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Entries in Human Centipede 3: Final Sequence [2015] (1)

Monday
May252015

The Human Centipede 3: Final Sequence (2015)

Bowel-ing for Dollars

Loving The Human Centipede movies is not a crime, but finding a fellow traveller (especially in "serious" circles) is like playing "Spot the Convict". Three weeks ago, a friend and I came to that iffy crossroads in film chatter when we had to decide just how much fandom of writer/director Tom Six to divulge. There are two steps in determining the flow of this particular conversation--if it even gets off the ground:

Without making eye contact, ask the person you're speaking with if he or she loves The Human Centipede A) ironically or B) genuinely. If the answer is "A", steer the conversation immediately to Avengers: Age of Ultron.*

If "B", relax that nervous smile just a bit. There's one more hurdle to clear, but it's a minor one. Look your companion dead in the eye and ask if they respond more to the films' gross-out factor, or if they appreciate Six as a Warholian prankster--an artist whose ability transcends craftsmanship and rockets over most audience's heads on its way to the stratosphere.

(Don't worry about hyperbole: if your friend answers "B" to the second question, you'll both be giddy as geeks on grades day. If the answer is "A", however, see above but swap out Mad Max: Fury Road for Age of Ultron.)

Luckily, my friend and I were on the same wavelength. It was refreshing (and really strange) to find someone else who enjoys these films and, more importantly, can talk knowledgeably about them. I've written before about my frustration at conversations that begin and end with, "Ugh! I'd never watch those stupid movies!"

In fairness, neither of us had seen The Human Centipede 3: Final Sequence at the time of this mutual confession. Had that been the case, I suspect our enthusiasm would have been greatly tempered by the worm turning on our gonzo genre-hero's filmography. This film, unlike its predecessors, is grotesque in all the wrong ways; a hate-fueled, childish assault on mankind that is as impossible to defend as it is to recommend to even fans of the series. This feels like Tom Six's indignant sign-off to a global, puritanical cabal that he genuinely believes knows who he is and cares what he does. My only surprise at the end of an hour-and-forty-five minute celluloid tantrum was that the writer/director didn't actually kill himself on camera.

On the other hand, it's entirely possible that Final Sequence is the masterful realization of Six's thesis statement, and that it is I who must now look up at the brilliant points soaring far above my head. That said, I'm okay with being left behind on this journey.

The film opens with a climactic scene from the first Human Centipede film, and then transitions to a clip from The Human Centipede 2--which was, of course, key to the sequel's big meta point. We then realize that Part 2 is being watched by the main characters in Part 3, who are played by the principal actors from the first two movies. Dieter Laser is William Boss, the hard-bitten Nazi warden at a Texas penitentiary. Laurence Harvey is his sweaty, nervous accountant, Mr. Butler. Faced with termination due to high recidivism and severe budget problems, Butler proposes that Boss turn the prison population into a 500-person human centipede.

This is, of course, the film's selling point. A horror movie about a mad scientist sewing three people together, ass-to-mouth, in his basement must naturally scale in order to succeed as a franchise. But it takes nearly an hour to even get to the planning stages of this unholy organism, and the road is fraught with a degree of racism, sexism, brutality, and plain bad filmmaking that, frankly, I found offensive; not in sensibility, but in watchability. I'd guess fifteen minutes could have been axed from this thing, had Six chosen alternate takes on Laser's dialogue--ones in which the actor didn't drag out every syllable of every word while screaming at the camera or his co-stars. Early on, I stopped seeing the Boss character as a latter-day Colonel Kurtz, and began wondering if Laser was undergoing some extended trauma flashback.

Of course, when I accuse the film of being poorly made, series novices will jump to, "Well, what did you expect from the third Human Centipede movie?" That's not what I'm talking about. Those who take Six seriously know that he's a filmmaker capable of great restraint and great depravity, both of which are dialed up or down on the whims of a beautiful intellect and capable hand. The first film was all sick premise and dark-humor execution. The second film was a reaction to critical outrage from people who'd heard the premise, skipped the film, and went straight for their keyboards.

Final Sequence is Six nuking the institutions (indeed, the organisms) that make film possible. He eschews realism and orders his actors to do the same;** he revels in graphic material designed to shock people who would never consider watching his movie; and he drags the diehards through a meandering, sun-drenched slog of pointless asides that make solitary confinement sound really attractive.

I'll give Six credit for one inspired shot. Fortunately, IFC Midnight put it in the trailer and promotional materials, so you don't actually have to watch this thing to appreciate the image's context or impact. From the vantage point of the prison-yard wall, we look out on an unconscionably ghastly scene: 500 prisoners (and one beleaguered secretary) forming a "human prison centipede". As with the the premise of Six's series, the idea is disgusting, but there's an underlying dark poetry that one must actually look at in order to understand. The chain forms a surreal tapeworm, fanned out and dried out--with a tiny team of examiners walking its length to see what they can learn from the bizarre parasite. Boss and Butler see prisoners as societal resource-suckers and as the literal excrement that the host must shed in order to survive.

Coupled with Eric Roberts' bemused turn as the Governor,*** and an endearingly offbeat performance by Clayton Rohner as the prison's ethically conflicted head doctor, the centipede money-shot provides exactly two reasons to check the film out--or to look up the highlights on YouTube, a practice I'm loathe to recommend.

But unless nearly two hours of the following can entertain you:

  • Sexual assault
  • Kidney rape
  • Comatose rape
  • Gunshot to a colostomy wound
  • Graphic castration
  • Consumption of fried clitorises (you read that right) accompanied by the line, "Thank God for Africa and thank God for female circumcision!"

...I suggest you stay far, far away from The Human Centipede 3.

The strange thing is, it didn't have to be this way. Buried deep beneath the scatology and attention-desperate ravings are several kernels of brilliant satire. Had Six played the first half of the film totally straight, delivering a measured and artful narrative that in no way tipped its hand to the oddball horrors to come, Final Sequence might have amounted to something--or at least something more. The story takes a turn halfway through that reminded me of the brain-tickling twists in the previous two films. By the same point in Part 3, I'd just about given up. Six undoubtedly has some interesting ideas about prison culture and what it says about society as a whole, but his message is lost in characters and situations that start at 11 and go to 16 as part of what feels like a tired, Bush-era critique of...something or other.

I'm glad I saw the third (and, hopefully, final) chapter so that I can overlook it in the future, with a clean conscious. Tom Six has spent a lot of time, resources, and other people's money to make folks think that he doesn't care about what they say about his art. Sadly, he not only dropped the ball on this film, he deflated it and burned down the stadium--leaving even his most ardent supporters nothing to defend, and providing gleaming, powerful ammunition to his critics. This may not mean much to him, but for we fragile few who gather in coffee shops or online to talk about art we "shouldn't" like, Six has inadvertently (or advertently) sentenced us to eat shit forever. 

*Pro or con, it doesn't matter; the debate will be infinitely briefer and more comfortable.

**When the performer trying their hardest to do something legit with the material is former porn star/former Charlie Sheen "goddess" Bree Olsen, we're dealing with foundation-level issues.

***Roberts and co-star Tommy "Tiny" Lister also appeared in The Dark Knight. The two films have nothing to do with one another aside from this fact--and, possibly, their perfect illustration of filmmaking's beautifully varied spectrum.