Even before its UK premiere, The Human Centipede 2 had already earned its place in history as one of only 11 films to be banned in this country by the BBFC.
So when it was finally passed with just under three minutes of cuts I made sure I was among the first into the preview theatre. You can read the review here, but suffice to say that Tom Six’s self-satirising sequel to his original cult favourite was too much for my little stomach to handle. But more offensive than the staple-gunning of mouths to anuses, I didn’t buy the fact it was trying to pass itself off as clever.
But it’s been bothering me. Because if you’re generally anti-censorship and pro-art, then isn’t boundary-pushing what it’s supposed to be about? Perturbed, I went to meet director Tom Six, and Laurence R Martin, who plays disturbed loner Martin Lomax in the sequel, to have it out. Warning: there is a disturbing amount of sense spoken in what follows. [I still can’t stand the film]
Taking this back to the first film for a moment, what kind of mind comes up with a idea like that in the first place?
Tom: “It was a very simple joke. I was watching television with friends one evening and there was a child molester on, a really nasty guy. And I said ‘they should stitch his mouth to the anus of a truck driver as a punishment’. And everybody was like ‘oh fuck that is horrible.’ It was black humour. But the idea kept calibrating in my head, because it’s so horrific, that it might be a great idea for a horror film.”
How do you get a story out of that?
Tom: “It was an idea that I thought was repulsive and I couldn’t get it out of my head. Then I made drawings of people sitting on their hands and knees because I thought it would be acted in that way and then I thought, ‘who must do that?’ Of course a surgeon must do the procedure. Which are the worst surgeons in the world? Of course the notorious Nazi dictators of the second world war, so I thought I need a German surgeon, and the story grew and grew. And I had no idea that it would become such a cult hit, you can never expect that. But the basic idea of the ass to mouth – that’s something that is in everybody’s mind, everybody thinks about that now. It spreads like an aggressive virus, it’s almost overwhelming.”
Laurence: “When I did my casting for the second one, the first one was just this kind of quirky cult hit on the festival circuit. It was this kind of Euro horror with a black humour twist, it hadn’t become the cultural meme it is now.”
Were you always planning a second film with the copycat twist?
Tom: “I was thinking what can be worse than a scientist who has a medical background making a human centipede? That is someone who doesn’t have a medical background making a human centipede, that’s way more scary. The first one is psychological and I wanted to make the second one full force. I was travelling around the world at festivals and every time I came to be asked the same question, ‘what if some maniac out there copies your idea?’ I was playing with the idea already and then I thought 100% this is gonna be the sequel.”
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Laurence, when you were approached for the role of Martin, did you have any reservations?
Laurence: “No, when I went to the casting I’d seen the first film at that stage and I knew that Tom was an idiosyncratic director who played around with black humour and so on. And when Tom took me through the film scene by scene in the casting it just reminded me so much of Japanese gore films and a subgenre of Japanese horror called Lone Dove Syndrome films where a schoolboy who’s picked upon takes revenge on his bullies.
And it fitted very much into that kind of thing so I knew what kind of genre it fitted into for me. And also that no matter how extreme it was, there was always this level of humour. And also that the story was about the absurdity of the tabloid figure of someone who copies a violent film and it really takes that to kind of absurd and its most logical absurd extremes.”
The tabloid argument about copycat violence is largely absurd, but when you’re putting this kind of material out there, do you feel any sense of responsibility?
Tom: “No, it’s the crazy ass idea. I can’t imagine people thinking that somewhere out there someone’s going to create his own human centipede – it’s stupid. A film like Hostel is way more easy to copy, you only need a toolbox and you can start. It’s such a crazy idea that people would copy The Human Centipede that I made a film about that.”
Laurence: “A film where somebody beats somebody up is easier to copy than The Human Centipede, where you’re stitching three people together to create on alimentary canal.”
How did you react to the BBFC ban?
Laurence: “Well they didn’t ban it as such, they rejected it and then put out a press release that was so absurd, and viewed the film from a particular point of view, and they overstepped their remit in doing that and it was detrimental to the film and to the BBFC.”
How did you push it through?
Tom: “They cut out a bit of the sexual violence but [the story] all stays really in place. So I’m so very happy now that a UK audience is able to see it now and it did very well for us because it was such a huge marketing thing, everybody was talking about the film because of them banning it.”
Laurence: “It’s cool but then it’s also frustrating because you wanna get a version out there.”
Tom: “Who decides what adults can see or not? It’s crazy. It’s from the dinosaur era.”
Do you feel like the cuts compromise the film?
Tom: “No they don’t harm it in any way. For me it’s important that the story stays complete and that the action stays complete and it’s very well done I think.”
One sequence that was cut was when Martin wraps barbed wire round his cock and then anally rapes the person at the end of the centipede. Now, much as you might be talking sense, that is where you lose me. I struggle to see how you can justify showing that.
Laurence: “Also the barbed wire and the sandpaper scene are instances of self-harm that Martin does to himself because of his own inability to deal with his own emotions. The barbed wire scene then leads into a rape scene but the rape scene is also about Martin trying to connect and make himself a part of the centipede as well, but the two instances of self abuse, it is obviously an actor and a prosthetic and fake blood and so on. It’s not a film of a Ron Athey performance or some of the more extreme aspects of performance art. Even though I come from a performance art background it’s not that – it is make believe.”
Is there anything you wouldn’t put on screen?
Tom: “For myself no, film is an art form and art is limitless I would show everything. I myself have a problem with cruelty to animals so I would not show that in my films, I don’t like it but in art I think everything is showable so I would never censor myself in any way.”
What do you say to people who say this is pornographic and trying to shock for its own sake?
Laurence: “Not at all. This is very much a satire on tabloid notions of people copying violence.”
And you have plans for a third one?
Tom: “Definitely. I’m working now on the third one, the final sequence, no more centipedes from here after that one. And all three films are intimately connected. We have one four-and-a-half hour film. Part Two is totally different from Part One and Part Three will be totally different again. I’m going to film it in America so there’s extremes in a different way again. Part One is psychological, Part Two is gory, the third will be extreme in a different way.”
And what is the most extreme reaction that you’ve had?
Tom: “There are people that want to kill me and say I’m worse than Hitler. A guy in America said I am Jesus to him. I have women sewing dolls together and they take it very seriously.
There was an actor that wanted to be in the second movie that he wrote saying he willing to eat real shit. It’s those kind of reactions.
Such a small idea of the ass to mouth, the fear of shit, conquers the whole world. I’m really proud of that. Some stupid joke I made is now on TV and in high art and the New York Times!”
Laurence: “It’s this kind of Rabelaisian body horror kind of thing – this fear of what our leaky bodies get up to!”