Human Centipede 2
by Glenn Lovell
Any movie that can boast of being “Banned in Britain!” gets my attention. But I must say I approached Tom Six’s “The Human Centipede 2” with trepidation. After all, the opening installment or, to borrow Six’s terminology, “first sequence” left me squirming with its seriously demented mix of sadism, comedy, Grand Guignol and vintage horror tropes (it begins with a pair of clueless Gretels lost in the woods, taking refuge at a mad doctor’s house).
If any film deserved to be branded “torture porn” ‒ a term popularized by Miike’s “Audition” and Eli Roth’s “Hostel” movies ‒ the title-tells-all “Human Centipede” was it. Six, a master at self-promotion, wore the mantle proudly and his first horror film ‒ thanks to midnight screenings and PPV ‒ secured its place alongside such nasties as “Last House on the Left” and “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” in the cult horror underground.
The ingenious title was passed among genre aficionados like secret code and was usually followed by a slow shaking of the head and a loud expulsion of breath. In other words, it passed muster as a I-double-dare-you midway ride.
And yet, for all HC’s sensationalism, there was no mistaking Six’s audacity and skill at eliciting gasps from an audience. His casting of German veteran Dieter Laser as the deranged Dr. Heiter was particularly inspired. Laser, part unintelligible Bela Lugosi, part Nehru-jacketed Dr. No, had to be the creepiest mad scientist this side of Charles Laughton’s Dr. Moreau. Heiter’s dream: to join three humans, mouth to anus, so they share the same gastrointestinal tract. A former surgeon who specialized in conjoined twins, he has obviously gone ’round the bend.
Does “HC2” live up ‒ or down, depending on your threshold for such things ‒ to the original? Yes, and no. Opening and closing with the end credits to “HC1” and shot in putrid black-and-white, it proves a fiendishly clever self-homage that tackles the “HC” phenomenon head-on. It’s kitchen-sink grim ‒ I was reminded of David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” and Gaspar Noé’s “I Stand Alone” ‒ and far more outrageous in concept than execution. Indeed, over the first hour, when a dozen human guinea pigs are collected, you don’t see nearly as much as you think you see. Again, it’s the premise that’s so ghastly.
But this all changes in the last 20 minutes, set in a London warehouse and graphic enough to sate any connoisseur of medical horror shows (“Turistas,” “Martyrs,” etc.). “Depraved” and “nauseating” don’t begin to do this section justice.
Embracing his critics ‒ what could be more maddening? ‒ Six posits the question: What might the world’s most insatiable “HC” fan be like? How sick would the guy have to be? Answer: Plenty. Martin (Laurence R. Harvey), who resembles a human toad, a grotesque straight out of “Fellini Satyricon,” keeps a “HC” scrapbook under his mattress. He’s addicted to the film, sometimes masturbating to it, much to the disgust of his mother (Vivien Bridson), a doddering crone who has her own issues. Dr. Sebring (Bill Hutchings), a shrink who makes house calls, shrugs off Martin’s obsession as “a passing phase.” (He soon amends this diagnosis.)
A garage attendant, Martin has a ready supply of victims with which to replicate ‒ no, surpass! ‒ his hero’s experiment. His work, however, is not quite as refined. In place of sutures, he makes do with staples and duct tape. To test out his symphonic wonder he pulls out a funnel and a jumbo can of baked beans. Soon, the black-and-white cinematography turns a stomach-wrenching brown.
If Six has any redeeming quality, it’s his absurdist sense of humor. “HC2” has been crafted as a Pirandellian nightmare, with, appropriately, the head chasing the tail. Martin’s final victim is none other than Ashlynn Yennie, who co-starred in the original as one of the doomed American tourists. Yennie, playing herself, thinks Martin’s driving her to a Quentin Tarantino audition. You know the bad news. The quasi-good news: this time she gets top billing as the head of a 10-member human train.
THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE II 1/2 With Laurence R. Harvey, Ashlynn Yennie, Vivien Bridson, Bill Hutchings. Directed, scripted by Tom Six. 90 min. Unrated (would be NC-17 for violence, nudity, graphic torture scenes)