“This is exactly what America needs.” - Bill Boss, The Human Centipede III
Few movies have disgusted as many people as the Human Centipede movies. The concept alone has irked people in the same way as the word “moist.” The movies are about people being sewn together, mouth to anus. This concept is bound to make people’s tummies turn. It is not the most pleasant thing to imagine, nor is it the most pleasant thing to witness. I don’t know from first-hand experience. I don’t know anyone who would sew people together like this. The closest that I have come to seeing it is watching the movies, where people spend long periods of time with their noses between someone else’s butt cheeks.
The Human Centipede (First Sequence) came out in 2009. Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie) were two young women vacationing in Europe. When their car broke down on an isolated country road, they went on a desperate search for help. They came across a house owned by Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser). Asking for his help would be the biggest mistake of their lives. He drugged the two women and began to use them in a personal experiment to create the world’s first human centipede.
The first installment in the franchise was not a completely bad movie. It used a fairly simple horror story structure where some characters ended up trapped in a location and tried to escape. This structure has been used throughout horror history, from books like Misery to movies like 10 Cloverfield Lane. This blueprint for a horror story is dependable. It puts a lot of focus on the characters, allowing them to shine in ways that aren’t possible with a bigger scope or a bigger cast. That’s the strength of The Human Centipede. Investment in the characters is at an all-time high for the franchise. Especially since the focus is on the characters that end up in the centipede. The villain is not the protagonist. This aspect would disappear in the later installments.
What hurt the movie was the concept itself. Sewing people together ass to mouth is a ludicrous idea. There won’t be a large audience for something like that. As soon as people hear what the concept is, at least half of them will bow out. Only weird people like myself would be interested in watching a movie based on this idea. Even fewer weird people would move onto the sequel.
The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) came out in 2011. Martin (Laurence R. Harvey) was a mentally unstable man who decided to make a human centipede of his own. He kidnapped people from the parking garage where he worked and took them to an empty warehouse or someplace like that. He then stripped them down and got them ready for an amateur surgical operation that would turn them into a twelve or so person human centipede.
There are few redeeming qualities in The Human Centipede II. The movie was director Tom Six lashing out at his fanbase with extreme violence, gore, and disgusting imagery that wasn’t as prevalent in the first movie. The storyline had an amateur feel. Along with that came a dirtier look at the situation. There was no longer the clean, professional surgical condition of the first movie. Instead of anesthetic, the people were knocked out with a crow bar. There was more blood, more people, and more death.
The Human Centipede III (Final Sequence) came out in 2015. Bill Boss (Dieter Laser) was the warden of a prison where the inmates did not respect the people in charge. He wanted to change this and make them listen obey his every command. He also wanted to keep his job. Governor Hughes (Eric Roberts) saw Bill Boss as an embarrassment and was going to get rid of him unless his prison improved. Bill’s accountant Dwight Butler (Laurence R. Harvey) thought that the right way to go about this would be to create a human centipede from the various inmates.
Though not as dirty as the second installment in the franchise, The Human Centipede III was still filled with disgusting moments. That aspect was actually overshadowed by how insane Dieter Laser got with his performance. Bill Boss was an unhinged character pushed to the extreme through Laser’s portrayal. He screamed nonsense and did maniacal things to the prisoners. It wasn’t a good performance, but it was a unique performance.
As a whole, The Human Centipede is not a good franchise. The sequels barely had stories. They were compilations of disturbing imagery. It worked in some cases and didn’t in others. Each movie brought more people into the centipede, trying to astonish with the growing length. From three to twelvish to an entire population of a prison, the centipede kept getting longer as the series progressed. The movies were no longer about the characters in the centipede. They became movies about putting the centipede together. They were outlandish scenes with outlandish characters. The reputation of the original movie was shat upon. Pun fully intended.
One thing that has been left out of the description thus far is the most interesting thing about the Human Centipede sequels. They switched the focus from the characters to the grotesque nature of what is happening, yes. That is already written about. But the aspect of the sequels that has been neglected is how they delved into meta humour. The movies got very self-referential.
The meta commentary in the franchise began at the start of The Human Centipede II. Martin was obsessed with the initial movie in the franchise. He watched it repeatedly while at work and had a scrapbook of pictures and stuff from the movie. It inspired him to make a human centipede of his own, only he didn’t have the medical expertise of Dr. Heiter. But wait! There was more meta stuff. At one point, Martin arranged for one of the actresses from the first movie, Ashlynn Yennie, to meet with him. He kidnapped her and added her to his human centipede. In the reality of The Human Centipede II, there was a movie made called The Human Centipede, and one of the actresses who was in that movie was now a part of the new human centipede. That’s how meta it got.
