Scream queens, the sexy actresses who frequently star in horror flicks, are often applauded for how “brave” their performances are, the result of running around half-naked while psychopaths stalk them with machetes and other weapons of bodily destruction. But we’re ready to go out on a limb here (no pun intended) and nominate Ashlynn Yennie as one of the gutsiest genre starlets in the game—something tells us that most of the ladies included in our countdown of The 50 Hottest Scream Queens Of All Time wouldn’t be bold enough to spend nearly all of their screen time on all fours, with knee-caps carved out and their mouths sewn onto another person’s ass. And who could blame them?
Back in 2010, Yennie, a then-unknown actress hailing from Wyoming, played the back-end of Dutch writer-director Tom Six’s “100% medically accurate” The Human Centipede (First Sequence), the controversial and sickening horror phenomenon about a deranged German surgeon (Dieter Laser) who drugs three youngsters and sews them together, ass-to-mouth. And Yennie, along with her co-stars, really went for it, crawling around on cut-up knees naked for most of the film’s duration, an unenviable task that she commendably repeated in last year’s even-grosser sequel, The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence).
In the meta follow-up, Yennie plays an exaggerated version of herself, thinking she’s special after headlining The Human Centipede and naively falling into clutches of the mentally disturbed Martin (Laurence R. Harvey), a portly loner who lives with his tyrannical mother and obsesses over Six’s first movie; so, naturally, he takes it upon himself to abduct 12 people, Yennie included (this time, however, she’s in front), and make his own human centipede without any medical experience. Yes, it’s as nasty and unsanitary as it sounds.
And it’s also the most unlikely Valentine’s Day release imaginable (definitely not date night material). Yet, nevertheless, The Human Centipede II hits DVD and Blu-ray today, just in time to scare away that significant other or budding girlfriend you’re otherwise too chicken-shit to break up with—Happy Valentine’s Day! Complex caught up with Yennie to discuss the difficulties and pleasures that come from shooting Human Centipede movies, why she returned for another round of grotesqueries, and what she’d do if a V-Day date tried capping the night off with an impromptu viewing of sequel’s DVD or Blu-ray.
Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
What’s so special about The Human Centipede II movies, I think, is that they somehow manage to surpass any and all gross-out expectations—just when you think you’re mentally prepared for what it’s about to throw at you, it’s exceeds that, and the experience doesn’t get much easier upon the second or even third viewing.
Yeah, it doesn’t get any easier. [Laughs.] I think I’ve seen the first one four times now, and I’ve seen the second one twice. When I first saw the second one, it was totally different from how we shot the film; when we shot the film, there was more dialogue in the film, and we shot it in color, but then Tom [Six] decided that he wanted to make it black-and-white and took out all of the color and took out all of the dialogue. For me, watching the second one, I didn’t even know what the hell I was watching. Like, “Am I really in that movie?” [Laughs.]
So he actually decided to go with black-and-white after the fact? That’s interesting.
Yeah, I think when he was editing it. I guess what had happened was that he didn’t tell anybody, but he watched part of it in black-and-white and really liked what it looked like, so then he played around with it and started showing it to people in both color and black-and-white, to get their reactions. A lot of people said that the black-and-white made it more artistic in a way, and almost made it this dreamlike experience, that it’s not real. And taking out the dialogue adds to that more.
A lot of people don’t understand. They’ll say to me, “How come nobody talks in the film?” Because at the end, it’s this fantasy in [Martin’s] head, and even I didn’t get that at first. I didn’t know that was going to happen—Tom had kind of told me about that, but I still wasn’t sure how the ending was going to work. Then I saw it and thought, “Oh, I get it! I get why he took all of the dialogue out.” And honestly, I think if he would have left the color, the whole thing would look so gross. [Laughs.]
I can’t even imagine watching any one part of the final act, in the warehouse, in color. It’s hard enough to sit through in black-and-white, with all of the black-colored blood all over the place.
