[This is our original review of the film from Fantastic Fest, reposted to coincide with the film’s theatrical release. You can find additional opinions on the film at the bottom of the page! NOTE: the version screened for critics in LA was edited from Allistair’s version, removing the barbed-wire rape scene.]
The Human Centipede 2 is a terrible film, but it’s a very special terrible film. One filled with fantastic practical-effects, good acting and competent direction. It is quite possibly the most gruesome film I’ve ever seen — the sickest things the mind can imagine are depicted on screen with a realism that only a crystal clear vision for insanity can afford. It’s hard not to appreciate the effort that has gone into capturing this nightmarish reality of mouths stapled to buttholes, barb-wired-penis rape (don’t ask) and ejaculation via sandpaper.
The problem comes with how these things are framed. What separates Human Centipede 2 from being a missing entry in Faces of Death? Not much. The transition from the original Human Centipede to its sequel is the transition from the desire for twisted illusions to aesthetic banality — all done with the speed and focus of an opium-ridden orgy. It’s the next best thing to Google images with safe search off.
Tom Six’s Human Centipede had an adverse reaction on guarded horror fans when it finally left the festival circuit and landed in theaters in early 2010. The grossest elements weren’t shown on screen, left to the imagination to create, and the film was peppered with some genuinely funny moments through anal-surgery mastermind Dr. Heiter. Although some said the film failed to fully deliver on its hellish premise, others became a fan of its twisted sense of humor and ridiculous plot.
There may be no bigger fan of the film than The Human Centipede 2’s villain, who watches the original film religiously in his parking lot security booth. Martin (Laurence R. Harvey) wastes away the day by building his Human Centipede fan-scrapbook, jerkin’ it and killing random tenants of the parking lot. He looks like the living, breathing incarnation of a Daniel Clowes character and has the personality of a sheet of paper.
Martin is an ideal candidate for the villain to follow in Dr. Heiter’s steps, and Laurence R. Harvey brings him to life with a bewildered stare, bulbous gut, and cartoon cackles — no dialog necessary. The problem comes with how the film introduces him and leaves us to linger in his family life for half of the film. I would think that mashing together the disturbed lives of the families depicted in Todd Solondz and David Lynch films would make for some thrilling, hilarious moments. The Human Centipede 2 proves me wrong.
Martin’s dad is in prison for possibly raping his son, his mom is a suicidal maniac, and his older brother is a skinhead, who frequently bullies Martin and blasts loud punk music that rattles the apartment (which resembles the desolate rooms of Saw more than an actual living space.) It’s hard not to laugh as the family doctor, an old man with a beard that would put most rabbis to shame, marvels at Martin’s fat ass, or when Martin’s mom shouts “I’m going to kill us both” as punk music wobbles their dining table.
These moments are welcome and among the most memorable of the film, as they temporarily make The Human Centipede 2 something more than what it is: straight-up torture porn. Before you say, “I like Saw and I like Hostel, so — whatever, dude — I’m probably going to like this!” you should know that I like those films as well. I just don’t think of them as “Torture Porn.” I think of Torture Porn as being a film where the only focus is in torturing innocents in a way that is supposed to arouse the audience. It’s a pretty boring genre that is currently occupied by only one film. This is that film.
From its black-and-white visuals to its bare set design, The Human Centipede 2 wants your eyes ready and focused for its namesake. Buttholes with flesh hanging down, crushed fetuses and teeth being hammered (via a 90+ second, no-cutaways scene) are the real reason why this film exists. Whether this is the reason you will watch it is up to you. For myself, I felt like I was trapped in a mad man’s dream, unable to walk away without any deeper understanding of him or a feel for his reality. A good horror movies makes you sink into your seat with the weight of an apocalypse long before death blows are dealt.
In contrast, The Human Centipede 2’s violence awakens you from a 45 minute lull and creates a numbness deeper than sleep with its hyper-violent, monotonous torture scenes, which, to be honest, are as transparent as the sex scenes that fill any porn. They are the promise at the end of all the filler. Instead of getting a boner, you get grossed out and not want to eat dinner. On the plus side, you can say, “I saw The Human Centipede 2, and it was very, very gross!” and win a couple brownie points with the internet. Your viewing will be like a badge of courage you show off to all your movie-going friends. “You saw that piece of crap!?” they’ll respond — partly out of defense and partly out of general belief of it being an actual piece of crap.
In short, this is how genres die. The Human Centipede 2 is less of an assault on an audience and more of an assault on horror itself. It meanders through art house pretensions, trips on some dark comedy musings and finally takes a lengthy diarrhea dump on the face of horror. By displaying such direct, unstylized visions of brutality without any atmosphere, character development or artistic flourishes. It’s transparent really: Tom Six wants to make you sick. He wants you to talk about him and his disgusting movie. He wants to troll the internet. That’s about it! And, how can you ever really be afraid if every second of the film is conveying this to you? “Are you grossed out yet. Is this more hardcore than the original, huh!?!” the film wants to say to you. So this is me saying, “Yeah, but so what?”
When the illusion of horror is dead and we are only left with some fantastically gory Google image search results, how can we possibly have any fun at the cinema?
Alex Katz: The Human Centipede 2 may be one of the worst films ever made. The term “torture porn” is one I usually loathe, but it is actually exactly what the film is. I spent two hours watching a sick dude get off on mutilating and torturing people. There’s no plot, no themes, no characterization to care about. Just a fat, sick man doing sick things to people because Tom Six wants to shock us. Here’s a tip, Tom. The difference between “shocking” and “just disgusting” is all about subtlety and artistry. Tom Six proves, with this film, that he has an utter lack of both. 15 – Vile.
Jenika Katz: Maybe it’s because I’ve been on the internet too long, or maybe it’s because the cut of the movie I saw didn’t have the horrendous scene I was dreading, but The Human Centipede 2 didn’t gross me out nearly as much as I thought it would. It was gross, yes, but it just can’t affect you that much if you’re submitted to a couple of hours of a director saying, “Is this shocking? How about this? I bet you won’t eat tonight!” All I was expecting of this film was something disgusting, and while it delivered that, it’s certainly not something that will haunt me forever. The pacing is plodding and there are too many logical flaws to really get immersed in the world, especially when your main character has no personality other than being a perverted disabled man. If you’re looking for an artistic film about the relationship between sexuality and violence, you won’t find it here. If you’re looking for something gross to boost your e-cred, you could find better with a Google search. 25 – Painful.
Maxwell Roahrig: This could’ve been such a unique and, dare I say it, clever movie. But director Tom Six became too obsessed with shocking us with disgusting visuals. As Alex said above, there’s a line between what’s disgusting but has something to say, and shock just to for shock’s sake. Human Centipede 2 is shocking just to be shocking, and nothing more. The main character, Martin, is easily the worst human to ever grace the screen. His actions have no meaning behind them other than “I have to make a big-ass human centipede because…reasons”. The utter lack of thought behind anything that happens in the movie is honestly baffling. Things happen, and then more things happen…because. I hate this movie. Tom Six, you are the reason that the horror genre isn’t taken seriously. 15 – Vile.