It has to be said that as an avid horror fan, I often get questions from friends and colleagues who are a little less initiated into the genre about films of particular notoriety. The kind of films that torment the gag reflex of more timid watchers. Controversial gross out films. In recent years the main offender is The Human Centipede. Usually just First Sequence, but you do get the occasional follow up question about the second and maybe even the long awaited third film. All seasoned horror fans know the main question about this film franchise; Why would you watch that (It’s disgusting!)?
I never fully understood why people were so offended by the first Human Centipede film. I understand that it has a particularly grim premise and few outside of certain fetish circles find the idea of human feces entering human mouths anything other than unpleasant. However nothing like that is shown in any level of excruciating detail. The Human Centipede relies more on facial expressions, crying eyes, than anything close to human waste. It uses the age old technique of “Less is more” and lets the audience fill in their own wretch-inducing blanks. Sure Tom Six ramped it up for the sequel, but the first film set the bar.
That still doesn’t really answer that original question. Just because it doesn’t offend me, doesn’t mean I should watch it. The reason that the majority watch it is due to our morbid curiosity. The freak show mentality.
I ain’t never seen anything like that before!
When I first watched The Human Centipede, all hyped up by the squeals of controversy, I have to admit I wasn’t the biggest fan. It wasn’t due to the sick material on the screen but because of what lead up to that point. How you get your characters into that horrifying scenario counts for a lot in my book and I didn’t think this film had it. Lindsay and Jenny had to make a series of blundering mistakes to even arrive at Dr Heiter’s door. I’ve ranted too many times about their lack of logic. Driving to a club? From the city to the country? Don’t even try to fix the car? Walk through the woods rather than by the side of the road? Accepting drinks from strangers? By the end of the first 20 minutes, I’ve become entirely unsympathetic towards the pair.
It’s a common occurrence in horror plots to make the characters easy to hate. We want to see bad things happen to them and we often have our blood lust satisfied. This transaction of sadism comes at a cost, and the cost is usually how scary the film is. We’re not terrified by the horrors unfolding in front of our eyes, we’re begging for them. We need our next fix and each fix of ultra-violence is a little less potent each time. This is the biggest problem with shock-orientated movies.
Moving away from Tom Six’s notorious franchise, another legendary master of shock is Japan’s Takashi Miike. Famous for films including Audition and Ichi the Killer, he has a knack for bringing extreme and often perverse imagery to the big screen. However the film I’d like to talk about is 2001’s Visitor Q. Visitor Q has scenes of incest, rape, necrophilia, lactation fetish, as well as frequent violence. Many times these are used from comedic purposes. It ends up not being very big or clever and I felt rather disappointed by Visitor Q. I just wasn’t shocked by it.
A film that did shock me was 2011’s The Woman by director Lucky McKee. I remember seeing it at Fright Fest in London that year and just being left gob-smacked as the credits rolled. There’s some gruesome acts of torture and abuse in that film, not in such frequency as Visitor Q, but it’s all in the film’s delivery. The introduction of the characters and their development from happy family to victims of a maniac really attack you. It left me feeling distraught and it had been a long time since any film made me feel so strongly. McKee made it feel real and that’s what made it shocking. It gave me a strong fix.
The reason we watch films like The Human Centipede isn’t because we WANT to be grossed out. It’s to see if we still can be. It’s to try and blow away those jaded Been There Done That feelings. We want to transcend to more masochistic pleasures, and sadistically show it to our friends. Plus the third Centipede film is promising a 500 person centipede, of course I’m watching it!