Some filmmakers create their movies with noble intentions, whether it’s the desire to uplift viewers through inspirational underdog stories, tickle romantic fancies, or make you laugh uncontrollably. Even a good amount of horror masters, known more for unsettling audiences than comforting them, have deeper motivations, layering their scares with thought-provoking subtext. And then there’s Tom Six, the Dutch director behind last year’s zeitgeist-infiltrating horror flick The Human Centipede (First Sequence). Yes, the one about a lunatic surgeon who kidnaps three innocent people and connects them from ass to mouth. When the film was released, Six instantly earned a notorious reputation; without any richer meaning, The Human Centipede’s only intention was to cause revulsion, something that Six himself gleefully owned up to in the media.
For the sequel, The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (hitting IFC theaters and IFC Midnight’s Video On Demand today), Six set out to prove that he actually took it easy on audiences last time; now, he’s ready to punish (and perhaps titillate, based on the movie's sickly sexy new poster featuring a nude model). Making its predecessor look like a subtle drama by comparison, The Human Centipede II pummels good taste with end-to-end repulsion.
In a meta twist, the film centers on a creepy loner, Martin (Laurence Harvey), whose obsession over The Human Centipede causes him to bludgeon strangers over their heads with a crowbar, trap them in an abandoned warehouse, and form his own centipede four times the size of Six’s movie version. Only, Martin’s lack of medical training leads to the usage of a stapler for the ass-to-mouth bits, and the whole procedure, in general, is a sloppy, and bloody, mess. And Six, no longer interested in implication over display, shows every nasty image, including teeth getting bashed in with a hammer, kneecaps cut open, and fecal matter being discharged into mouths.
Is there any question as to why The Human Centipede II inspired our list of movies you can’t un-see? Unable to delete the sequel’s nasty imagery from our minds, we recently spoke to the new master of vomit-inducing cinema to better understand his murky intentions. And, wouldn’t you know it, he’s a really friendly guy! Well, a friendly guy who enjoys visually abusing his audiences.
Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
Complex: Regardless of how sick The Human Centipede II might be, it takes a special kind of skill to somehow repulse and shock people who go into the movie expecting to be repulsed and shocked, so, first off, we have to commend on you on that.
Tom Six: Absolutely, and it’s tough to do that. The first one is psychological, so in the second one I had to show it all, because that’s exactly what the audience asked for. When I was writing the first script, I had so many ideas but I couldn’t put them all in one film—that’s why I wanted to make films of the same kind. For the first one, I wanted the audience to get used to this sick idea first, so that’s why it’s all happening in the head, and you hardly see anything gross. But I already knew the audience for this second part wants to see the shit flying around and the gore, so I thought, “I’m really going to give it to the audience in the second one.” It’s really over-the-top and exaggerated.
Prior to making the first one, was the initial idea for the sequel to have it be so meta, about an obsessed fan, or did that happen after The Human Centipede took off?
It’s both, actually. I was playing with that idea already, because my idea was, What is scarier than a surgeon doing an operation and creating a centipede? And I thought, “Scarier would be if somebody did it who has no medical background whatsoever.” That’s even worse. So I was thinking about a fan or something, and then when I traveled the whole world for festivals and stuff, a lot of people from the audience asked me, “What if a maniac out there copies your idea?” And then I knew for sure that was definitely going to be the idea for the sequel.
When you started writing the sequel, were there any specific fans in mind that inspired the Martin character?
[Laughs.] Promoting a movie like this, you meet such different people; it’s incredible. Really strange people. At the Fantastic Fest premiere, a guy came up to me and said that I’m Jesus for him, and other people I’ve met have said that they’re afraid to look at me, that I’m worse than Hitler. So, it’s such a broad spectrum of people that I meet.
But I chose the Martin character because I really wanted the total opposite of Dr. Heiter [the surgeon in The Human Centipede, played by Dieter Laser], who’s like tall and thin; this time, I wanted a very short and fat guy. That was my idea, and then, yeah, if a fan copies this idea, then he’s mentally unstable. In the script, I wanted a mentally challenged man who was short and fat. [Laughs.] That was my idea.
