The main part of this review was written for the awesome folk at Acting Hour
Has there been a more divisive franchise in recent years than The Human Centipede? Tom Six’s 2009 original introduced us to the mad scientist Dr Heiter’s stomach-churning, “100% medically accurate” idea of attaching three people anus-to-mouth to form the continuous digestive passage of the titular creation. Filmed clinically and largely straight-faced some saw the film as body horror gone too far; a sick fantasy reserved for the darkest deluded souls; while others saw a sly humour weaved into the grossness. This divide couldn’t have been clearer in my local cinema where my friends and I sat laughing while others walked out in disgust. So too this image clearly reveals which side of the fence I found myself on. Never is anything played for laughs, but all through the film there seems to be a tongue firmly lodged in Six’s cheek. Also Dieter Laser’s Dr Heiter is a true horror villain: understatedly eccentric with a natural air of unhinged terror about him, he really makes the film.
2011’s sequel seemed to be Six’s personal address towards everyone who commented on the first by defiantly raising two fingers – those who derided it as sick were shown just how bad things could be; those who loved it and wanted more were given something almost impossible to enjoy; and those who sneered that the original was too tame were taught to be careful what they wish for. A clever bit of meta-film-making saw the sequel set in the “real world” where Laurence R. Harvey plays Martin; a devoted fan of the original movie. Martin is severely mentally challenged, beaten and abused by all those who should care for him, creating a much darker and unpleasant character study than the first. Shot in dingy black & white, with filthy locations and unrelentingly brutal violence as Martin haphazardly mutilates and staples together now twelve individuals for his homage to Heiter’s fictional creation, it is among the most unpleasant films I’ve ever seen. It was initially refused certification by the BBFC, a rare decision effectively banning the movie in the UK; a decision that was soon overturned following public backlash and a swathe of cuts, but the franchise had already attained widespread infamy through the free publicity that only a banned movie can garner. Did I enjoy the Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence? No. But I love the sheer belligerence it displays, and I think you have to at least acknowledge the success with which Six fulfills his intent of creating a hateful, near-unwatchable experience.
Finally, fast forward to 2015 and the much-awaited-by-some third and final part to the trilogy is finally released with a glitzy L.A. premiere, a number of famous faces in the cast, and a scope & production value far greater than its predecessors. Don’t get the idea that The Human Centipede has gone ‘mainstream’ though; the gleeful tagline “100% Politically Incorrect” suggests this films tone will be far from the tried and tested horror-by-numbers sensibilities of a Blumhouse Production. The main question that dampered the hype building up to release was whether, after two whole films, the concept of the Human Centipede itself had anything left to offer.
Set in the fictional George H.W. Bush Penitentiary in the middle of the Texan desert, the deranged, racist, and misogynist warden Bill Boss and his simpering accountant Dwight Butler are played respectively by Dieter Laser & Laurence R. Harvey, both of whom played the main characters in the previous two installments. Yes, this film pushes the meta styling of the second movie to Inception-style lengths by having both films existing in this fictional setting, making the original essentially a film-within-a-film-within-a-film. Unruly prisoners and sprialling costs (unaided by Boss’ tendency to inflict a few injuries on his patrols) prompt Eric Roberts’ Governer Hughes to insist on major changes else the duo are fired. After a string of failed schemes aiming to achieve Boss’ dream of domination over the prison, each involving some form of torture or dismemberment towards the prisoners, Dwight suggests they take inspiration from the infamous Human Centipede movies.
This film is not going to win any Oscars. In place of any strong characterisation or plot, each scene is intended to repluse and offend, with no taboo left untouched. Most people have a certain topic that hits a raw nerve & offends them. Rest assured that this film will certainly address it at least once. The thing is that it is done with such mindless glee, never hesitating for a second, that I found myself laughing at the most abhorrent things. I’m not sure how to defend the idea that a boiling waterboarding scene could be in any way funny, but it is, along with the countless unthinkable things that are done in this movie. Of course Six’s unflinchingly twisted screenplay and grindhouse-style direction are accountable, but I think a fair share of the humour comes from Dieter Laser’s performance that can only be described as insane. He’s a strange man to look at anyway; his skeletal features accentuated by a completely shaved head, atop a gangly frame that moves with such deliberate control, he seems more like an alien that’s doing a mediocre job at pretending to be a human. Every action is so overblown and expressive, and every line is screamed out loud with such manic passion. The combination of wild agression and his thick German accent results in a good portion of his lines being barely distinguishable, but some grotesque gesticulations tend to fill in any blanks as to what he was referring to. Laurence R. Harvey is not given the opportunity to steal the show in the way Laser does, but seems just as comfortable in this overblown comedic style of acting as he did in the brutally grim, straight-faced style of the second installment to the franchise. Just like Laser, though, he seems to really become his character – every action & intonation seems considered. Six has either had an enormous stroke of luck or has done a fantastic job (or probably a combination of the two) in searching out these two actors for his trilogy.
One surprising bit of casting comes in Tom Six, cast as himself. When the duo decide to form their prison human centipede, they naturally call on the director for advice. In brilliant self-parodying narcissism, Six gives himself his own theme music whenever he enters the prison, and allows a minute or two for characters to fawn over him & discuss the cultural impact of the two previous Human Centipede movies. In an answer to every cringeworthy director cameo (Tarantino, I’m looking at you…), Six creates a charicateur of himself in moments that are so deliberately cringeworthy they’re hilarious.
This is the best looking film of the trilogy. After the simple, clinical look of the first, and the grimy, handheld, snuff-esque aesthetic of the second, this has a real American indie film look to it, with the Texan location offering wide, empty vistas, sweeping camera movements and a warm colour grade. If it wasn’t for every single moment of the movie being entirely inappropriate, this wouldn’t look out of place at Sundance or the like. Six has clearly realised his Human Centipede concept, no matter how many legs it may have, can only run so far: managing to squeeze two films out of it without it feeling unnecessary was impressive, but a third really would have pushed it too far. As such, the ‘pede itself is really a footnote to the wider story of the prison; merely the method by which Boss aims to take control of his prison. Little time is dedicated to the process of creating it, or even to the finished piece. An astute move when horror sequels often tend to repeat the same formula over and over until no one notices they stop making them.
The last thing I want to touch on is something only available on the DVD & Blu-Ray release of this film: the alternative ending. As always, I will give no spoilers, but rather than a different ending, this is an additional scene that plays after the final moments of the movie. True to the spirit of the franchise, it creates a canonical nightmare that is the most bitter, cynical and ultimately hilarious “Fuck You” to everyone. It’s the sort of ending that you’d see as a cruel joke on a forum somewhere. It’s fair to say I’m gutted this wasn’t kept in the final cut of the movie as I’d love to hear more reactions on it. I can understand it being cut as people who haven’t seen the first two films will have no idea what’s going on, but for those familiar with the series I consider this the “true” ending.
The Human Centipede 3: Final Sequence is an anarchic and outrageous film; it gleefully over-achieves on its clear-set goal of offending anyone and everyone and manages to be incredibly funny in the process. In case you had any doubts before sitting down to watch it, you will certainly realise you’re a terrible person for laughing at half of the moments in this movie. You’ll definitely want to carefully pick who you watch this with, but with a hand-picked group of equally twisted friends this is a hilariously disgusting experience with some magnificent performances that rounds off the trilogy with excessive, self-referential style.