‘The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)’ and ‘Eden Lake’

Human Centipede 2The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) (2011) – Written, produced, and directed by Tom Six. Starring Laurence R. Harvey, Vivien Bridson, Ashlynn Yennie, Maddi Black, Kandace Caine, Gabe Kerr, Lucas Hansen, Lee Nicholas Harris, Dan Burman, Daniel Jude Gennis, Georgia Goodrick, Emma Lock, Katherine Templar, Peter Blankenstein.

When faced with the title of this movie most people might ask what a human centipede is. Upon hearing the answer they will probably regret asking. Imagine three people on their hands and knees, lined up ass to face with anus and mouth surgically attached together such that, with the exception of the “lucky” individual in front, each person feeds upon the feces of the one in front of him or her. Dutch filmmaker Tom Six envisioned this revolting concept and based upon it the 2010 film The Human Centipede. The idea is so disgustingly over the top that it bypasses disturbing and becomes ridiculous to such an extent that it cannot be taken seriously. Reading about this crazy film, I knew I had to see it. I don’t know why but I feel compelled to watch extreme flicks like The Human Centipede. 

But this kind of thing isn’t for everybody and upon release the reviews reflected this. It may have won best picture at a handful of horror film festivals but apparently many of the die-hard gore fans were left unsatisfied by the minimal amount of blood and excrement that the concept seemed to promise. And so what’s a button-pusher like Tom Six to do but create a sequel that over-delivers on that unfulfilled promise?

The Human Centipede 2 introduces us to Martin Lomax (Laurence R. Harvey), a strange looking and disturbed man who works in a parking garage in England. He lives at home with his abusive mother (Vivien Bridson) who resents him for having his father put in prison for molesting Martin as a child. A psychiatrist with an epic beard (Bill Hutchens) occasionally visits their home to inappropriately touch Martin during their talks. Martin’s life pretty much sucks.

His only escape is into a film titled The Human Centipede, which he watches on a laptop over and over again while on the job. Yes, in a clever meta-twist the original film exists in its own sequel’s universe. He keeps a bulging scrapbook stuffed beneath his mattress that contains pictures, articles, and drawings related to the movie.

Martin is so inspired by the film that he plots the creation of his own twelve person “human centipede”. After all, the tagline for The Human Centipede is “100% medically accurate”. He acquires an empty, filthy warehouse in a location where it appears to be constantly raining. He knocks people unconscious with a crowbar, tosses them in his truck, and dumps them off at the warehouse, collecting them for his horrible pet project. True fan of the film that he is, Martin is also pursuing the three actors who starred in the original film as the human centipede. Through their agents he tries to trick them into flying out to England under the auspices of auditioning for roles in a Quentin Tarantino film. When his twelve victims are at last secured away he gathers together random tools and kitchen utensils and goes to work.

Laurence R. Harvey’s performance is one of the high points of the film. I don’t know where Six found this guy but he’s perfect for the role. The script gives him absolutely zero words of dialogue. The only sounds he makes are unsettling grunts and squeals. He manages to evoke some sympathy from the audience from time to time, right up until he does something terrible again. The glee Harvey exudes as Martin carries out his brutal work is frightening.

And Martin’s work is tremendously brutal. It’s this last third of the movie that will pretty much push the boundaries of whatever graphic violence you’ve witnessed on screen. Whereas the character of the doctor in the original film was a skilled surgeon Martin is nothing of the sort. He has picked just about the most unclean location possible to perform such an operation and his unsanitized tools doom the task to eventual failure. But I don’t think he cares much. He may have an idea of how to finish the task but he seems to be playing it by ear and I’m not sure he has any long term goals for his human centipede.

The actions he performs during and after the primitive procedure are tremendously horrible and most of it will, at the very least, make you squirm. It all looks “good”, and by “good” I suppose I mean “convincing”. The black and white photography adds to the gritty, griminess of the operation. But the sequence plays out for a long time and after a bit I began to feel numb to the violence almost to the point of boredom, until something else more shocking occurs. It becomes obvious that the director’s goal is to wear the audience down with Martin’s gruesome actions and I became anxious for it to be over.

Setting up this disgusting and disturbed main character as an obsessed fan of Human Centipede makes me wonder how Tom Six views his audience. “This is you,” Six seems to be saying to the viewers. “Your wanting to see this makes you a disturbed individual and I’m going to give you what you ask for and you’re not going to like it.” But is the person willing to make such a movie any better than the audience he condemns? You are the one who came up with this twisted concept in the first place, Tom. Do you want people to watch your movie or not?