How’d you come across Laurence Harvey to play Martin? It’s a great casting choice—he’s unfamiliar to audiences, but he doesn’t even need to say a word to creep the viewer out.
He’s incredible, yeah. I did the casting in London, and I saw about eight guys, and I was very disappointed. But then Laurence came in, and I thought, “My god! This man looks amazing!” We put a camera on his face, and his eyes are so…. Yeah. He has such an incredible charisma on screen. I let him do some acting stuff and he did it so brilliantly; there was no doubt that I was going to pick him. He’s really up there with Dieter, I think.
What exactly goes into the audition to play a character as sick as Martin?
First, I put the camera on his face and I let him do some stuff with the mother character, to see how he would react to that. Then, I asked him to hit somebody’s head in with a crowbar, and he did that so incredibly convincing—his face turned red, and he can really play with his body. And then, of course, for the raping scene, I asked him to play that, and he grabbed a chair and he raped the chair so wildly that I thought, “This is our guy.” [Laughs.]
I can imagine that he’ll never have to do that again in any future audition.
[Laughs.] I’d hope not.
Martin doesn’t say a single word throughout the film. Why was it important for the character to be so silent?
My first idea was that the character would say lines from the first film, from Dr. Heiter. My idea was to have him mumble those lines sometimes, but then when I saw Laurence on the footage, he didn’t speak at all and I thought he was way scarier if he doesn’t speak. It’s much more threatening, I think, that he doesn’t speak.
Another really interesting choice for the film is to present it in black-and-white. What was the thought process behind that?
I totally wanted to 100% contrast this film away from part one. Part one has clinical colors, and the camerawork is really steady, and it’s really the story of Dr. Heiter; for the sequel, I wanted a dark look, a film that’s dirty and it’s all handheld. The black-and-white really helps the story of Martin, it gives you a very uncomfortable feeling. If we did the film in color, it would distract too much from the story, I think.
The black-and-white look gives the film a real Eraserhead feel, particularly in the scene where Martin is in his living room with his mother and his doctor. It’s this bizarre domestic set-up that’s right out of David Lynch’s movie.
Yeah, definitely. I love that film—I’m definitely influenced by that film, as well.
The Human Centipede II doesn’t waste any time getting right into the violence and sickness, whereas the first movie had more of a build-up before it showed all of its grossness. Was the rationale to not give the audience any chance to collect themselves throughout the entire movie?
I like movies that go like a train and don’t stop. It’s like an unstoppable force, and that creates a kind of rollercoaster feeling for the audience. The humor is kind of the escape; I don’t intentionally write humor into the script, it’s just my way of thinking. A lot of people can really laugh during, like, the shitting scene, and that’s the release for them, I think.
During the screening I attended, everyone was laughing up until the scene in the parking garage with the crying baby—that seemed to be the point of, “OK, this isn’t funny anymore. It’s just disturbing as hell.” It’s this interesting contrast of watching things you’re not sure if you’re supposed to laugh at and then seeing something that you definitely shouldn’t laugh at.
That’s all in the hands of the viewer, because I’ve even had people laughing when the child dies near the end. So the question is how sick you are yourself, I think. It’s very had to say, because I’ve also seen people looking at the shitting scene and they’re disgusted by it—they couldn’t laugh. So it’s very hard to say at what point people are supposed to laugh during the movie.
How much of the drive behind The Human Centipede II was looking at the audience and saying, “You might not have thought the first one went far enough, but now you’re really going to get it. Hope you’re ready.”
Yeah, it’s totally a reaction to the public. Totally. In two ways; one, the audience begged for more and wanted more, and said, “The first one is for pussies—we want to see more.” So I really took it to extremes the second time for the audience. And in other cases, I got a lot of death threats because of part one; they said, “You’re degrading human beings. You must be stopped.” There were a lot of death threats on Facebook.
I’ve always said, “Listen, guys: It’s just a movie. It’s make-believe, it’s not real.” You want to see a horror film, right? So you should expect something horrifying, otherwise you shouldn’t be see a horror movie. In part two, I take that idea and go full force, for those people who say they want to kill me for part one; now I say, “Let’s see part two, then, and tell me what you think then.” [Laughs.] And it’s so over-the-top this time that people must realize it’s a movie. I cant imagine anyone will see part two and take it seriously anymore. It’s such an extreme attraction that it becomes really over-the-top.
