Is Tom Six a filmmaker? Is Tom Six a storyteller? No, at this point, you’ll have to conclude he is neither of these things. What he is represents something maybe more honest, more pure: he’s a provocateur. In making “The Human Centipede: First Sequence,” Six took a memorably deranged subject of medical dubiousness and turned it into a taut, often surprisingly funny shock fest, notable for its actual restraint considering the risible content. Lambasted for being a one-joke (one-gag?) premise, Six took advantage of a memorably deranged turn by Dieter Laser to produce a sterile, cold minor classic within the horror genre.
For a sequel, however, Six clearly read the reviews. The sick madman that he is, he noted the few positive marks the picture drew and decided to elaborate on the gruesomeness of his core idea, the visual of human beings surgically attached to create one single digestive system. As a result, he responded to the praise regarding his considerable lack of gore on that first film by doubling down and, in several ways, catering to the sickos in the audience. You’ve got to admire this guy’s subversion of expectation.
What results is “The Human Centipede Part II: Full Sequence,” and were it not in black and white, you could argue for the film reaching a top spot in the all-time gross-out pantheon. As is, the color scheme only keeps the picture in the top (bottom?) 10, as the film is mercifully dwarfed by the stateside arrival of “A Serbian Film” months ago. This cannot be emphasized enough: ‘Full Sequence’ might very well make you sick to your stomach, no matter how much experience you have as a gorehound. Where the first film pulled, this one pushes, to an unpleasant degree.
Taking the meta approach, ‘Full Sequence’ concerns a fan of the first picture. Cannily calling out his audience, Six cast Laurence Harvey as Martin, a ‘Human Centipede’ diehard, a parking lot attendant who seems to have the adventures of Dieter Laser and friends on a constant loop. Martin is short and stout, with a bulbous potbelly that almost looks like a freakish prosthetic. Hacking and wheezing with asthma in place of actual dialogue, he is emboldened by the original movie to create his own freakish multi-part monstrosity. Instead of three participants, however, Martin captures a good dozen victims, ready to unite them as one nightmarish appendage. The film takes great pains to illustrate how Martin isn’t nearly as clinical as the maniacal Dr. Heiter of the first film: we’ll just say stitches are replaced by staples this time around, and you can figure the rest.
Six’s sense of humor is evident in how meta he goes. So reverential of that first film, Martin actually recruits a cast member from the first installment, Ashlynn Yennie, to play herself as an eager young starlet. And how does he entice her to be a part of his movie? By informing her agent that she’s auditioning for a Quentin Tarantino film. Six is being coy, of course, but he’s drawing a direct correlation between the relationship of his work and that of the man behind “Pulp Fiction,” and by extension, claiming the same forbidden titillation that greets his efforts is that welcomed by the superficial flophouse sensibilities of Tarantino’s work.
Audacious, sure. And reckless. Six is connecting the dots between Tarantino’s work and his own, and while he could be outright condemning all movies for existing on the same plane of fetish gratification (one of the few lines of any victim is “it’s just a fucking movie!”), more than likely he’s drawing a straight line between the (admittedly inventive) snuff-flavored violence he works with and the escapist thrills peppered in Tarantino’s work. Perhaps therein lies the similarities, as both filmmakers create work where you have to believe mankind is capable of the absolute worst behavior. At this point, Six may be arguing that neither he nor Tarantino is a humanist. Which is not true, and if it was, it wouldn’t be relevant. Swing and a miss, Tom Six.
‘Full Sequence’ is, all bodily fluids taken into account, a memorably vivid visual experience. Six knows his way around a great shot, and the black-and-white photography is stark and transfixing, creating images that worm their way into your brain not only for their grotesqueries, but because of their quiet, sickening grace. Even with the much smaller budget and somewhat sloppier feel, ‘Full Sequence’ is well-deserving of a few eye-catching screen grabs. Six deserves kudos for also discovering Harvey, a Mad Magazine sketch of a pervert, with bug eyes that make Peter Lorre look like Anton Yelchin. And it’s uncomfortably funny when Six interrupts a three-way sex session between a female prostitute, an overweight, cursing slob, and Martin’s sadistic and supernaturally calm doctor — Six knows how to populate his movie with unforgettable faces.
The problem with ‘Full Sequence’ is that it’s so meta that it can’t exist on its own. After silently (and mesmerizing) introducing us to the wordless Martin, he goes about recreating the Centipede with his 12 victims. A thoroughly graphic and unpleasant section of the film, one that will leave viewers gasping for breath, these moments are robbed by their potency because Martin is serving a higher god, specifically Six himself (somewhat disappointingly, Six does not appear as himself). This is emphasized with a groaner of an ending, one that puts a damning punctuation mark on Six’s feelings towards his audience, his detractors and censorship, but also serves to illustrate “The Human Centipede: First Sequence” as some unforgettable totem of deprived filmmaking, when in fact it’s not in league with several of the 1980s “video nasties.”
‘Full Sequence’ falls behind its predecessor because it cannot deliver on its fairly ambitious scope. It wants to be captivating, visually-arresting shock horror (success!) but it also tries to point fingers, the only problem with that being that there are too many fingers, and they’re all going in opposite directions. Six isn’t out there making “Saw” films, but it’s tough to avoid questioning his integrity when he clearly engineered this film to be a totem to his own success. It’s a matter of confidence: when characters are slashing open arteries, Six has it in spades. Beyond that, ‘Full Sequence’ feels like a satirical answer to a question that no one has posed. [C+]