Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Things I Learned from Watching the Human Centipede Trilogy Back-to-Back

For anyone who remains blissfully unaware, Tom Six has released a Blu-ray version of the Human Centipede trilogy entitled The Human Centipede (Complete Sequence): Tom Six Edition, which includes all three films stitched together as one long movie. Having previously seen the films in their original forms, I knew the 4.5+ hour epic would include a barrage of crude, offensive events. However, I did not expect that I would come away with an altered perception of the series as a whole.
On the surface, I did not learn anything new or notice much about the films that I was not already aware of (except that Peter Blankenstein appears in all three – that had passed me by). Some of the echoes in dialogue were more apparent when watching the series this way, but these were hardly revelatory. It is also abundantly obvious that Six’s attempts to shock become more overt with each film. Dieter Laser’s contrasting performances bookend that transition.
What did strike me this time around is how effective the three very different aesthetic approaches are when collated into a single run. The first film is coldly clinical; the second is relentlessly dreary and grim; the third is cartoonishly tacky. Regardless of one’s attitude towards these films, it should at least be acknowledged that very few film series are comprised of chapters that boast such wildly contrasting tones. It is certainly one of the only horror series I can bring to mind that prioritises form in this way, embedding those tonal elements in the lighting, cinematography, colour grading, script, performances, effects, and so forth. Arguably Six’s commitment to this formal approach is ultimately detrimental. For example, critics have universally panned the final film, and of the three – taken as stand-alone films – it is by far the weakest. However, given that the Complete Sequence stitches these films mouth-to-anus, it seems only fitting that the “end”, erm, stinks.
The sharp switches between each film are not exactly jarring when watching the series in one sitting, but they do illuminate one another. For a movie about forced coprophagia, the first film feels oddly restrained when juxtaposed with the second and third entries. It is also surprisingly tense at times; Lindsay’s early attempt to escape is a notably well-constructed sequence. The Human Centipede is a better horror movie than its reputation – which is preoccupied with the unusual, shocking premise – would suggest. The second film feels unspeakably bleak when sandwiched between the other two films. Complete Sequence’s second disc offers the opportunity to see the colour version of Human Centipede 2, but it is nowhere near as impactful as the (almost) monochrome version. The grey, rainy, dilapidated industrial environments are aptly drab in black-and-white; the colour version’s augmented palette makes the film much more palatable. Accordingly, juxtaposition with the other two movies – which are colourful, both in the literal and figurative senses – makes the second film feel much more morbid and depressing than it does in isolation. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I found Human Centipede 2 much more upsetting and unsettling when viewed as part of a running trilogy. The third film’s eccentric delivery verges on intolerable when viewed as a stand-alone film, but as part of the whole it is exaggerated enough to seem outrageously amusing, particularly after sitting through Human Centipede 2’s gloomy proceedings.
Moreover, each film embeds echoes of the others’ tones within it; the first two films hint towards the dark, crude humour that is foregrounded in the third part. There are moments of the bloody grotesquery and grave violence that are the second movie’s essence within the bookending films, and so forth.
In order to make the most of these comparisons, Complete Sequence has one further trick up its sleeve. Just as Bill Boss threatens to turn is ‘prison centipede’ into a circular perpetual (bowel) motion machine, the disc cycles without credits. Resultantly, the Complete Sequence can be “enjoyed” in an infinite loop (so, I suppose it is never really “complete” at all).

In sum: for anyone planning on revisiting any of these movies, Complete Sequence is the way to do so. For anyone who has no desire to re-watch these films… fair enough. They certainly are not to everyone’s taste. In fact, “taste” is not Six’s forte. I suspect that he might even be offended at the suggestion.

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