene plays out in the IFC print.


Nicholous said...

Great write-up. Strangely, your characterizations of Human Centipede 2 and Halloween 2, in terms of using the film to denounce/parody the people/business/culture that demanded a sequel, reminds me of Ulli Lommel's (original) Boogeyman 2.

Here's hoping neither Six nor Zombie will continue to inspire comparisons with Ulli.

The question is where could one go for HC3? A bloodless chamber drama? My Dinner With Andre, but only with discussions of ass-to-mouth?

Kentai 拳態 said...

I've actually never seen the BOOGEYMAN films, though having seen the trailer in which a girl is (essentially) raped by an invisible wind, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't curious of any of them were even remotely good. A description of Boogeyman's first sequel sounds almost strikingly self-aware, which would at least be of some historical signifigance considering it was finished thirty years ago.

Tom Six has gone as far as to suggest that there's a "happy ending" for [Final Sequence], and notes that all three films will form a single story when watched back to back (making the trilogy itself a Centipede!). He also promised that it'll make the second film "look like a Disney movie", so I wouldn't bet on it squeaking by with a PG-13. Not sure how that'd be even possible, but he certainly upped the ante with the second film, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt...

Even with the frustration I've felt over this film I recognize a very serious talent behind it, so I'm still - in a really strange way - looking forward to seeing just how this trilogy ends.

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