Double Feature: The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009) and The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (2011)

Double Feature - The Human Centipede (Dieter Laser and Laurence R. Harvey)

As provocation, it’s hard to deny the success of Tom Six’s Human Centipede series (which awaits its final segment’s release next year). In a genre defined by mimicry and repetition, the horror concept that launched these films has clearly resonated as a fresh, frightening notion. The idea of a “human centipede,” human victims grafted together in a grotesque succession, was so aberrantly creative (or creatively aberrant) that it launched straight into the pop culture stratosphere, appearing in rap lyrics and countless hacky comedians’ jokes. The film’s iconography has even become a popular tattoo design.

The films themselves are substantially less successful. First Sequence is straightforward and sterile, surgically grafting three hapless individuals together before observing the medical and legal consequences with deadpan matter-of-factness. Its sequel instead wallows in the muck, wading through a mire of blood and shit in search of that perfect, disgusting flesh-beast. Despite their diametrically opposed approach, the films have much in common than the titular human-fusion. Each has the barest semblance of a storyline, and each fails to cohere as a satisfactory document.

They do each have at their centre one redeeming element: the villain. First Sequence is dominated by Dieter Laser’s unforgettable performance as ex-surgeon Dr Heiter, the centipede’s architect. He’s all officiousness and stern cheekbones; a paragon of perceived German superiority. He doesn’t see his victims as humans as much as components. Laser’s take on the material is on just the right side of camp – he’s aware of the silliness of the material but is intimidating nonetheless. He’s about the only reason to watch the film, a sluggishly paced slog through an underwhelming “story.”

Full Sequence casts its lot with the corpulent Martin (Laurence Harvey). Where Dr Heiter represents arch precision, Martin is defined by shoddy crudeness; his “surgical tools” include a rusty breadknife and a hammer. The sequel follows Martin’s attempt to recreate a human centipede after watching the first film; it’s at odds with its stylistic approach, which is more surreal (not to mention gruesome) than its predecessor. There are glimmers of light in the murk – some scenes in Martin’s apartment are reminiscent of Delicatessen – but largely its goal is to simply push the limits of unpleasantness. It’s a film that you endure rather than enjoy.

There’s a real potential for the Human Centipede franchise to exceed its scummy video-nasty trappings and produce a genuinely good film, but that potential remains unrealised.

First Sequence: 89/200
Full Sequence: 80/200

26 thoughts on “Double Feature: The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009) and The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (2011)

    • I dunno, I think there’s potential for it to have a point. I think there’s something to be learned by plumbing the depths of human depravity. Unfortunately they didn’t find anything in either of these films.

  1. I watched the first one thought it wasn’t as bad as everyone had made it out to be – plus it looked good.

    The trailer for the second just made it look like it was going to be disgusting for no reason at all so I never watched it. I’ll keep it at that after reading this : )

    • The first film does have a gorgeous, bright-white-sterile look to it (in stark contrast to the deliberately grubby sequel). It’s not a bad film … it’s just not very good. It rests its laurels on its creepy concept and Laser’s performance without developing a plot or any other interesting characters.

      “Disgusting” is a pretty good way to describe the sequel. It’s probably not as bad as your average shitfest entry, but it’s not great…

    • Eric, the 2nd one was horrendous! I am going to submit part 2 for the next SF, and honestly I think I have a great chance of winning the next one with that submission. It was just awful, in every facet!

      I did like part one, though. I liked the suspense of how the one girl tried to escape and the Dr. was chasing her thru the house; that sequence had me on edge.

      • If you recall, I told you I was going to submit a 2nd entry for SF Fall, and that entry was HC part 2; but then I decided to save it for the next SF. 🙂

      • Yeah b/c I decided to save it for the next contest. I think I can win it with HC2; i think when people see my entry they will be like “Oh yeah I’m voting for this, hands down!” lol.

  2. LOL – I was literally drafting this exact post for these two films………damn you!! I’ll give it a week or so before I post mine 🙂

    I’ll be honest, I really liked the first one, but HATED the sequel. Terrible movie imo.

    • Haha, sorry for stealing your thunder 😉 I’ve actually had this on the backburner for a while, but threw it together last night when I realised I hadn’t done a Double Feature in a while!

  3. Dave, I thought part one was pretty good for reasons I mentioned above, but part 2 was just one of the worst movie experiences I’ve ever had; not a single redeeming quality there. I don’t know how you rated it “80” out of 200 when you offered the first one “89” out of 200. The first one was FAR superior. And as you stated, the first one had an intriguing villain, where as the sequel just had one of the grossest, most nauseating characters I’ve ever seen on-screen. I would rate the sequel a “0”. 🙂

    • See, I liked elements of each film even if I didn’t really like them on balance. The first film had Dieter Laser and I did find the sterile, well-lit approach to such dark material interesting, but I didn’t find any other character compelling and had no interest in the little story their was. With better acting on the part of the victims I might have enjoyed it more, but I couldn’t really relate to them.

      The second film was definitely nauseating, but I felt that a lot of Marvin’s home life was interestingly macabre/surreal. Sure, the film was hopelessly repetitive and the last section was just an ordeal, but there was a sense of artistry to how weird and unreal the scenes set in Marvin’s apartment were (like, the shot of him having dinner with his basically-decapitated mother! Fucked up, but memorable). So that’s where the 80 came from – while I didn’t like it as a film, there were – as I said in the review – “glimmers” in the darkness. Whereas the first film was better made but didn’t have any moments that were quite as resonant. I can totally understand seeing no merit at all in the sequel, though!

      • Yeah, it was the scenes in his apartment that completely ruined the sequel to me – mostly b/c it felt uninspired and created strictly for shock value; shock value only works when it derives organically from the actual story. Shock value alone feels empty and pointless. Which is how the sequel comes across. And then to hear the director say that part 3 is going to make part 2 look like a Disney film, confirms he is only making stuff for shock value, and not story. Too bad no one is going to watch part 3 b/c of how bad part 2 was.

  4. When I first heard of the concept, I was intrigued and a little grossed out. I liked the first centipede movie but never made past the 5 minute mark of the second. Congrats on sitting through that movie! ;P

    • Seems to be the common consensus that people liked the first but hated the second! I was definitely less forgiving of the first and more forgiving of the sequel, but I don’t think either makes a good film. The second one is definitely tough to watch at times – when I saw it with my partner and her sister, we needed to “cleanse” with cute puppy videos on YouTube afterwards!

  5. I have been daring myself to watch these films since they came out. I am sort of intrigued by the concept if, for nothing else, than for morbid curiosity. I’m just not sure if I will ever work up the never to hit the play button for these.

  6. Nice reviews but I’ll just take your word for it on these. 😉 Okay okay – I’m lying! I’ve watched the first one! The shame!!!! (Oh well – who HASN’T seen it. Other than my mother, probably). 🙂

    • Haha, we all have our little cinematic secrets 😀 (I’m not actually sure what mine would be. Perhaps my childhood love of While You Were Sleeping?)

  7. Pingback: Tusk (2014) | ccpopculture

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