But who am I to judge? I watched it… the whole damned thing. Heck, I avoided the cut version that streams on Netflix and rented the uncut DVD so that I could witness how horrible it might get. Considering how far the original movie didn’t go I wasn’t sure that Human Centipede 2 would get so graphic. Boy was I wrong. This movie is a challenge for the staunchest of gorehounds.

More of this is in store for us. The Human Centipede 3 looks like it’s due for release next year. Six’s intent is for the next sequel is to make Human Centipede 2look like a Disney film”. That is a tall order that I’m sure Six will be able to fill. Yet I cannot imagine that dumping even more of this on film will have any other effect but to, once more, overwhelm the audience to the point of numbness. I’ll be sure to let you know how it is…

Eden Lake

Eden Lake (2008) – Directed by James Watkins. Starring Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbender, Jack O’Connell, James Gandhi, Thomas Turgoose, Bronson Webb, Shaun Dooley, Finn Atkins.

I had no idea what I was in for with Eden Lake. I mainly picked it because it’s on the list of 333 Films to Scare You to Death. On the surface it appears to be an entry in the ‘urbanoia’ or “hicksploitation” sub-genre where a group of teens or a family or a middle-class couple trek to a remote location only to be tormented by the backward locals. That’s sort of what you get here but the plausibility of the story and realness of the characters create a more horrifying experience than anything a lousy movie like Wrong Turn can ever dream to accomplish.

Instead of the backwoods of the States, Eden Lake takes us to England. Steve (Michael Fassbender) is eager to take his girlfriend Jenny (Kelly Reilly) on a weekend camping trip at a remote flooded quarry. They make their way through a small town and into the woods, going around a fence and ignoring their GPS’s pleas to turn back, to the quarry where they set up camp on shore. While they are relaxing in the sun the local teenage rowdies, led by Brett (Jack O’Connell), arrive, blaring music and not giving a toss that their rottweiler is off the leash and pestering the couple. His pride getting the best of him, Steve can’t leave well enough alone and approaches the kids to tell them to turn their music down and control their dog. Displaying an attitude of disdain and entitlement, the jerks mock him and tell him to bugger off.

Over the next couple of days events escalate and the teens steal Steve’s car, stranding him and Jenny at the quarry. They wander through the woods to search for their vehicle and finally manage to track the kids down. Steve confronts them again but this time one of the boys pulls a knife. A scuffle ensues over the weapon during which Steve unintentionally kills the dog. At this point things go from bad to worse as Brett, seeking vengeance for the death of his pet, moves after the couple. Jenny evades the gang but Steve is captured and then tied to a post with a dog chain and barbed wire. From there things only get more horrible for Steve and Jenny.

Part of what makes Eden Lake so effective is how plausible the story feels. Nearly every step of the way the events that lead to the violent actions taken by the characters rarely seem forced upon them by the screenwriter. The early decisions Steve makes aren’t always the smartest but they are ones I suspect many in his position might make. The twists and turns of the chase are also convincing. The teens are always just within reach of Steve and Jenny but not in a way that appears to be engineered by luck. After all, it is the kids’ territory and their prey have few choices to make while running through the woods.

The characters of the kids don’t conform to the typical “hicksploitation” stereotype of “aren’t people in rural areas weird and scary?” These aren’t hideous, feral backwoods creatures dressed in filthy rags and led by a mentally deranged father figure. These kids may be lower class but they are far from living in the streets. You might run into them at a shopping mall.

Having said that it’s worth noting that this film came out around a time when some of the British press, particularly the tabloid paper The Sun, and the Conservative Party of England had been describing Britain as “broken”, referring to a perceived corruption growing within England’s lower class youth. Eden Lake is just one of several films that capitalize on this notion of dangerous teenage “hoodies”. But Labour Party supporters disagree with the “broken Britain” claims, pointing out that “reported crime is at its lowest ever“. They are frustrated that such movies perpetuate classist attitudes. I have to admit to being bummed that this film may be little more than Conservative propaganda. While the plot points of the narrative feel realistic and the characters are fairly fleshed out, I certainly didn’t come away from it thinking “boy, all those kids in Britain sure are terrible!”

It was interesting to watch Eden Lake so soon after The Human Centipede 2. The graphic content of the latter film was disturbing but did not leave me in the same stunned state as the former. Eden Lake left me devastated, reeling from the gut punch of an experience. This is the kind of movie I don’t necessarily say that I like but i can appreciate its effect and the skill used to elicit the dread I felt. I normally wouldn’t want to rewatch something like this but i might come back to Eden Lake again to examine what makes it work so well.

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