If Franz Kafka’s 1915 novella The Metamorphosis begins with Gregor Samsa waking from troubled dreams to find himself transformed into a monstrous bug, then Tom Six’s The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) comes with a decidedly Kafkaesque pedigree. For its protagonist Martin (Laurence R. Harvey) is also troubled by dreams – mostly involving the father who abused him sexually as a child. And while it is his many brutally abducted captives, rather than he himself, who will be transformed into the critter of the title, his own diminutive stature, roly-poly paunch and bulbous eyes all lend him the definite appearance of an insect.
Soon Martin will also become the worm that turned. This asthmatic, mentally challenged, sexually confused car park attendant was repeatedly sodomised by his father (now in prison). He’s subjected to constant psychological abuse by his unhinged mother (Vivien Bridson). He’s coveted amorously by his creepy doctor (Bill Hutchens). He’s beaten bloody by his noisy upstairs neighbour (Lee Nicholas Harris). And he’s insulted by just about everyone that he encounters at his workplace. But this lifelong victim also harbours his own sordid little fantasy of revenge, empowerment and perverse gratification.
Inspired by the film The Human Centipede (First Sequence), which he watches with the salivating obsessiveness of a true fanboy, Martin hopes to bring to fruition Dr Heiter’s dream of creating the ‘full sequence’ of 12 human segments joined mouth to anus – and so sets about violently collecting subjects, even luring the actress Ashlynn Yennie (who played the original’s ‘final girl’) over to London. Yet Martin lacks both the surgical skills and the asexual indifference of his fictional hero Heiter, ensuring that this homage will be improvised with a bludgeoning DIY messiness.
The BBFC initially refused Six’s film a classification, cementing its reputation as the be-all and end-all of offensiveness. Yet now, shorn of ‘just’ two minutes and 37 seconds, the film has been granted an 18 certificate on appeal, rather belying the classifying body’s original claims that “unacceptable content runs throughout the work” so that “cuts are not a viable option”.
To their credit, Eureka Entertainment have executed these 32 cuts far more cleanly than Martin’s butchery of his victims’ ligaments, teeth, cheeks and buttocks, so that the final product looks seamless and remains coherent. It’s also no more shocking and no more likely to corrupt or deprave than any number of other horror films with the same rating.
Yet those expecting a Saw-style sequel (with added arthropods) may be in for a surprise. For a start, The Human Centipede II is often very funny, as Six allows a subversive strain of dark humour to scuttle through his narrative, rooted in the mute, Keaton-esque performance of the wonderfully grotesque Harvey. The film is also unexpectedly artful – its immersive sound design, elegantly squalid mise-en-scène and surreally oppressive domestic scenes all recall Eraserhead or Bad Boy Bubby far more than your average torture porn.
But better still, its postmodern relation to The Human Centipede constantly calls into question whether Martin’s madness is a product of his upbringing and environment or of his taste (no doubt shared by many who have sought out this sequel) in movies. It’s almost as though Six has pre-empted, dramatised and ironised the kind of viewer response that would see his film nearly banned.
While all this may be set out in crisp black and white (with just the occasional splash of fecal brown), it remains unclear whether we have been watching real depravity, a nightmare in a damaged brain, or just the sort of aberrant fantasy that film-watching can inspire in us all. And so, in this tale of hellishly bizarre entrapment, where victimhood is passed down an arbitrarily hierarchical chain (like waste down a digestive tract), the spirit of Kafka reigns – and every one of us is on trial.
Anticipation: So wrong it’s right? Or just plain wrong?
Enjoyment: A heady blend of the stupid and the sophisticated, the sordid and the surreal. (Uneasily) funny, too.
In Retrospect: Everyone can squirm to Six’s sick joke – even if the punchline is fast forgotten.