Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Human Centipede

Tom Six has really outdone himself this time around. The writer-director who introduced the concept of the Human Centipede to an unsuspecting public, and who made one of the most notorious horror films of the last decade, is back with a sequel that tops the original on every front. Whether that's a good thing remains to be seen however.

The Human Centipede (First Sequence) told the story of a mad doctor whose vision for society involved stitching human beings arse-to-mouth. That outlandish concept struck a chord with audiences, the film becoming a cult hit all over the world; the mixture of horror and black comedy bringing new meaning to the phrase 'tongue-in-cheek.'

The sequel retains the dark, twisted humour of the original, but takes the central premise and catapults it into far darker territory.

It begins at the tail-end of the first flick, the new-born centipede still crawling around Dr. Heiter's torture pad. The credits then roll and the camera pulls back to reveal that we are watching someone else watch the movie - namely Martin, a lonely security guard working nights in a London car park.

A sad, overweight asthmatic, he immediately garners sympathy, although it soon becomes clear that all is not well in Martin's mind. Obsessed with the original movie, he watches it on a daily basis and carries a Human Centipede scrapbook around with him, his dream to make real Dr. Heiter's insane biological plan.

What follows is a troubling journey into the heart of darkness, as Martin's efforts to stitch up humanity are juxtaposed with glimpses into his horrific home-life, culminating in a lengthy, almost unwatchable sequence of death and destruction. 
It's shocking stuff, with everything that took place off-screen in the first film happening onscreen this time around, leaving the audience in no doubt as to what centipede creation involves. But at times the extreme nature of events serves to undermine proceedings, the barrage of unpleasant images eventually becoming repetitive and at times stirring boredom rather than shock.

The film looks terrific however, Six shooting in crisp black-and-white (save for a masterful site-gag towards the end) on dark, dilapidated sets, ensuring that death and decay drips from the film's every frame.

And in actor Laurence R. Harvey - who plays mad Martin - Six has unearthed an acting gem, creating a horror icon to rival Dieter Laser's Dr. Heiter from the first film. Harvey isn't given anything to say, but his wonderfully expressive face tells you all you need to know about the twisted character, turning Martin into a truly chilling movie monster.

Yet technical expertise and a fine central performance do not a great movie make, and one wonders what the point of The Human Centipede 2 is, particularly in some troubling acts of violence towards the film's end (which have led to the BBFC making the absurd decision to ban the film in the UK).

Six is undoubtedly making a comment on how violence affects the viewer, and perhaps reacting to the ridiculous furore that surrounded Part 1. But the sequel has little smart to say on the subject, making for a somewhat empty cinema-going experience as the envelope is pushed seemingly for the sake of it.

Great horror should provoke thought as well as fear, but while the sequel succeeds with the latter, it falls short on the former front, resulting in a film that will be loved by gore-hounds, but disappoint those searching for something deeper beneath the surface.

It's all leading to Part 3 however - the conclusion to the filmmaker's planned trilogy - and it will be interesting to view the second section in that context. But on this evidence, Part 2 feels like a case of style over substance, Six succeeding in shocking his audience, but struggling to actually make us feel something beyond shock and disgust. (Review by Chris Tilly IGN UK)

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