If that madman Tom Six is trying to teach us anything with his controversial magnum opus, it’s that it takes at least three segments to make a centipede. With that in mind, to mark the release of THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 (FULL SEQUENCE), I decided to create a centipede of my own. But instead of stitching people together anus-to-mouth... well, I stitched together three movie screenings. Why? Because this is the kind of shit I do. And so, my friends, I give to you... THE CINEMATIC CENTIPEDE.
My triple-feature began at 6:15 p.m. at the AMC Empire with THE IDES OF MARCH, a tasty political thriller that serves to burst the bubble of political idealists by insinuating that no matter how great your candidate may seem, chances are he’s got skeletons in his closet that would rock the foundation of your moral fiber. In that sense, and considering the backdoor political shenanigans that are surely happening as we speak, this is kind of a depressing film. But I have a deep-seeded aversion to political discussion/debate, so we’ll leave that alone. Instead, let’s focus on how this film is carried by four outstanding performances from four of the greatest actors on the planet: George Clooney (who also directed & co-wrote), Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Goddamn... watching these guys play games of political cat-and-mouse is nothing short of scintillating. Clooney’s Mike Morris is smooth, charismatic and perfectly believable -- if he (the character or the actor himself) ran for President, hell, I’d vote for him. Gosling is outstanding as Steven Meyers, a young press secretary who has devoted his life to Morris and everything he stands for, only to find himself drawn into a soul-sucking web of lies and treachery that ultimately transforms him into that which he once despised. In a sense, Steven’s character arc is similar to that of Michael Corleone in THE GODFATHER, drawn into the dirty family business in spite of his best efforts to not get his hands dirty. And then, of course, there’s Giamatti and Hoffman -- amazing as always, and on screen together for the first time ever (though they don’t actually share any scenes together other than a brief nod from across the room early in the film, which seems fitting). It’s a veritable acting clinic between these four guys, combined with solid direction and taut dialogue -- another fine effort behind the camera for Clooney, along with CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND and GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK. It’s not the kind of film that will blow the doors off of Washington or change the political climate (deep down, we all know what’s going on), but it’s a fine film nonetheless.
Moving on, I went downstairs for the 8:25 p.m. showing of MACHINE GUN PREACHER, which, considering the fact that it stars Gerard Butler as a badass junkie criminal-turned-missionary freedom fighter, sounds like something that should have been shown at midnight at a seedy ‘70s grindhouse theatre. But in fact, it’s the remarkable true story of Sam Childers, an ex-con who finds God and goes to Africa to help the children of Sudan as a means of atoning for his sins. While there, he gets personally involved in the brutal civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands, defending his charges against the enemy with force and earning his titular nickname. For such an incredible real-life story, the film is fairly straightforward and occasionally bogged down by clichés. The scenes in Sudan are staggering at times, but whenever Childers comes home to the U.S. and deals with his family troubles and his drug-addict best friend, it takes on a movie-of-the-week feel. That said, performances are solid. Gerard Butler can definitely bring the badassery and he’s not terrible at the melodramatic stuff (though I do hope he has gotten past his ill-advised romantic comedy phase). It’s always nice to see the lovely & talented Michelle Monghan, and as usual, Michael Shannon steals every scene he’s in. Not a great movie, but not bad -- and it certainly means well, drawing attention to atrocities that we Americans don’t know nearly enough about. (Would still like to see the grindhouse version, though....)
At last, it was time for the main event. After lingering outside for a few moments to follow the end of the Cardinals-Phillies game on my phone (PHUCK PHILLY!), I headed downtown to the IFC Center for a certain midnight screening. Turns out I wasn’t alone -- there was a line that stretched down the block and I ended up with a not-particularly-choice seat in the second row. There was some pre-show horror film trivia and they gave away the greatest piece of movie swag ever: Official HC2 staple removers. And then, at last, the lights went down and part two of Tom Six’s epic saga began.
Now, let me just say that, despite my enthusiasm and the fact that I themed an entire night of movie-watching around it, I do not think THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE is a particularly great film. But it does have some great elements: Deiter Laser’s memorable performance as the sadistic Mengele-esque mastermind, Dr. Heiter. A wildly original idea. The fact that it is gross and over-the-top without really being gross and over-the-top -- much of its effectiveness is suggestive rather than overly graphic (quite an achievement, considering the subject matter). The mere fact that THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE has so engrained itself into American pop culture suggests that, like it or not, it has earned the right to be considered a modern horror classic in spite of itself.
THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 (FULL SEQUENCE), however, takes things in a completely different direction. Gone is the suggestive horror that straddles the line between subtle and in-your-face. What we have here is sheer, unbridled brutality, senseless slaughter, lingering shots of teeth being bashed in, tattered orifices, gushing blood and splattering feces, all bound together by Tom Six’s own inflated sense of self-importance.
This time, the “mastermind” is a grotesque, obese, sweaty, mentally challenged asthmatic named Martin. Poor Martin has endured a lifetime of sexual, physical and psychological abuse at the hands of his perverted father and homicidal mother, and, naturally, has become obsessed with the original HUMAN CENTIPEDE film. He watches it incessantly, masturbates to it, keeps a scrapbook of photos and diagrams, and, yes, dreams about someday creating a human centipede of his own. To this end, he uses his job as a parking garage night watchman as a means to capture potential centipede segments. He takes his victims to a dingy old warehouse and stores them there, bound, naked and face-down in their own filth. When he finally entices Ashlynn Yennie, the actress from the original film, to come to London (under the pretense that she is to audition for the new Tarantino film -- hilarious)... well, that’s when Martin’s work can begin.
Unlike Dr. Heiter, Martin does not have medical training and surgical supplies -- but he does have a variety of knives, pliers, a hammer, crowbar and staple gun. As Martin works, absolutely nothing is left to the imagination. Shot in stark black-and-white (with one creative use of isolated color, a la SCHINDLER’S LIST) and mostly dialogue-free except for the screams of the victims (in fact, Martin himself never utters a single word), the proceedings range from heinous to horrific to just plain gross. I have no idea where the hell Tom Six found this guy Laurence R. Harvey, but his performance as Martin is utterly insane and arguably more disturbing than that of Dieter Laser.
Honestly, while the original film may be a modern classic and a cult favorite, there is little redeeming value in THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2. Even the desensitized IFC Center midnight audience, who were hooting and hollering at the beginning, were mostly aghast by the end. And yet... Tom Six clearly has something grandiose in mind here. He is, after all, creating his own Cinematic Centipede. What the hell could he possibly have in store for THE FINAL SEQUENCE? All we know is that it will likely be set in the United States. Could we possibly see THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE ACROSS AMERICA? Tens of thousands of people stitched together, anus-to-mouth, from sea to shining sea? God help me, but I’m sure that come 2013, I’ll once again be there at midnight to find out.