Unlike me, perhaps you’ve already made up your mind not to see The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence).
Perhaps you arrived at this decision never having seen the first infamous film in the franchise—a movie, by the way, I reviewed very favorably some time ago. Many of you just don’t like these kinds of movies. That’s OK.
Grand guignol has always been popular, but it only serves an adventurous crowd. Its popularity can be tougher to gauge openly, however—since many people won’t admit to enjoying such trash.
I’ll bet you know something about the movie I’m talking about, though, whether you have seen a single frame of either film or not. Writer/director Tom Six’s first sick, slick horror opus brought forward a premise so inventively grotesque it caught fire in conversation everywhere. Want the definition of a viral success in filmmaking? There it sits (or slinks, as the case may be).
The second film in this series is another story.
Or, better put, it’s the same story, told over again, to a far lesser impact. Yes, I saw it for you! I wouldn’t endorse Roger Ebert’s hyperbolic condemnation of the film; he ratchets up a blistering moral critique of it better suited, I think, to his similar review of the original I Spit on Your Grave. For me, the follow-up’s biggest crime is that it becomes terribly, terribly boring.
In the self-aware sequel, overweight, mentally disturbed parking lot attendant Martin (Laurence R. Harvey) decides to act out his obsessive fan-worship of the first Human Centipede movie by assaulting and kidnapping 12 people (including a pregnant woman) to construct his own larger beast. Unlike the oily and charismatic villain of the original, Martin is not a skilled surgeon…so the sadistic experiment gets a little messy. Six deliberately constructs the film as an exercise in opposites. This is what I mean:
Human Centipede I: filmed in color.
Human Centipede II: shot in black-and-white.
HC I: An overly talkative maniac in the lead role.
HC II: Lead madman has no dialogue.
HC I: Atrocities take place in an artsy, spare, clean, expensive-looking locale.
HC II: Atrocities take place in a dark, dirty warehouse.
HC I: Leaves the worst up to your imagination.
HC II: Doesn’t.
The weirdest result accompanying these cosmetic flip-flops is that Six’s intention to make an “answer” for, or “response” to, his first film is that he succeeds all too well. Whereas in HC I, Six took a boldly disgusting premise and put it at the center of a surprisingly well-crafted, grimly humorous and much-talked-about movie, Six decided everything in HC II would represent a total contradiction of the style and effect of the first. And so it does.
HCI: Good movie. Surprisingly so. Spawned endless conversation. Hard to forget.
HCII: Bad movie. Surprisingly dull. Actually may injure the status of the first, and the idea in general, as something to talk about.
The film has its moments in the early going, as we get to know all about Martin’s disturbing past history and the pathetic home life he shares with his equally creepy mother (Vivien Bridson). At one point over a quiet dinner, Martin’s mother shares her state of mind:
I’ve decided to kill us both.
A genuinely frightening moment takes place that the film never equals with all the more showy and graphic subversiveness that follows.
I saw both films in their intended milieu (late-night theatrical screening). The first movie went over big. Hoots, hollers, shrieks, nervous giggles galore. After the lights came up at the end of the sequel, you could feel the audience giving a collective, indifferent shrug of disappointment. The movie overstays its welcome like an obnoxious acquaintance who takes your ear hostage with recycled prattle he’s deluded himself into selling you as cutting-edge, bravely original snark.
It’s instructive in a way. Comparing the first film and its sequel is like a version of what I predicted might one day happen in The Future of Movies, where one filmmaker creates a terrific movie from an original concept, and the next takes that same concept and out comes tedious crap. Both people in this case turn out to be Tom Six.
So, instead of paying good money to see HC II, just in case you were considering it, and especially if you’re one of those who, like me, appreciated HC I, here are some other seasonally-appropriate movies to choose from which are, if not exactly in the same vein, at least in the same bloodstream:
The first, and most obvious, choice. Who would know better about making a human centipede than the man who created the Panther Woman? Horror fans have waited a very long time for the reappearance of the definitive film about merging man with animal, and here it is, not only on Blu-ray, too, but released by the Criterion Collection. And it’s a good trade-up from the savagery of the sour, corpulent mute of HC II to the good-time cruelty doled out by roly-poly mad scientist Charles Laughton. The misadventures of vivisectionist Dr. Moreau still pack a seriously unnerving punch. Bonus: Bela Lugosi, in his third-best role. (There’s Dracula at #1, of course, followed by his brilliant turn as Ygor in Son of Frankenstein taking the #2 spot, followed by this gloriously strange supporting performance as the charismatic leader of the ani-men.)
Both favorable and negative reviews of HCII mention lead actor Harvey’s resemblance, however slight, to Peter Lorre. I’m going to suggest you go for the genuine article instead, in this mesmeric 1935 chiller from director Karl Freund (who makes an appearance in A Horror Movie Gourmand’s Menu) that also deals with the irresponsible antics of a mad bald man. His character is an actual surgeon (rather than an amateur, in Harvey’s case) who saves the life of a concert pianist (Colin Clive) by replacing his mangled hands with those of a recently deceased murderer. In return, all Lorre wants is the love of the man’s wife (Frances Drake). Hey, it’s about as reasonable as “chickens for checkups.”
It’s sort of a tie between this one and The Raven, a Lugosi-Karloff matchup that finds Poe-obsessed Bela in the mad doctor role, but since Lugosi is more analogous to German actor Dieter Laser—whose monologues in the original Human Centipede have the oddly-paced, gloating, and criminal tone for which we celebrate the original Dracula—this film is better suited to appear in the article The Human Centipede I and Three Movies to Watch Instead. Which I will never write.
Finally, let’s go for the not-so-obvious but truly fun selection: If you are positively itching for the story of a socially inadequate fat man living through a night from Hell, there’s always this sorely underrated 1981 black comedy starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. Belushi unforgettably plays against type here as a mousy suburbanite, put through the ringer by new neighbor Aykroyd and his sexually aggressive wife, played by Cathy Moriarty in a still-startling performance of slinky raunch. Ahead of its time, the film is mordant and surreal. I reject the critique that Bill Conti’s score is a mismatch to the material—its cartoony quality only serves to heighten the weirdness.
I had considered delivering a list of five movies, but I will leave it to you to supply the appropriate bug-themed thriller (that is, if you have already taken my advice and watched William Friedkin’s brilliant Bug) and self-aware shocker (don’t be lazy and pick the Scream movies, you can do better than that) to round out a “top five” quintet. Make it a Top 10 if you want, why stop there?
My recommendations end at three as an affectionate tribute to the number of unfortunates making up the first (and by far, the best) human centipede.