There was just so much blood! It was so gross on set. I really wish people could see how the set looked while we were shooting, just so they could see how absolutely disgusting it was, and what we were actually shooting on. They had to hose it down with water before every take, and it was all splintered. It was so disgusting! You don’t see all of those aspects of it when it’s black-and-white, but it works.
Is Tom Six the kind of director who makes you shoot scenes multiple times? Seems like that’d be extremely hellish for you and the other “centipede” actors.
There’s a couple things he’ll have you do over and over again, but normally you’ll get it in one or two takes. Usually, the first take is always the best; most actors will tell you that the first take is when they’re the most ready and most prepared.
But there’s some stuff where it takes you a little longer to get into it, like the scene where he cuts my knees open—we did that a couple of different ways. One, where I’m just unconscious, and another where I wake up and I’m in shock, and another where I’m full-on crying. And Tom ended up using the one where I’ve just woken up and I go into shock and pass out. He never makes you do it over and over again the same way; if he makes you do it again, it’s always in a new direction.
When you say that he took all of the dialogue out, do you mean during the final act’s warehouse scenes? Because the rest of the movie has dialogue.
Yeah, originally, when we’re all in the big centipede formation, I’m saying things to [Martin]. Like, asking him why he’s doing this, and why doesn’t he get that it’s a movie. “I can’t believe you’re doing this to people”—things like that. And then just the frustration. I cussed at him a lot. [Laughs.] There was a lot of cussing, because Tom let me go wild and kept telling me to cuss at him and tell him how much I hate him. It didn’t end up making the cut, which was fine. My mom was actually very happy about that. She was like, “I don’t want you cussing that much in the film.” I’m like, “But, mom—he kidnaps me! And makes me into a centipede!”
So with all of the disgusting and gruesome things that happen to you in these movies, your mom only has a problem with the foul language?
[Laughs.] Yeah, she’s cool with all of it. She just wants me to continue being ladylike in everything that I do, even in The Human Centipede. She’s cool with it; she actually came with me to the premiere of the second one. I warned her before, “Mom, this one is nothing like the first one—it’s going to be really dirty and gross.” And she just laughed the entire time, she thought it was so funny. And I was like, “Well, it’s not supposed to be that funny!” [Laughs.]
Your mom isn’t in the minority, either. When people watch the Human Centipede movies, they either laugh hysterically, sit there in a state of shock, or cringe and hold back vomit. What do you think the appropriate response to these movies is?
All of those people laughing? That’s the movie that Tom wanted to make. With the second one, he really just wanted to shock people, honestly. When the first one came out, so many people said that it didn’t show enough, and it was slow, and they didn’t get to see enough of the actual human centipede. They wanted more gore, specifically the horror fans. So when Tom approached me about doing the second one, it was before the first one had even come out in theaters, and he said, “It’s going to be really dirty, Ashlynn! It’s going to be really gross!” And I love Tom, and I just trust him completely. I’m just crazy enough to be OK with it all. [Laughs.]
So he was just like, “Yeah, I’m just gonna shock people. I’m going to show everything. It’s going be like a makeshift centipede, with staples and duct tape.” I was like, “Awesome, I can’t wait to shoot it!” [Laughs.] Also, Tom has a really sick sense of humor; he’s really, really funny, and to him, these films are really funny. The concept is just so far out there. Some people take it way too seriously; they’re looking for hidden meanings behind things, and they’re looking for things that just aren’t there.
The first one, I think, is more serious because Tom wanted to introduce the concept to people, and the second one is meant to shock people, and I think the third one will tie them both together in some way.
What’s the craziest, or most ridiculous, bullshit theory you’ve heard?
Well, one guy in Texas was interviewing Tom and I, and he started talking about the spiritual meaning behind the second movie. [Laughs.] Tom and I stopped him and said, “Wait, hold on… Are we talking about the same movie? There’s no spiritual meaning behind this film, whatsoever.” People like that are just trying to make something out of it that makes no sense. It’s a lot of stuff like that, where you look at people and say, “You know, it’s just meant for entertainment value—it’s just a movie.” That’s what people have to remember.
