Martin Lomax (Laurence R. Harvey) is an asthmatic, overweight, mentally ill, middle-aged, short British man. He lives in a small flat with his emotionally abusive mother while working as a security guard in an underground parking garage. Martin is obsessed with The Human Centipede (First Sequence), watching it repeatedly at home and in his toll booth. After his mother destroys his scrapbook, Martin crushes her skull and decides to recreate the fictional experiment he saw portrayed in the original film. Only this time he intends to create not just a three-person centipede, but the 'full sequence' of 12 connected people.
Those audiences that thought there just wasn’t enough oral/rectal imagery in Tom Six’s 2009 headline-grabber will be 'pleased’ to know that the follow-up is a Rabelaisian slab of hell-on-earth story-telling. But it’s debatable whether The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) contains anything that warrants the overly focussed attention of censorship bodies, film scholars, protest groups or the movie-going public.
Six pulls a clever narrative ploy by making his sequel’s lead character an obsessed fan of The Human Centipede (First Sequence). Late-night car-park attendant Martin (Lawrence R. Harvey) watches the movie on continuous loop in his cramped pay booth, all the while stalking the revellers returning to their vehicles. He crowbars them, and delivers them, bound and gagged, to his putrid warehouse, where he sets in motion his plan to reciprocate the first film’s creation.
Full Sequence has none of the stark, clinical air of real science that First Sequence employed so effectively. Martin’s world is one of sociopathic disconnect brought about by years of sexual abuse and unbridled maternal guilt ( 'Mum’ is the film’s true monster, as played by Vivien Bridson). Six constructs an environment as seen through Martin’s disconcertingly bulbous eyes; filmed in monochrome in three key locations and denying his lead character any voice, the filmmaker effectively imagines his protagonist’s scarred mental landscape.
At the halfway point, Six foregoes any commentary and indulges Martin (and, one can assume, the director himself) in the film’s raison d'être. Having assembled a suitably terrified group (including the first film’s star, Ashlynn Yennie, playing herself), our anti-hero loads up the staple gun, grabs the gaffer tape and sets out on his version of wish fulfilment. Of course, it is all challengingly vile; there will be significant cuts by the authorities if the film is to ever get classification in Australia. (The rape scene will surely be the first to go.)
But in serving up more of what he believed his core audience wanted, Six has diluted his key asset – the shock factor. Revulsion at the relentless degradation of Martin’s prisoners and the pain and filth that his 'centipede’ must endure begins to wane; some standards of the physical-horror genre are rolled out (tendons are cut; the gun takes centre stage for a while). The truly grotesque does not return to the film until the final few scenes (which, admittedly, are nightmarish).
Perhaps Six intended to undercut himself, as Woody Allen did with Stardust Memories (also in black and white and also starring a troubled little man). The Dutch director may be sticking it to his fans by giving them what they screamed for but he only proves that more is sometimes less. His filming of the warehouse sequence is rather mundane when compared to some of the expressionistic, 'Lynch-ian’ moments he captures in the film’s first half (comparisons to Eraserhead are well-earned).
Six has created a Frankenstein’s monster of a film trilogy (the conclusion, Final Sequence, is due in 2013). He is a talented filmmaker whose creation is earning him notoriety but also threatens to suffocate his development. The enormous shift in stylistic focus between his first and second film and the technical skill he displays (notably in his superb sound design) suggests he has much to offer beyond the self-imposed limitations of his bum-to-gum oddities.
[Note: SBS Film reviewed the uncensored version of The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence). This version had been passed by the Office of Film and Literature Classification but its release has been delayed by the NSW Attorney General’s office after they became aware of its content and initial banning in the UK. It is being resubmitted to the OFLC on November 28.]