Film bits and bobs
First published by Sight & Sound, August 2015
Synopsis: The desert, Texas. Faced with unruly inmates, rising costs and a threat of dismissal from Governor Hughes, psychotic German warden William Boss decides to implement a regime of torture and mass castration to reinstate discipline. His accountant Dwight Butler keeps trying to pitch a more economic alternative – applying the model of Tom Six’s two Human Centipede films to the prison populace – but Boss is distracted with drinking and sexually abusing his blackmailed secretary Daisy. When a castration experiment fails to pacify a prisoner, Butler brings in Six, and Boss is persuaded to go ahead with the “human prison centipede”, as punishment, deterrent and money-saver. Dr Jones and his team stitch 300 prisoners together, mouth-to-anus, with a riot-injured Daisy in the middle. Lifers and death row convicts become a limbless “human caterpillar”. Hughes, horrified, fires Boss, who shoots Jones in anger. Hughes changes his mind about the “genius” scheme. Wanting to take all the credit himself, Boss shoots Butler.
Review: It all started with a sado-surrealist idea, and a man crazy enough to execute it to its bitter end. After joking with friends that the best way to punish a child molester was to stitch his mouth to the anus of a fat truck driver, Dutch filmmaker Tom Six (Gay, Honeyz, I love Dries) turned this lowest of proposals into the high-concept The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009), in which mad German scientist Dr Heiter (Dieter Laser) creates an experimental chain of three captive patients, connected through a surgically merged digestive tract. In The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (2010) – the best segment in what was to become Six’s own chain of three (films) – disturbed and downtrodden loner Martin (Laurence R. Harvey) decides to recreate the “100% medically accurate” operation of the first film (which he rewatches obsessively) on 12 abductees, despite his lack of surgical tools or medical experience. The film’s reflexive preoccupation with the depraving influence of The Human Centipede on a perversely imitative viewer drew the ire of censors and moralist critics, and attracted a notoriety to the film that no conventional publicity campaign could buy.
Set in the George H. W. Bush Prison, deep in the Texan desert, The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence) returns to the scenario of crime and punishment that triggered Six’s original idea, and brings things self-consciously full circle (it even posits a circular centipede, joined end to end). Laser is back, this time as William Boss, who outskeazes and outsleazes a long cinematic ancestry of sadistic wardens from prison ‘B’ flicks (Harvey is back too, as Boss’ loyal accountant Dwight). Anti-Semitic and Islamophobic, a racist and rapist, a misogynist, mutilator and murderer, Boss treats his secretary Daisy (Bree Olsen) as a sex slave and worse, eats imported clitorises for energy snacks (“Thank God for Africa! Thank God for female circumcision!”) and an inmate’s testicles (removed with his own pen knife) for lunch, gets “hard” (his word) at the submission of others (convicts and staff alike), and advocates medieval torture and a castration programme as methods of prisoner control. Gurning, grimacing and SHOUTING his every contemptuous line, Laser offers up a truly demented performance as one of the most repellent characters ever to grace the screen – although he is also, like all the male leads in this series, a double for Six, even wearing the director’s characteristic white suit and hat. When the actual Six shows up, offering advice on how the human centipede concept from his first two films might be introduced to Boss’ unruly prison population, even he is shocked by where – and how far – Boss takes his arthropodal exemplar (“Oh man, this is so wrong!”), and literally throws up to camera.
The writer/director vomiting on the viewer – it is an apt metaphor for a film whose every excess is calculated to offend. Taste-free, tone-deaf, foul-mouthed (in more senses than one), overlong (just like the 300-person centipede), and utterly politically incorrect, this third and final instalment sees Six fully embracing the controversy that has become his currency, and slowly, slowly shitting out a film that is exactly what it is designed to be: something that no human being could possibly like. Six knows what he is doing, and has found the place where his fictions end and the dehumanising economies of America’s penal system begin. Still, it is hard to square the paradoxical circle of a film that succeeds in all its aims precisely for being such objectionable crud.