The whole energy of this one seems to be focused on just assaulting the viewer at every second.
Absolutely, and so many people take it too seriously. I think these kind of films are just entertainment, and if you’re ready for a fun ride and you want to be shocked, then you will love this film, probably. Also, I read a lot of reviews about this film, and I’ve talked to a lot of critics about the film, and they were absolutely appalled. They couldn’t sleep at night, and stuff like that. But at the same time, they wrote that it’s too disgusting for the audience and that nobody should see it. That’s exactly what the film is about, if you think about. This is what you asked for—can you handle it?
The downside to that, I’d think, is that the Centipede reputation takes away from your skills as a filmmaker. With the sequel especially, there are some really impressively shot and staged moments, but not many of the reviews point that out. Does that bother you?
The film itself became such a hype, and a lot of people only saw the trailer for the first film and the word-of-mouth spread to where people who haven’t even seen it were saying, “Oh, that’s the most disgusting thing ever!” But when they saw the film, they realized that there’s nothing especially gory; it’s just the hype around it that made it so huge. As a filmmaker, that’s very hard to answer to a hype. Any writer or a filmmaker who makes a second book or second film—that’s the hardest thing to do after a hit.
But I wanted to make a totally different film than the first one. Lots of times, I see filmmakers who have a good original and then they try to copy the first one, and usually that fails. I deliberately wanted to make a completely different film, from an original angle and in a totally different directing style. I wanted to release that on the audience and see what happens, and the response is exactly what I predicted would happen. You have two camps: They absolutely hate it or they absolutely love it. There’s hardly a middle ground.
When you were writing the Human Centipede II script, did you limit yourself in any way? Or was any degree of brutality and violence fair game? It certainly doesn’t seem like you contained yourself in any way.
No, I never censor myself in any way. I just write what’s good for the story. I try to think about what the audience would like, too, because I produce the films myself with my sister—I don’t have to answer to anybody else but myself. So I really make the film that I want to make and then bring it out to the world and see what happens.
Of all the crazy stuff that happens in the film, the only scene that didn’t make the cut for the American version is one where Martin rapes someone with barb wire wrapped around his penis. Did it surprise you that no other scene was singled out in such a way?
That’s because it’s sexual violence, and that’s what the world has a problem about. But there are also countries that don’t have a problem with that; other countries are far more sensitive.
Speaking of being sensitive, two people actually walked out of the screening I attended. They headed for the exit once Martin started stapling the mouths to the ass cheeks.
[Laughs.] Great! And then they walked out, huh? I think that’s a compliment. As a filmmaker, you’re trying to make a rollercoaster ride, and the ride here is too much for some people. Some people can’t handle it, but that’s exactly why I’m such a fan of making horror films. Other people make comedies, but I’m in the business of making horror films now. I have to try and really make a horrific horror film then, and that’s a real challenge.
As you can imagine, being on the set when you’re making a horror film is so much fun. You’re like little children playing with blocks and stuff. At the end, when you cut it all together, with music and sounds, it’s a whole different story, of course. I think it’s great if people walk out! [Laughs.]
Was this film easier to cast than the first one?
Definitely. Yeah, it was absolute hell to cast the girls for the first one, as you can imagine. If you went to acting school and you’re asked to be attached to someone’s ass, it’s not something your mother would be proud of, I think. [Laughs.] About 70% of the girls left, and the ones with the biggest balls and biggest talent were Ashlynn [Yennie] and Ashley [Williams].
But that film became such a hype that when I was casting this film in London, everybody wanted to be a part of the centipede. So when they came in, they immediately went on their hands and knees, grabbed the butt in front of them, and just started acting. I didn’t even have to say anything. That was such a different position for me to be in; with the first one, I was like, “My god, am I ever going to find good actresses who want to do that?”
This time around, did you anticipate that level of excitement in the auditions?
I didn’t expect that, no. I even got emails from people all over the world begging to be in The Human Centipede 2, and some even wanted to eat real shit. [Laughs.] So you can imagine the craziness that’s out there from actors.