Tom Six can't stop smiling. Responsible for turning the concept of a human centipede into a cultural touchstone, the Dutch director sat down with indieWIRE at Austin's Fantastic Fest the day after the world premiere of "The Human Centipede (Full Sequence)." Apparently, nothing makes this 38-year-old filmmaker happier than making movies about demented characters who satisfy a sick fantasy by sewing victims mouth to anus -- but hey, success can have a strange effect on people.
In the sequel, "The Human Centipede (Full Sequence)," Six shifts focus from the mad scientist of the first entry to a lonely security guard named Martin (Laurence R. Harvey) who was inspired by the original movie to make a human centipede of his own. Six discussed the popularity of his uniquely grotesque franchise, how censorship has helped it and where he plans to take the premise next.
People often ask you if you expected "The Human Centipede" to become a pop-culture phenomenon. More to the point: How did your expectations evolve?
It spread like aggressive fires all over the world. Like, it slowly came into people's minds and didn't stop. You see on Twitter and stuff that when people find out about the film, they say, "Oh my god, this is the most…" So each time a person discovers the film, it comes with the same reaction. It keeps on going. Where does it stop? I have no idea.
So you pay attention to tweets about the movies?
Sometimes, yeah. It's fun to see what's going on. But it's getting so big on the internet and everybody has opinions, so I think it's not healthy for me to check it every day because I'd go crazy thinking I have so much influence on that.
But you do have an influence on it, because you're planning another film.
I really set my goal on making three films and then it's finished. We're working with the same investors as we did on part one. We're totally independent; nobody decides for us what we should do. It's totally my decision what to do.
And your decisions have varied. The first movie is a kind of body horror, whereas part two at least initially feels more classical: Your villain is a fairly obvious replica of Peter Lorre in "M" and the suspense leading up to the grotesque climax has a Hitchcockian feel to it. Where did all that come from?
I definitely didn't want to copy the first film. A lot of filmmakers copy their own films after the first successful one and it fails. I really wanted to make something completely different. Dr. Heiter was unstoppable. I needed a different character. You could find another surgeon actor a little like him, but it wouldn't be as good. And I really wanted a different look, so the film is all handheld, black-and-white, everything is dirty. Everything in the first one was clean, cold, tracking shots. Really different.
Speaking of which, it's been clear since the first movie that you're both technically proficient and capable of telling a story. Would you ever like to make a horror movie that's not, you know, disgusting?
I really wanted to create an uncomfortable feeling throughout the whole film. This was really my vision. I would never make a film with a guy carrying an axe, or a film about ghosts. It really must have something very original. I would never make a film about ghosts because there are so many of them. I think this film has been so successful because it has a new idea, something that sparks people's minds. A horror film about ghosts? You've seen it already.
What sort of pressures did you feel after the first film?
When I was writing the first one, I had so many ideas. I knew I wanted the audience to get used to the idea of the centipede. That's why part one is all psychological. Then, with the second one, I could show everything. I wanted the shit and the gore, the dirt. It was a pretty easy step to make. I immediately knew part one would be more violent than part two, because that was the direction I was going. I could tell the public, "If you think this is nasty, wait for number two."
Over the last few months, I've heard from friends of yours who saw the film early but wouldn't speak about it because you swore them to secrecy. What were you trying to hide?
Hardly anybody knew about the project. I really wanted it to be a secret. Of course, the British Board of Film Classification ruined it by publicizing plot details. But that also helped us with the marketing. The cool thing was that people were speculating on the internet about what the story was going to be. They'd come up with all kinds of crazy stories, so I think I've surprised the audience.
So you were mostly upset that the BBFC, which banned the film in the U.K., spoiled the plot?
First, I was angry about that. But then everybody started talking about the rape scene, and that really helped. I had said before that the sequel would make the first one look like "My Little Pony." The BBFC banning it really made it so that people were like, "He must be right, if it's banned in the U.K."
Presumably, if people in the U.K. really wanted to see the sequel, they could probably track it down.
Of course. That's why I've said that organization is from a dinosaur era. In these times, you can get this film on the internet, you can import it from other countries, everybody can see it. So what they're doing is useless.
We asked our Twitter followers if they wanted to see the sequel and most of them said they wouldn't. That might be a bad sign, but then a lot of people said they wouldn't see the first film before succumbing to morbid curiosity.
Some people need more time to decide. I read on Twitter people who were saying, "OK, finally, I've found the courage, I've found alcohol, now I'm going to see it." Because everybody around them has seen it, so it's a little stupid if you stay behind because you're afraid. And it's a midnight movie. Midnight movies are the best with a crowd.
But at the same time, VOD certainly helped "The Human Centipede" find an audience.
Definitely. My personal preference is always to watch films at the theater, but I don't care how people watch my movie. I love the crowds that adore films like this. The people you meet at festivals, I love their passion, they're real fans. They're people who really want to see it. With this film, it got parodied on "South Park," so it has moved beyond that crowd.
Why do you think it has done that?
It's only because the basic idea -- the ass-to-mouth idea -- grosses everybody out. Even a woman who lives in a flat somewhere hears about it. They keep talking about it.
Did you know that the "South Park" parody was in the works?
No. It was a complete surprise, very cool. I was in L.A. when it aired. Everybody was emailing us, calling us about "South Park." I was having dinner with Aki [Kitamura], the front part of the centipede in part one, and these paparazzi from TMZ came up to us. They wanted to know what we thought about it. So it's really out there.
"South Park" actually didn't criticize the movie. It just borrowed the premise, basically.
Yeah, what they did was brilliant.
But on the subject of criticism: Do you think bad reviews have helped you as well?
Absolutely. If somebody writes that this is too awful, too gory, too sick, I can only applaud that.
You portrayed Dr. Heiter as a fairly clear-cut villain. Martin's crazy, but you also make him pathetic, almost sad.
And that makes people even more upset, that you have this guy doing nasty stuff, but somehow you feel sympathy for him. With Dieter, he was really a bad guy. In this film, it's really mixed up.
You endorsed the idea that the first film was a twisted World War II analogy, since the main characters were Germans, Japanese and Americans. I'm not sure this one could be read the same way. Or could it?
Yes. One guy said that in part one, you have the Americans, the German and the Japanese. But what about the British? They were just as important.
Where will the third one take place?
I'm going to shoot the third one in America. It's going to be a completely different film, as if from another filmmaker, but in the end all the films can be literally connected like a centipede. It would be cool to have midnight screenings where you could watch them all as a four-and-a-half hour film. Then I've used all my ideas. I've had enough.
Now that you've figured out a plan for ending the "Human Centipede" legacy, what do you want to do after the third film?
I can really explore new territory in the horror genre. The centipede was totally new. I have a few other ideas that I don't think have been done before and they're really new. So after part three, I'm going to make a film with psychological horror that's very simple, but people will become very upset when they hear about it. I can't wait to start that one.