by Ross Sharp

On Tuesday, the British Board of Film Classification made a rare decision to refuse distribution in the U.K. for the film, “The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)”, the sequel to – yes, you guessed it – “The Human Centipede (First Sequence)”.

The film was refused classification to be distributed in any form in the U.K. citing the following reasons (take a deep breath now) –

“This new work, The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence), tells the story of a man who becomes sexually obsessed with a DVD recording of the first film and who imagines putting the ‘centipede’ idea into practice. Unlike the first film, the sequel presents graphic images of sexual violence, forced defecation, and mutilation, and the viewer is invited to witness events from the perspective of the protagonist. Whereas in the first film the ‘centipede’ idea is presented as a revolting medical experiment, with the focus on whether the victims will be able to escape, this sequel presents the ‘centipede’ idea as the object of the protagonist’s depraved sexual fantasy.

The principal focus of The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) is the sexual arousal of the central character at both the idea and the spectacle of the total degradation, humiliation, mutilation, torture, and murder of his naked victims. Examples of this include a scene early in the film in which he masturbates whilst he watches a DVD of the original Human Centipede film, with sandpaper wrapped around his penis, and a sequence later in the film in which he becomes aroused at the sight of the members of the ‘centipede’ being forced to defecate into one another’s mouths, culminating in sight of the man wrapping barbed wire around his penis and raping the woman at the rear of the ‘centipede’. There is little attempt to portray any of the victims in the film as anything other than objects to be brutalised, degraded and mutilated for the amusement and arousal of the central character, as well as for the pleasure of the audience. There is a strong focus throughout on the link between sexual arousal and sexual violence and a clear association between pain, perversity and sexual pleasure. It is the Board’s conclusion that the explicit presentation of the central character’s obsessive sexually violent fantasies is in breach of its Classification Guidelines and poses a real, as opposed to a fanciful, risk that harm is likely to be caused to potential viewers.”

Director Tom Six responded to the BBFC’s move, stating –

“Thank you BBFC for putting spoilers of my movie on your website and thank you for banning my film in this exceptional way. Apparently I made an horrific horror-film, but shouldn’t a good horror film be horrific? My dear people it is a fucking MOVIE. It is all fictional. Not real. It is all make-belief. It is art. Give people their own choice to watch it or not. If people can’t handle or like my movies they just don’t watch them. If people like my movies they have to be able to see it any time, anywhere also in the UK.”

I have not seen the first film and have no desire to, and this is simply because, as someone who regularly watches horror films, I want a horror film to scare the living shit out of me (so to speak), not make me reach for a fucking bucket or spend 90 minutes of my life going, “Ewwwwwww!”.

And I say this as someone who loves such fare as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, “Dawn of The Dead”, “The Walking Dead” and other such offerings, but the horror movie has most certainly come a long way since the relatively innocent days of “The Exorcist”, or “Rosemary’s Baby”, or “Carrie” or John Carpenter’s “The Thing”, and I find myself wondering whether the journey was worth it, considering the penchant of so many directors of horror films today to confuse “horror” with “gross-out” …

Natalie Haynes from The Independent

“Perversely, the harder these films try to shock, the less the suspense: it just becomes a catalogue of ick. And that makes it difficult to stay emotionally engaged enough to be afraid. Human Centipede plays on a previously little-considered fear of compulsory coprophilia, which is disgusting, sure, but not frightening. The plot of Human Centipede II apparently centres on a sexual sadist who becomes obsessed with a DVD copy of the first movie. Chance would be a fine thing – I was being paid to watch it, and I still dozed off in the middle. It’s a movie that climaxes long before it ends, and you can’t even go and get popcorn to cheer yourself up, as your pervading response isn’t crippling terror, but vague nausea. And no one ever heard a creak on the stairs in the middle of the night and was paralysed by the fear of feeling a bit queasy. It’s surely time horror became horrifying again, and not just gross.”

It’s obvious that Six intended his film to be viewed by a general audience, either in cinemas or direct to DVD, and so I question the BBFC’s assumption that any commercially released film (or at least, those intended for commercial release) could, or would, pose a threat to the mental health of its audience – it’s not as if anyone is going to be forcibly dragged from the streets into the cinema by a pack of feral ushers and tied to a chair, their eyelids propped open by matchsticks. And for those who freely choose to watch it who may be appalled or repulsed at what they’re viewing, they have a choice of (a) getting up and leaving, or (b) hurling their cookies into their bucket of popcorn and then leaving. Or just not turning up in the first place.

But I would also question, not Six’s point (no film or book or piece of music needs a point to justify its existence or creation), but his intent.

And if the intent is simply to present a graphic visual catalogue of the variety of ghastly horrors one human being may inflict upon another or others for no particular reason other than that, then what we have here is little more than an example of fatally flawed storytelling, flawed in that there is simply no “story” to be told.

Hence we wind up with a lazy screenwriter and a lazy screenplay, one that comprises nothing more than one concept, or one thought, that starts with just that and goes no further.

By denying the characters development as characters beyond merely victim and torturer, we, as audience members, are also denied any opportunity to empathise with them, to form any relationship whatsoever, to involve ourselves, to care. And it would also seem, going by the BBFC’s summation above, that are we also being denied any sense of conflict within the characters themselves, that the obstacles that should typically prevent these characters from reaching their desired goals (however unpleasant they may be to us), and the ways and means by which they must overcome these obstacles, we have also been denied drama itself (for the drama arises from said conflicts and obstacles), and if there is no drama, what is it that is supposed to hold our attention for the duration?

Six defends his film as “art”, and yet if it is to be regarded as “art”, the absence of such vital ingredients necessary for a cohesive dramatic narrative would appear to relegate it to the realms of  video installation exhibit in a gallery somewhere, around the corner from Tracy Emin’s “My Bed”, or Serrano’s “Piss Christ” or Mike Parr’s documentations of self-mutilation.

As for the whine about “spoilers”, finding out that a character wraps barbed wire around his prick in order to rape a woman is not exactly a plot revelation up there with the concluding moments of “The Usual Suspects” or “Psycho”, and given the nature of the behaviour that this character has (apparently) exhibited thus far, probably wouldn’t raise so much as an eyebrow at this stage in proceedings.

Many reviews of Six’s first film (both from critics and viewers) dismissed it as “dull”, that most heinous of cinematic sins, and if it is so, then there can only be one culprit and one only – the script.

Writing a script is hellishly difficult at the best of times. That tantalising brain fart that popped one’s frontal lobes in the dead of night, that seemed so fresh, so original, so promising, will, more often than not, turn out to be little more than an unsustainable and insubstantial few pages of sound and fury, signifying nothing and with nowhere to go and fuck all to offer, a squealing flatline of stillborn celluloid. Ideas are easy. It’s doing something with them that’s hard work.

(I understand that all of the above is nothing more but mere assumption on my part, and rather arrogant assumption at that, given that I’ve seen neither film and probably won’t, so this is offered not as “criticism” as such, as it is food for thought or a beginning point for further discussion.)

Banning a film in this digital day and age is a rather futile and impotent act of bureaucratic interference anyway, given that anyone in the United Kingdom who may want to watch the film could, armed with the right knowledge and tools, very simply download the thing (as I understand it, it has already been classified for straight to DVD release in Australia), so this makes the BBFC’s decision more than a little baffling, to say the least …

Adam Sherwin from The Independent

“Examiners do sometimes admit to feeling shellshocked at the weekly gathering. “It’s not the hardcore pornography and violence,” said the insider. “It’s children’s DVDs – having to watch five hours of Ivor The Engine.””

Maybe they were just having a bad day.