It’s the riveting tale of Martin (Laurence R. Harvey), an intellectually handicapped, middle-aged, and obese man who dreams of one day slapping together his own fancy human centipede. He obsesses over the original film with disturbing conviction and won’t let his lack of medical skills get in the way of his dream. He lives with his hateful mother (Vivien Bridson), has a history of being sexually abused, and attends therapy sessions with a psychologist/sexual deviant (Bill Hutchens).
Writer//producer Tom Six was saddened by the reaction to his last film. Plenty of fans requested more “blood and shit,” which in turn has provoked Six to take it upon himself to fulfill these wishes in malicious excess.
And so, we once again are dealt an extremely shallow story, which basically amounts to “man builds centipede, but happens to run into a few problems down the line.” There’re no likeable characters and there’s little tension because you know that the film is going to climax with some kind of coprophilia-induced abomination. In the end, things just kind of peter out as flatly as possible. The only thing that Centipede has going for it, is shock – a “be careful what you wish for” sort of mentality.
In terms of presentation, it takes a solid departure from the last film, most apparent being its color scheme of black and white. It gives it a detached, dirty flavor, and the previous film’s medical precision and sterility is replaced with a procedure performed in an empty warehouse by a deficient. He uses pliers, scissors and knives as his surgical tools, and in the end, it only serves to heighten the sense of disgust.
In turn, there’re two ways you can choose to look at this film:
1. As a godless monstrosity that needn’t exist and will only serve to enhance the corruption of mankind.
2. As a hilarious, intentionally funny comedy-where Tom Six laughs in the faces of squares and begs the audience for moral condemnation.
The problem with the first perspective is that, well “you didn’t get what he was going for.” You’re just dancing in the palm of Tom Six’s doubtlessly semen-encrusted hand. He wanted to provoke a reaction out of every “tight-assed, god-fearing simpleton” and he did. Bravo.
But the second perspective renders the film immune to criticism. Shock in itself doesn’t necessarily justify a movie’s existence. Personally, I’m not big on censoring, and it’s always good to break taboos, but these things should be done in order to say something – not to flip off everyone who “couldn’t comprehend your genius” the last time around. If you’re outwardly contemptuous, then it alienates the audience, and leaves you with a demographic consisting of approximately 17 people.
You see, shock is good, but it should be used delicately, as a tool. You don’t get anywhere by childishly trying to traumatize as many people as possible – most can easily see through that. You see, I could slap together a short film showcasing Bozo the Clown treating Mother Theresa to a Cleveland Steamer, and then call it meta-textual and pretend that I’m a visionary. Unfortunately, most people would see me as a man with a juvenile sense of indignation and label me as “he who tries too hard.”
With some close inspection, you can tell that Six is trying to say something here – maybe it’s something about getting us as horror fans to reflect upon just whatever the hell it is that we want. Maybe he’s trying to point out the fact that the true evils in the world are those who cling to these films with religious devotion. Hell, maybe he’s just trying to give jaded audiences something truly horrific to experience.
But doing it by sewing 12 people together, ass to mouth, and having them eat each other’s shit is the laziest way of going about it.
In other words, if you’re going to try to shock and be as vulgar as possible, at least throw in some characters or a plot. Don’t base your film around people’s natural aversion to feces. Tom Six claims to be inspired byhorror flicks, which, despite their debauchery, are usually worlds more entertaining than this shallow mess.
Ichi the Killer, The Machine Girl, Riki-Oh (not Japanese, I know) are all over-the-top, gruesome films that do their jobs well as comedies, and still manage to give you plenty of variety as far as gory effects go. The gore is a means to an end – to entertain through an engaging story.
With Centipede, you don’t sympathize with poor, sad Martin because, well, you know – he jacks off with sandpaper to the original film. You don’t care whether or not he makes it in the end because you don’t invest any emotions in him. Same goes for the victims, with the exception of Ashlynn Yennie returning from the first film. She’s got some screen time and is an interesting cameo, but characterization sort of ends there. “He’s gonna sew us together, ass to mouth!” one victim screams. But you won’t care. You don’t even know him.
In summary, story should not be a means to an end of thrusting your preoccupations with scatological fantasies onto theatergoers.
How can you not sympathize with this guy?
So, at the end of the day, Centipede sits within a category of its own. It’s more of an experiment in what a person can sit through, if anything. They say that art is all about intention, and in this case, I’m sure Tom Six intended to make a film as appalling as possible. Does that necessarily mean it’s of quality? Not really, no. Intention aside, execution matters as well. You can’t just throw buckets of crap at the audience and say that it’s “avant-garde.” That’s way too easy. Why don’t you try a harder difficulty level next time?
If you’re still on the fence about seeing this film, sitting through it is not going to cause your expectations to be surpassed. Centipede is nothing more than a test to see how strong your stomach is, and you be the judge of whether or not that’s your thing.
Sorry, no film grade this time. You’re gonna have to use your head on this one, dear reader. Go ahead. I dare you. Even if you disagree with me, feel free to post a comment. New Media, baby. It’s fantastic.
I’m gonna go scrub myself now.