Posts Tagged ‘tom six’

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

So, anyway, yeah — I told you this month’s “theme” would be a lot like last month’s here at TFG, and the truth of the matter is, all I’m doing is reviewing a few more horror flicks that I didn’t get around to during October’s Halloween round-up. I sincerely hope nobody minds. And let’s be honest here — no overview of the contemporary cinematic horror landscape (ding! three points for super-pretentiousness!) is complete without a look at the movie that more or less everyone’s talking about these days (for good and ill), namely writer- director Tom Six’s second chapter in his Human Centipede trilogy, The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence).

I’ve seen every possible micro-analysis of this film online, and watched it twice myself on demand on cable (it’s also screening at various midnight showings around the country), and at the end of the day all I can say is that everyone over-thinking this movie is playing right into the admittedly talented (if demented, not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course) Mr. Six’s hands — this thing is simply a good, old-fashioned, straight-up gorefest, albeit on steroids, designed to do nothing more than make you sick — and make you think that Six might be trying to say something about the human condition, some inner sickness at the heart of modern life, etc. So I’m sorry, armchair film theorists everywhere — you’ve been played (largely by yourselves,because truth be told Six has never said anything to indicate that he’s going for  “something more” with either this film or the previous  installment in this series).

There’s some cleverness at play here, no doubt about that, but it’s all revealed at the very beginning, when we learn that the set-up for this sequel is of the “meta-film” vareity employed by We Craven in New Nightmare and Lucio Fulci in A Cat In The Brain, among other examples : specifically, Martin, the loner-psycho at the heart of this story (superbly portrayed by British actor Laurence R. Harvey — no relation to guy from The Manchurian Candidate and Domino’s dad) is inspired to create his own 12-person centipede with one interconnected gastrointestinal system by watching (okay, to be fair, obsessing over) the original Human Centipede flick. To that end, he sets about kidnapping 11 victims and renting out a dingy old London self-storage space before going after his ultimate conquest, one of the stars of the first movie, Ashlynn Yennie, who happens to be in the UK on some sort of film publicity tour and is portrayed in an absolutely delicious manner as a vapid, self-obsessed Hollywood airhead (honestly, Yennie and Harvey both deserve serious Oscar consideration here — one for delivering an absolutely flawlessly creepy-as-shit performance without uttering so much as a single word of dialogue from start to finish, the other for having the guts to play an exaggerated, two-dimensional caricature of her own self — not that either will actually get any, of course), who he intends to place at the head of his hastily- assembled monstrosity.

And it’s that one little turn of phrase — “hastily-assembled” — that best describes what’s got every right-thinking person so utterly grossed-out by this flick. Good ol’ Do Heiter’s somewhat-medically-feasible (hey, give me a break, I did qualify that with a “somewhat”) three-person centipede in the first one was gruesome enough in both concept and execution, but a fat middle-aged loser with no medical training whatsoever who works as a parking ramp attendant just doesn’t typically have the necessary equipment or skill to pull anything like that off, so he makes do with a staple gun and gets right down to business.

As his centipede comes together (well, okay, is forced together), it soon becomes obvious that our guy Martin’s favorite part in his favorite movie was the infamous “feed her” scene, and what he really gets off on is the whole idea of watching each of these people shit into the mouth of the unfortunate soul stapled right behind them. And frankly that seems to be Six’s whole obsession here, too — the only time we get any colors besides black and white (and yes, this film is gorgeous in its stark ugliness) being when Martin start force-feeding laxatives to the crowd and diarrhea-brown starts splashing around everywhere.

So anyway, that’s what The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) amounts to — 80 or so minutes of set-up so you can finally see runny shit going from ass-to-mouth. You’ve been warned.

It’s sort of a shame, really — Six has a lot more at his disposal here in terms of body horror than what he chooses to focus on so singularly, and like I said, his talents as a visual filmmaker can’t be denied. He also coaxes superb performances out of his cast, particularly the two aforementioned leads, and he’s apparently a master at the long-lost art of generating a ton of publicity and controversy for relatively low-budget pictures. He’s capable of delivering a lot more than sloppy toilet gore, but in the end, that’s what he seems willing to settle for here. I’ve got absolutely no objection to delivering us the grossest film possible, and while The Human Centipede 2 certainly is that, it still ultimately feels like Six is taking the easy way out here and not addressing any of the larger, and ultimately more horrific, issues that could come to the fore here if he let them. The whole thing ultimately feels like a cop-out, albeit probably the most visceral cop-out in movie history, and frankly like a high-tech exercise in sleight-of-hand — Six is making us sick to disguise the fact that he hasn’t really got much of anything else up his sleeve.

Maybe he’s saving it for his big wrap-up, when evidently he’ll be taking his Human Centipede concept to America, but I remain skeptical. While I admire Six’s technical skill, his bravado, and his ability to make suckers out of the so-called (and entirely self-appointed) critical “elite,” I think he’s ultimately shying away from the nastier theoretical implications of his work and concentrating solely on the superficial. He has one more film to prove me wrong.

"The Human Centipede (First Sequence)" Movie Poster

There’s no getting around it : the premise of Dutch writer-director Tom Six’s The Human Centipede (First Sequence) is enough to make any right-thinking person feel physically ill.