The Human Centipede III went farther with its meta stuff. The movie once again began with the main character watching the previous installments. He mentioned how bad the movies were and made note that his accountant looked like the main character from the second movie. It was the same actor. Later in the movie, Bill Boss showed the inmates of the prison the two previous Human Centipede movies. They shouted out insults about the movies. The insults were excerpts from real reviews. Finally, when Bill Boss and Dwight Butler decided to make the human centipede, they consulted the director of the movies. Tom Six was in The Human Centipede III as Tom Six. He helped Bill Boss to realize the human centipede. That’s a lot of self-referencing for one movie.
Meta humour has become a large factor for modern comedy. There are countless examples of meta concepts at play in different comedies. On television, shows like Community (Rest in peace, Community. You certainly didn’t get it when you were alive.) have been referencing themselves and breaking the fourth wall to the joy of viewers. The show was laced in different movie styles and specifics, creating its own world as an amalgamation of these different genres. The whole time, they were making sure to have characters point it out or be a part of causing the references without them being too direct. Movies like The Final Girls have managed to capture a similar feel. It had characters experience life in a horror movie that they had seen many times before. They were breaking the fourth wall of that movie within the movie in order to survive.
What is it about self-referential ideas that gets people interested? Why do audiences like this kind of stuff? There are two main reasons for it. One is that audiences might relate to what the characters are saying and doing. In the case of The Human Centipede III, the audience can understand how Bill Boss would think that the other movies are trash. They would be understanding of the prison inmates’ reactions. But they’re also an audience who enjoyed the first two movies enough to watch a third. They appreciate references to the other movies like the Tom Nix role and the two villains from the previous movies being the villains in the third. That plays into the second part of meta concepts as well.
Nostalgia can go a long way in getting people to enjoy something. Previous posts have touched upon that. Movies like The Final Girls (which is a great movie, by the way) manage to take their meta humour down a nostalgic route. The movie within a movie is a horror movie very reminiscent to a Friday the 13th movie. It allows the screenwriters to put characters into situations where their knowledge movies will be of use. The audience who loved those movies know the same tropes as the characters and feel a better connection the tropes are used to the characters’ advantage.
Meta concepts are still a large part of movies and television. The Human Centipede III came out last year. It doesn’t look like this style will be leaving us any time soon. That doesn’t seem like a problem. There is a space in entertainment for it. Not every case in which meta humour is used is good though. The Human Centipede movies aren’t necessarily the best example. They were must watches for a person like me, but they aren’t great movies.
Something a little better than those two movies is this list of notes:
- I mentioned Friday the 13th in this post. I’ve covered two Friday the 13th movies. They were Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, and Jason Goes to Hell.
- Peter Blankenstein and Dieter Laser were both in all three Human Centipede movies, though Dieter Laser was only in the second through archive footage.
- Ashlynn Yennie was in The Human Centipede and The Human Centipede II.
- Akihiro Kitamura was in The Human Centipede and The Human Centipede III.
- Laurence R. Harvey and Bill Hutchens were in The Human Centipede II and The Human Centipede III.
- Eric Roberts made his third Sunday “Bad” Movies appearance in The Human Centipede III. He was previously in A Talking Cat!?! and Chicks Dig Gay Guys.
- Robert LaSardo also made his third Sunday “Bad” Movies appearance in The Human Centipede III. He was in Death Race and Drop Zone.
- Finally, Christian O’Brien made a second Sunday “Bad” Movies appearance in The Human Centipede, after being featured in Bermuda Tentacles.
- Have you seen The Human Centipede or its sequels? What did you think of them? What are your thoughts about self-referential movies and meta humour? You can use the comments below to discuss anything in this post.
- Are there movies that you think I should watch for the Sunday “Bad” Movies? You can let me know about the movies in the comments or on Twitter. I like suggestions.
- If you want to see me put up clips of bad movies that I watch, find me on snapchat. My username is jurassicgriffin.
- Next week, the movie is going to be Captain America. I’m not going to be watching The First Avenger. This is the Captain America movie from 1990. Captain America: Civil War came out a couple days ago, so this is tying nicely into that. I’ll see you next week for whatever I write about the movie.