At The Brattle Film Notes, Kerry Fristoe writes about The Road Warrior and Lord Byron’s poem, “Darkness,” in “The Road Warrior or Mad Max and Lord Byron Walk into a Bar…”
Posted November 17, 2011
“I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud.”
–Stephen King, Danse Macabre (1981)
I can’t believe Human Centipede 2 got such a low rating on IMDb. It’s sitting at 4.3! For a movie that goes out and does exactly what it intends to do–for the goal that it sets out to accomplish, it is a perfectly executed film. I challenge you to name a recent horror movie that was more effective.
I’ve seen A Serbian Film–while genuinely disturbing, I have to say HC2 does so much more without breaking a sweat, or ever feeling self-conscious. I look at this year’s critically-acclaimed Kill List–a great film in its own right, with a fully developed story with pristine character arcs, brilliant dialogue, a knockout in so many ways–and yet I feel HC2 buries that with sheer visceral firepower.
Yes, the central concept of the original Human Centipede was already
disgusting–but director Tom Six shows what he can do with a budget–just how far he can go, in an attempt to punish us for complaining about the first film,
the contents of which were largely implied. For all the humor I found in
HC2–as much as I subconsciously tried to break the suspension of disbelief,
and engage in the dark comedy, the movie never flinches in its unrelenting
conviction to disturb, and I, a most jaded horror fan, was disgusted and ultimately overcome by the violence’s cumulative effect–in a way, I applaud! And it wasn’t the creative realism of the violence that got me, but more so the
nonchalance of it, the brazen remorselessness.
Take a look at the genre and today’s conventions: super gory bogeymen of
the 70’s are being remade with hot, relevant stars. But is there really a
risk or an edge in doing what was done 30 years ago, with Straw Dogs, Last
House on the Left, etc.? How are we really to worry about such recognizable
faces? What’s really at stake? Horror, to be effective, has to be confrontational. To take us out of our comfort zones, to make us afraid, it has to threaten us in some way.
To remake a horror movie is to take a statement that’s already been argued, and gloss it up, spit shine it so it looks new and relevant, and present it, winking. Sure, there are many talented filmmakers doing remakes, and their skills do help in finding new angles on old ideas–God bless’em, they need to work, and I’m happy to see talent work… but, really, it’s an old idea, and the bullet points of the argument are the same, and inherently familiar. Safe.
What Six has done is create an original movie that is legitimately repulsive–something I did not enjoy watching, not because it was poorly made, but because it was flawlessly executed. Yes, it is a sequel, but unlike many sequels today, it is also an evolution of the original idea, touching new territory. It takes the crassly clever concepts of part one, and grounds in expensive physical FX what was merely left to the imagination before. It doesn’t do any more than that. It is a totally literal interpretation of the first film, minus all subtext. What a totally ballsy thing to do.
We’ve been so desensitized by video games and movies, that horror films
aren’t what they were before. Growing up, I would dread to see the gore of
a Halloween movie kill, (absolutely timid compared to today’s fare) but
now after 2 decades, the gore is front row center; glossy and polished in
the Final Destination films, for example–a series I generally enjoy, but
for the wrong reasons–gore in horror has become the star, and it’s
usually about looking cool, slick, clinically realistic, and quirky–which
is a paradox. The original concept of murder in these films was supposed to
terrify, shock and unsettle, before it became “cool”.
Not so in HC2, gore, by diminishing effect of repetition, the literal constant bludgeoning, forces the gore to take the backseat to the unsettling idea of violence beyond compassion. Gore happens, and, yes, there are close-ups, and it’s impressively done, but the film is in black and white. (Although he comically gives feces the same treatment Spielberg gave the little girl’s red dress in the 99% black and white film Schindler’s List)–in short, the gore is numbing. While it could have been a censorship thing, I felt that this choice was made to appeal to our imaginations–to give us the blue print of each devastated carcass, and to have us fill in the blanks with our imagination, in a way that CGI could never do. Not that it leaves much to the imagination, maybe just enough.
The most cinematically-effective violence isn’t creative, it’s boiled down to the least spectacular most basest form. It’s not designed to impress us with digital trickery or artful puppetry, but only to exist as another dreary cog providing realistic continuity for this soul crushing machine, as it systematically lumbers towards a dreadful (and nihilistically delightful) foregone conclusion. Maybe there was some symbolism in there. I’ll leave that to the arty critics to nail down. But for face value, for once, I got what was promised to me.
What I’d most criticize about the first Human Centipede isn’t present here, either, and that’s the dialogue of the first act, which felt a bit wooden to me (although I loved the pompous psychotics of Dieter Laser as the mad scientist). Nope, HC2’s main antagonist, Martin doesn’t mutter more than a syllable at a time, but his face is a generous conduit of emotional turmoil. Sure there’s some explanation of why he could have gone so insane, but the film never panders to us about any other real motivation.
People complain that there is no character development in the film. But the main appeal of horror films, were never only about the depth of the story. Yes, I love a good story, and I’m not shutting the door on movies that have it all–but this movie has something that no horror movie has had in a very long time–a cathartic punch. Really, a horror movie shouldn’t hold your hand (I’ve said this before).
I feel the stigmatized sub-genre of so-called “Torture Porn” in horror today is poorly understood and a necessary step in exhausting the remainder of pop culture’s already diminished sensitivity to peel through and find a new layer of what fear is, and how to make it palpable again. Anything less would be regressive.
The experience of going to a movie itself is already safe–we’re just watching images on a screen, right? But in my opinion–for it to be effective as a “horror movie”, the content should be as volatile as possible. With MPAA ratings today, you go into movies knowing the limit of what the filmmakers are allowed to show and do. With gorgeous CGI and prosthetic prowess, the gore effects of today are usually beheld as artful spectacle before horrific actuality. That’s why the UK banning of this film is a good sign for horror fans. This filmmaker is not to be trusted; nothing is out of bounds.
Tom Six is a modern day bogey man, and as long as he doesn’t start killing
people for real, I want him in our closets.
“…You don’t have the guts to be what you wanna be? You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your fuckin’ fingers and say, “That’s the bad guy.” So… what that make you? Good? You’re not good. You just know how to hide, how to lie. Me, I don’t have that problem. Me, I always tell the truth. Even when I lie. So say good night to the bad guy!”
–Tony Montana, Scarface (1983)
Edit/Spoilers: I watched the MPAA-snipped version of the film; without the
rumored barb-wire rape scene or sand paper masturbation. And, I
selective-memory edited out the new born baby under the gas pedal scene
that was included in the version that I watched. While I obviously don’t
condemn a movie for abrasive fictional content, these scenes are so far
over the top, that it momentarily disrupted the suspension of disbelief,
and subsequently made the movie less disturbing. But I guess Tom knows the
value of comic relief. (I hope it’s comic relief!)