For our final pre-Halloween foray into the Netflix instant streaming horror queue (your hint that I’m going to be too busy over the next couple days to do any more reviews prior to the holiday itself, but who knows — I’ve indulged in a “Halloween hangover” series in Novembers past and may just do so again, we’ll see), I couldn’t resist putting my gag reflex (not to mention my conscience) to the test one more time by checking out the long-delayed third (and last) installment of writer/director Tom Six’s notorious-for-good-reason Human Centipede series, this one entitled, as you’d no doubt expect, The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence). The question as to whether or not that makes me a brave explorer of the farthest reaches of the cinematic jungle or merely a glutton for punishment in one that I leave for you, dear reader, to decide.
One thing that’s become abundantly clear as this trilogy has progressed, however, is that these flicks have increasingly become an act of celluloid masturbation on Six’s part and that he’s pretty much just daring you to stick with them as he slowly whittles his so-called “target audience” down to one person — himself. In much the same way that Peter Sotos has done in the world of literature, Six has become adept at mining the depths of his own personal obsessions to such an extent that it’s almost impossible for anyone else to “enjoy” his subject matter, even if one finds it both morbidly alluring and even more morbidly compelling. Unlike Sotos, however, Six’s (hopefully) singular peccadilloes are so far removed from the realm of the possible that his friends and neighbors needn’t worry about what he’s getting up to in his spare time.
Or, at least, they probably needn’t worry. Who can say for certain?
The “meta” themes that charged their way into Six’s narrative with a vengeance in The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) are once more at the fore in this latest effort, with the requisite ante-upping that Six has fast made his stock in trade : not only is the star of the first film, Dieter Laser, present and accounted for here in an entirely new role as sadistic Texas (I’m assuming) prison warden Bill Boss, but so is the star of the second installment, the perpetually creepy Laurence R. Harvey, who’s on hand as Boss’ equally-unhinged henchman/sidekick, Dwight Butler. Add to this the fact that our auteur of the grotesque even puts in an appearance as a fictionalized version of, you guessed it, himself, and that the plot centers around our two principal sick fucks emulating the “medical experimentation” of parts one and two as a means of controlling their unruly inmates (after more “subdued” methods like castration and Chinese water torture fail to do the trick), and you can see for yourself how far the whole self-referential meme/shtick has been carried in Six’s ouroboros loop.
The problem here, though, is the same as it always is whenever “more of what we did last time — only bigger!” becomes a filmmaker’s modus operandi — a grander spectacle is only that, a grander spectacle, and no matter how large the centipede grows (in this case 500 unlucky souls are plucked for the “honor”), the law of diminishing returns still applies. What shocked us the first time out and made us feel physically ill the second is, by now, just old hat. Everything else — from the testicle-eating to the kidney-fucking (yes, you read that right) to the graphic sexual assaults (poor former porn actress Bree Olsen really gets an unwelcome-mat rolled out for her in her first foray into “mainstream” cinema as Boss’ secretary, Daisy) — is really just window dressing at this point. Twisted, depraved, gut-wrenching window dressing, to be sure — but window dressing all the same.
That being said, it’s not like The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence) doesn’t have its moments. Eric Roberts is at his sleaze-dripping best as Governor Hughes, the state’s thoroughly degenerate chief executive who seems to want to push Boss to inhumane extremes and see him fail at the same time, and a handful of the inmates come close to transcending the inherent two-dimensionality of their roles, but between Laser’s incessant rabid barking and Havey’s “Igor on crack” routine, it has to be said that most of the performances on offer here, like the film itself, are merely an exercise in excess for its own sake. And keep in mind this criticism is coming to you from a guy who numbers Cannibal Holocaust and Salo among his all-time favorite films.
Here’s the crucial (at least as I see it — and hey, it’s my damn blog) difference, though : as deeply troubling, misanthropic, and eyeball-searing as those movies were, at least they had a point. It may not necessarily be one that you agree with depending on your sensitivity level, and the whole “treat your audience like an enemy” approach taken by Deodato and Passolini may not have been your preferred method of getting it across (although I confess to thinking it was effective), but there’s certainly no doubt that it was there and that the directors, love ’em or hate ’em, not only had something to say, but a burning need to say it.
Tom Six seems to have the latter half of that equation covered, but not the former. He relishes the opportunity to violently and viscerally confront you and to leave you feeling unclean, completely drained, and a hollowed-out husk of your former self. But he can’t tell you why, and until he gets that part figured out, his films won’t pack nearly the unforgettable gut-punch that he’s so obviously aiming for, no matter how hard he tries.