The concept behind The Human Centipede II is really clever, with the obsessed fan who takes his love of the first movie to the point of creating his own centipede without any medical experience. Hopefully you haven’t met anyone as dangerously insane as Martin, but does the character remind you of any crazy Human Centipede fans in particular?
Oh, yeah! Overall, the fans who’ve embraced the film are amazing. The horror fans, in particular, are wonderful people. I was kind of thrown into the genre, and they’ve embraced the film open-heartedly, and they’re so ecstatic about it. But there are always those very few characters who take it a bit too far. There have been a couple instances where the guy becomes a little too obsessive with you. It’s so easy to stalk people nowadays, with Facebook and Twitter, and all of us involved in the first movie have experienced that with one or two people, but it’s been the same people for all of us.
But I haven’t encountered anything as extreme as kidnapping or someone wanting to sew my ass to somebody. [Laughs.]
Well, thank heavens for that. You mentioned earlier that you have complete trust in Tom Six as a director, and that seems to be key here. You’ve certainly earned a great deal of respect and admiration around these parts, particularly for how brave and all-in you are in these movies. You take such a big leap of faith by doing the things you do in these Human Centipede films. Is there ever a part of you, though, that worries about how it will come across?
When I signed on to do the first one, there’s definitely that scary moment where… We didn’t know how big it was gonna get—we had no idea. It was this very small independent film, and it could have been nothing. Or it could have been a lot of things. You can get pegged as this kind of actress, so when I say that I trust Tom, I trust him completely that he’s not gonna embarrass me or make me look bad, because he doesn’t want to make bad films. He doesn’t want to do something that doesn’t work for him, as well.
He has your best interests at heart; he wants to see you succeed. When I did the first one, I thought, “Oh, this is so cool, I get to do this crazy horror film—I just hope I get some good footage from it.” That’s all that I was really hoping for, and then it turned into the phenomenon that is The Human Centipede. It’s this monster that’s bigger than all of us. People are getting tattoos, there are cat toys, and Beavis & Butt-Head and South Park are acknowledging it—you can’t buy publicity like that. You can’t ask for that.
When Tom asked me to be in the second one, there was a lot of trust that I had to put into the decision. There were a couple of phone calls back and forth, where I’d say, “But do I really have to do that?” And he was like, “Yes, Ashlynn, you have to do it! It’ll be great.” And all I could say was, “OK, but promise me that you won’t make me look bad.” And he promised that. Then I was like, “So you’re going to make me shit in someone’s mouth… This is insane!” [Laughs.] That’s the one part of the movie that I didn’t want to do, and I had multiple conversations with him about how it wasn’t important that I needed to do it. And was like, “No, you have to do it! You’re the front! You have to do it first!”
In the end, The Human Centipede will be a part of me forever. It’s always going to be something that I’m associated with, which I’m OK with. It’s really cool, I think, to be able to say, “Yeah, I was a part of The Human Centipede,” even if I don’t do anything else for the rest of my life. I’d rather be a part of this little crazy piece of history. We made a film that shocked people, and then we made a second one and he’s making a third one. It’s pretty awesome.
Have you been stigmatized at all? When you go into auditions, have you noticed people looking at you in a certain way, assuming things about what kind of actress you are?
There are some, yeah. It’s always the older crowd, the people who have been around for a long time who may have heard about the film but don’t really know anything about it. They have their preconceived ideas of what it’s about, and those are the ones who don’t really give you a chance. But I’ve honestly had really good luck with everyone that I’ve worked with since—most people think it’s cool. Like, “Yeah, you’re really brave. You’re not afraid to get dirty, ugly, and do something that’s scary.” That being said, though, there are those people who think I’ll do whatever now. [Laughs.] And that’s not the case, either.
In The Human Centipede II, you’re playing a fictionalized version of yourself, and in the scene when Martin picks you up for the “audition,” you came across as a diva-in-the-making. How much of that was scripted? Or was that all your own idea?
