The first Human Centipede movie quickly became a pop culture meme during its original release, rating as a “can you handle it” dare amongst film buffs and even inspiring a now-legendary South Park episode. Much of the attendant gossip revolved around how gross the film supposedly was despite the fact that much of the most gruesome material in the first film was suggested rather than shown. It seems that the film’s writer/director Tom Six took these comments to heart as The Human Centipede II sets out to be exactly what the first film was accused of being – and he dives into the task with gusto.
The Human Centipede II mixes two modern horror film subgenres, the meta-movie and the torture-driven Grand Guignol shocker. The film’s anti-hero is Martin (Laurence R. Harvey), a parking garage attendant with a dismal life who is obsessed with The Human Centipede. As the film begins, he acquires an isolated warehouse and begins kidnapping people to realize his dream of creating a 12-person human centipede while trying to keep it all a secret from his abusive mother (Vivien Bridson). Martin is driven and resourceful but he’s no surgeon – and that paves the way for a grim, endurance-test third act as he tries to make his sadistic dreams come true.
If the first Human Centipede had a veneer of arthouse style, The Human Centipede II throws that out in favor of grindhouse content and aesthetics. The first half of the film plays like a black comedy of urban alienation in the vein of Eraserhead, with Six putting us right in the heart of Martin’s squalid world with gritty black-and-white photography and surreal, cartoonish performances. The humor is sick but undeniably there and Six has fun with the meta element of the film – in the film’s most inspired touch, one of Martin’s kidnap victims is Ashlynn Yennie, an actress from the first Human Centipede who plays herself here.
The final third of the film ups the ante on the Saw/Hostel brigade with a cavalcade of casual brutality, homestyle surgery and bodily functions that even grindhouse veterans will find tough going. For example, a scene where he knocks out all the teeth of one victim with a hammer lingers on all the mayhem and is guaranteed to induce squirming. There’s also a bit of nastiness with a pregnant victim that’s even worse.
Simply put, The Human Centipede II is simply designed to be provactive. To his credit, Six goes all-out to live up to his provocateur role and piles on the dark humor and the gore with morbid glee. It also boasts an amazing performance from Harvey, who bares himself both figuratively and literally to fulfill the film’s psychopathic lead role. His fearless sense of commitment anchors the film even when Six is delving into its most misanthropic excesses.
Thus, The Human Centipede II is the cinematic “dare” that most of the cultural gate-keepers mistook the first installment for. It has a specialized appeal as a result – but it holds up its end of the bargain for those who are interested in its demented style.