Hell, it’s enough to make any batshit insane person physically ill.

Those who experience this latest midnight movie phenomenon (also available through IFC On-Demand in both regular and high-definition on most cable systems as we speak) seem to fall into two camps : those who are revulsed by the movie’s premise of a mad doctor, known for separating conjoined twins  but who has apparently taken a turn later in life toward the additive, rather than the subtractive, side of  the human biological equation and now wants to attach three human beings together into one long centipede-like (hence the title) joined organism with a single gastric system, and those who find it so completely outrageous that they literally end up laughing at what they’re seeing unfold before their eyes.

Then again, they say laughter can be a pretty effective defense mechanism. And I can see why a person would want to erect some sort of psychological barrier between themselves and the events taking place in this flick. Because if you do, in fact, take the story seriously, it’s beyond unsettling —it’s downright nauseating.

Sure, on paper there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before — body horror is nothing new, in fact David Cronenberg made it a staple of his early career, and of course the whole mad scientist thing has been done a thousand times over.

But no mad scientist was ever quite as thoroughly, viciously evil as this film’s Dr. Heiter (portrayed with superb menace by German actor Dieter Laser), and even Cronenberg at his most sever and unrestrained never came up with a body horror concept quite so — well, quite so fucking horrific.

Simply put, if you find anything bout this movie to be actually enjoyable, it’s time to seek professional help immediately. Which is not to say it’s a bad film — it’s well-acted, superbly shot, economically paced, and exudes an air of controlled menace throughout. It definitely achieves what it sets out to do.

It’s just that what it sets out to do is so genuinely unpalatable and revolting that you hesitate to pat Six and his cohorts on the back for a job well done, even if it is just that.

I mean, where do we draw the line here on congratulating someone for achiing what they set out to do? “Good job killing that guy, the cops will never find a trace of evidence,” or “nice job on that rape, she won’t be conscious again for a week and there’s no way she’ll ever be able to identify you” aren’t exactly compliments, per se, are they?

And yeah — comparing The Human Centipede (First Sequence) to a murder or a rape might be taking things a bit far, but it’s definitely a full-fledged assault on your sensibilities, taste, and even morals. It’s an extremely confrontational piece of filmmaking that doesn’t offer to meet the audience halfway on anything — it essentially just dares you to keep watching.

Dieter Laser as the mad Dr. Heiter

As mentioned already, Laser is quite simply superb as the madman-du-jour of our story, Dr. Heiter. From the very first scene showing him looking at photos in his car of a single-file group of dogs sniffing out each other’s butts, you know something is just plain wrong with this guy, and the more Laser reveals about his character, and his character’s motivations, the creepier he becomes. I can’t imagine him at the end of a day’s shooting not wanting to take a shower first thing after spending eight hours or more inside this guy’s head.

The other characters are standard horror-movie tropes — Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie  as Lindsay and Jenny, respectively, are two good-time college girls partying away their summer in Europe who end up having their car break down on a stormy night and (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) stumbling upon the mad doctor’s home near the German black forest on foot in search of a telephone to use to call the European equivalent of AAA.  The bizarre conjoined-twin artwork adorning Heiter’s walls is enough to convince them that something is up with this cat, but before you know it they’re drugged and wake up as the middle and end sections of the evil genius’s titular human centipede, with the “lead” section occupied by stereotypical screaming ultraviolent Asian-student-also-on-holiday-who-can’t-speak-a-word-of-English Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura).

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It’s gotta be said that all three performers, though, raise their game to the next level, to employ a sickeningly overused sports cliche, when they find themselves centipede-ized (or whatever the word is) — with kneecaps busted, and mouths sewed onto the person in front of them’s anus, you automatically become a brave performer in my book. You’d think just about any agent worth his or her salt would advise their client to turn these roles down, but they all tackle the strange physicality required to move as a conjoined creature with an admirable amount of chutzpah and portray the shockingly debased creature they’ve become with sickening effectiveness.

The less said the better

And yeah, as I said before, The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (its follow-up —ummmm—segment, the Full Sequence, is now in pre-production) is definitely effective. This is a genuinely horrific work of cinematic fiction (thank God) that does everything that it sets out to do. Six’s skill as a screenwriter and director, and his actors’ ability as performers, is never in question here.

What is in question is exactly what we, as an audience, are really supposed to take away from this thing.

I know there are several indelible concepts and images here that I still can’t shake out of my head and probably never will. If that was Six’s goal — to provoke an immediate physical reaction followed by a lingering, perhaps permanent, psychological scar, he’s certainly achieved that. If he was aiming for anything other than that, though — well, he’s set up such a vicious assault on the senses (and sensibilities) here that attempting any further goals with the story is just plain impossible. It takes the film’s entire running time just to absorb the shock of what we’re seeing, and as I mentioned, even afterward it lingers in the mind — and quite unpleasantly at that.

In short, the “feel-good movie of the summer” this ain’t. But if you want to push your own limits as a viewer to what are, more than likely, their utmost fringes, this is definitely worth — shit, I dunno — subjecting yourself to.

I can’t say I’m actually glad that I saw The Human Centipede (First Sequence) — but I certainly won’t be forgetting it anytime soon.