That was all just me talking, actually. It was all improv. Tom didn’t write any dialogue down; he gave me a couple things that he wanted me to say. This is pretty much what he said to me: “I want you to play this really bitchy version of yourself, like most Hollywood actresses who think they’re so cool because they’ve done one film.” So I took it as, “Oh, yeah… Quentin Tarantino is asking me to audition for him,” which is such a load of shit. [Laughs.] That’s not going to happen.
Tom wanted to poke fun at Hollywood actresses who think they’re hot shit because they did one film. He just said, “Be totally self-obsessed the entire time, and don’t even notice Martin.” He just let me riff. And none of what I said, like how we all took showers everyday before shooting scenes for the first movie—none of that is true. It was just all made-up.
In real life, if you were going to audition like that all by yourself, would you ever get in the car if you saw that the driver looked like Martin?
No, absolutely not! And that’s the thing—it’s not real. One, you don’t sit in the front seat, and, two, I would never just walk into a secluded warehouse. [Laughs.] I’m smarter than that. And three, you always have to call your agent and tell them you landed, or at least email them right away. You always have to have contact with these people. You’re not just being picked up by a stranger/driver who doesn’t even speak. So there are all these elements that went into it that I always say to Tom, “This is absolutely incorrect,” and he’s like, “I know! It’s inaccurate—it’s totally inaccurate! Every single part of the film is totally inaccurate!” And all I can say is, “Exactly!” [Laughs.]
You talked about how disgusting the warehouse set was, but what was the mood like while filming all of these gruesome scenes of torture, mutilation, and, yes, defecation?
Oh my god, it’s so fun on set. Because we know what we’re making, especially me. I’m a goofball, and I know that we’re making Centipede movies—we’re not making War & Peace. [Laughs.] We’re just making these funny films, and you have to have to a good sense of humor, especially when you’re on all fours, being covered in duct tape and there’s a fake butt strapped to your own butt. You just have to keep thinking, “My mom is so proud of me right now! I’m living my dream! This is what I’ve always wanted to do! When I was 14, this is what I said I wanted to do!”
When the film opened in theaters, I spoke to Laurence R. Harvey, and I was caught off guard by how friendly and warm he was, considering that I’d just watch him remain silent while killing people and making a human centipede.
Yeah, he’s so sweet. When I first met him, I came on set so we could do our car scene together, and he came up to me and had this tin of candy, and said, “I wanted to give you a present—it’s from my hometown.” It was this little tin of mints. I looked at him and said, “You are creepy! Because this is what rape artists do when they meet you.” [Laughs.] And he started laughing. But, yeah, he’s such a gem; he’s this amazing, sweet guy. I wish everyone could meet him in person, because he has such a great sense of humor, and you’d never know it from watching the movie.
What are your thoughts on the Valentine’s Day release for the DVD and Blu-ray?
I thought it was hilarious, actually. When they told me that it was coming out on Valentine’s Day, I said, “Of course it is.” [Laughs.] Why would it be any other day than Valentine’s Day?
Say you weren’t in the movies, and a guy followed up a nice, romantic Valentine’s dinner by bringing you back to his house and putting The Human Centipede’s DVD on?
[Laughs.] I have no idea. I don’t know what I would do, honestly. I’m not really into horror films, so I’d probably be a little freaked out, especially if I didn’t really know him yet. I’d probably run for the door and get the hell out of there.
So you don’t like watching horror films, generally?
Well, I do watch them a little more now. But I’m a huge scaredy-cat—I get scared to death by the Scream movies. [Laughs.] I like comedies.
It’s funny, I think anyone who’s been in a horror film automatically gets sent a ton of horror scripts as a result. It’s such a small community, so once you get in it they keep asking you to be in more and more of them. For me, I just worry about whether I like the script and the character, no matter if it’s a horror film or something else. I actually just finished shooting a film in New Orleans, with Vinnie Jones called Schism, and it’s not really a horror film—it’s more of a suspenseful thriller. I think it will be out in October, and I’m the lead female in it. I’m really proud of it, and I play the nice girl in the film.
So there aren’t any scenes where you’re on all fours, then?
[Laughs.] No, and it was so great. I was upright the entire time!