Tom Six’s The Human Centipede was released in 2010 amidst a whirlwind of controversy as a number of people deemed it, with either relish or disgust, the most disturbing film ever distributed in commercial cinemas. To decorously summate: the film depicts the kidnapping of three people by an evil German doctor who has long dreamed of creating a “human centipede.” This involves the removal of the victims’ knee ligaments and, in turn, the sewing of their mouths to the rectum of another person.
Upon releasing this delightful tale, the director boasted that this was a mere taste of his artistic vision, as suggested by the subtitle of the movie: “(First Sequence).” The Human Centipede II: (Full Sequence) was meant to be released this month. Six claimed it would render the first a mere “my little pony” in comparison. Such a bold, sensationalist assertion must have contained a grain of truth: on the 12th of June, the British Board of Film Classification banned the film due to “unacceptable material” which is “sexually violent and potentially obscene.”
So what is the integral difference between the two films that has incited such a firm reaction? The first subscribed to a conventional horror format with its evil German doctor kidnapping inane, vulnerable women who have the chance to make an escape. The clear insanity and amorality of the antagonist, combined with the external cinematic perspective which encourages sympathy with the victims, implicitly condemns the surgical project as inherently wrong. In the second film, however, the audience is invited to perceive the diegesis through the involving perspective of a protagonist who has in fact viewed the first film and subsequently decided to realise its central event himself. The lucky twelve (yep, there’s twelve this time) who form this sequence are submitted to “total degradation, humiliation, mutilation, torture, and murder,” culminating in the protagonist’s brutal rape of the “centipede’s” back with barbed-wire wrapped around his member. The crucial difference between these films seems to be that where The Human Centipede relied on a concept in order to terrify its audience, with little actual gore on screen, The Human Centipede II relies wholly on violent pornography.
Where the first is characterised by the conjuring of cognitive terror, the second gains its filmic life through visual terror. It is certainly true that the horror genre has itself moved throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries from the former to the latter; from Psycho to Saw. However, despite collectively containing about 11 hours of brutal torture scenes, not a single second has been cut from the Saw franchise. So there must be an intangible line which features like A Serbian Film (which offers such niceties as the rape of a newborn baby) and The Human Centipede II cross. But who gets to define this line?
Well, the BBFC, clearly. But in a broader sense, can one truly define the differentiating factors between art and straight-up pornography? This was a question first made pertinent in the film world with the release of the now infamous Deep Throat in the 1970s. Despite its graphic depiction of a girl’s proficient skills at fellatio, this feature received the same R rating as many non-pornographic films of the time. Six’s response to the BBFC’s ruling is interesting in light of this question of moral boundaries: “Apparently I made a horrific horror film, but shouldn’t a good horror film be horrific? My dear people it is a fucking MOVIE. It is all fictional. Not real. It is all make-believe. It is art. Give people their own choice to watch it or not.”
Freedom of choice in what media we consume is undeniably of the utmost importance in the times we live in. Tom Six does have a point. The existence of a board which censors what the general populace is allowed to view does act as a barrier to such liberty. On the other hand, the protection of children from such visual vulgarity is important, and the proffering of the BBFC seal grants a film the stamp of moral approval which allows it to be exhibited and distributed nationwide. Should The Human Centipede II be sitting in the “new releases” section of your local HMV? Art surely involves an experience which produces a message rather than what amounts to an attempt to merely produce a sequel profoundly more shocking than its prequel, thereby earning the crown of, as Six asserts in the teaser trailer, “the sickest movie ever.”
Ultimately, the opinions of you, me and the BBFC are of little consequence. Both sides of the fence simultaneously succeed and fail in their respective intentions to prevent or facilitate the watching of this film. The BBFC may have prevented the widespread exhibition of The Human Centipede II, but the seedy virtual cinemas of the world wide web will always be there to indulge any public desire for sadistic visual gratification. The Human Centipede II – coming to a torrent near you.