Sunday, 24 June 2012

Defending Tom Six: The Human Centipede


Warning: Though relatively spoiler free, this article contains some graphic descriptions and images from The Human Centipede. You have been warned.

So, people were kind of disgusted and freaked out by The Human Centipede. Let's not lie. If South Park lampoons it without outright calling it stupid, you know there is some deeper respect there. But for all this controversy, there is an awful lot of people who haven't seen the film, or indeed, its sequel. So, are they right to apply such a social taboo on it? And is Tom Six as disgusting a culprit as imagined? Well, it is a mixed bag of an answer.

2010's Human Centipede (First Sequence) is in fact quite a good straight horror film. But why such a kerfuffle around it? Well, in a throwback to the glorious 1950s B-movie, it was just selling itself on shock value. Yes it does contain a 'human centipede' made of people sewn ass-to-mouth (you never go ass to mouth!), and there is blood and surgery and hints of mad-scientist-Nazi doctor and the likes, and when you say it out loud, it is impossible not to say 'Wow! What a messed up film! I have to see that!', but in reality, it is actually a very tasteful affair, as people who have seen it can attest to.

This may in fact be more disturbing 
than 90% of the actual film.

Marketed in such an extreme way, The Human Centipede seemed to promised the most sickening cinematic experience you'd ever wish to behold, and this, coupled with the truth of it being disgusting subject matter, was enough to spark the imagination of the population, regardless of what was actually shown onscreen. What is most interesting is the notoriety it has garnered from people who haven't even seen it. Heck, I am currently one step away from getting Living Dead Girl to check it out, but for years she has used it as a short hand for disgusting. This is the sign of a very powerful film, because though it seems the same stock as Video Nasties, it is actually relatively tame. In fact, if compared with a film like Hostel, one of these films contains excessive amounts of gore and brutality and over the top nastiness. The other is a German horror film. 

If you watch the film itself, you will find it is almost J-horror-like in its style, and with a bit of detective movie thrown in. Director Tom Six's film is slow paced, methodical, and uses suspense as its main operation of horror. The entire film is about will these people escape the mad doctor before it's too late, then it is about can they escape with their lives, and will the police realise their culprit is the man they are speaking to. That's not to say there aren't any grizzly moments to be found, but it is all part of a larger, more arthouse, horror film.


The ingenious part on the producers behalf (Tom Six included) was allowing and perpetrating the illusion that this 'scientifically accurate' film was such an all out gross-fest that you might never be the same after it. It is undoubtedly a solid narrative and well executed, but it also has such a shock factor that it can be sold simply on word of mouth alone. In a time of dozens of zombie films a year, this is the people swallowing poop film. In more ways than one, it is similar to the freak-shows of yore; there are many promises made involving hideous beasts, but once you get inside the tent, it is more medical curiosity than monster. 

You cannot fault the producers for selling the film this way. It's better if all the talk is bad than if there is no talk at all, after all. Six delivered a solid film that is bound to disappoint the grotesque fair in many people's heads, and should be applauded for making a relatively small film a part of pop culture.

But what about its sequel; The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)? Considered by many as depraved trash, and almost banned in the UK, did Tom Six go too far? Well, this one is a bit harder to excuse, but excused it can be, very rationally.


Which I will go in to in detail in tomorrow's post; Defending Tom Six: The Human Centipede 2 and Beyond...