10.03.11

The Year’s Grossest Film

'The Human Centipede,' about a mad surgeon who sews together humans in a chain, was one of the sickest films ever. Now there’s a sequel that goes further. Marlow Stern talks to the director and star.

Warning: This interview contains graphic language when describing scenes from the film.

With the exception of A Serbian Film, which depicted baby rape, necrophilia, incest, and a slew of other abhorrent acts, last year’s grossest film was horror-comedy The Human Centipede. Directed by Dutch filmmaker Tom Six, it centered on a crazed German surgeon, Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser), who abducts a trio of tourists and fastens them together mouth-to-anus to create a “human centipede” with one digestive tract. The movie eventually became a cult hit, winning several film-festival awards and even inspiring outrageous memorabilia, as well as a hilarious parody episode of South Park titled “HUMANCENTiPAD,” in which the character Kyle signs an Apple user license agreement without reading it, unwittingly agreeing to be part of a human centipede.

While the first film, which Roger Ebert said “deliberately intended to inspire incredulity, nausea and hopefully outrage,” held back a bit in the gore department, its sequel, The Human Centipede 2, does no such thing. Instead of three “centipeded” people, there are now 12. And this time the work isn’t done by a skilled surgeon, but rather by a mentally disturbed parking-garage employee, Martin (played by Laurence R. Harvey), who is obsessed with the first film. Martin was sexually abused by his father when he was younger (which his mother blames him for), and proceeds to thump his victims over the head with a crowbar and create a lengthier human centipede in a seedy warehouse using rusty tools.

The British Board of Film Classification refused to classify the sequel, effectively banning it in the U.K. Board members criticized the movie for making “little attempt to portray any of the victims … as anything other than objects to be brutalised, degraded and mutilated for the amusement and arousal of the central character, as well as for the pleasure of the audience.”

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Centipede filmmaker Tom Six and star Laurence R. Harvey talk about the scene that was too hot for U.S. censors, whether the procedure is indeed “100 percent medically accurate” as it’s billed in the film, what scares them, and more.

Where did you get the twisted idea for Human Centipede?

Six: It was a joke. I was watching television one day with friends and there was a really nasty child molester on. He was giving interviews, and I said, “They should stitch his mouth to the ass of a fat truckdriver as punishment,” because that would be a good punishment. Everybody was like, “Oh, that’s horrible!” I thought that would be a good, basic idea for a horror film.

And how about the idea that these bodies sewn together have one digestive tract?

Six: I really wanted the idea to be helped by a real surgeon, so I consulted a real Dutch surgeon, and at first he didn’t want to help me, but then he did it anonymously. He wrote me this very detailed operation report. My idea was to just sew the lips to the asshole, but then he said it would rip, so he came up with the idea to do skin grafts out of the butt that are sewn onto the cheeks, so that it would have a firm grip. And he said that if the feces is not attacked by outside bacteria, it just goes from one body to the next. Of course, you would lack nutrition, so if you were given an IV with the right nutrition and fluids, you could live for a long time. It’s 100 percent medically accurate!

There’s more dark comedy to the villain in the first film, this mad scientist, but in the second film Martin is more of a despicable loner.

Six: I really wanted a German surgeon for the first film like Nazi doctors, but his performance was so outstanding I felt I couldn’t top that, so I deliberately went to the opposite end of the spectrum. The doctor is tall and thin, and Martin is very small and very fat. Also, Martin is a loner, mentally challenged, and he has no medical skills at all, which makes it much more scary.

It must have been much easier casting the men and women who were in the human centipede in the sequel.

Six: It was hell casting the first one. “Mom, I went to drama school and this is my first part!” [Laughs] When we did the casting, 70 percent of the actors left immediately when I showed them the drawings, but the smart girls stayed and wanted to know more. All the girls that turned it down are probably crying now!

This movie is about a copycat killer who’s obsessed with the first film. What movies haunt you?

Six: The film that still haunts me is Salo by Pasolini. It has this atmosphere that is so cruel and so sadistic.  
 
That also has an infamous scene where the kids are forced to eat feces, so there’s a connection there with your film.

Six: Yeah! I have trouble watching that film. It’s so insane. I was 15 or 16 when I saw it, and there’s no film I’ve ever seen that can bring me the same emotions as that film. I also like Lars Von Trier. He’s provocative and controversial. I really admire Werner Herzog. Gaspar Noé is a brilliant guy. There are so many. I also love Borat—Sacha Baron Cohen. He’s a genius.

Like the plot of your film, do you think violent films can promote violence in real life?

Six: I think people that are deranged can be influenced by anything. They can see a chair and can go crazy. I think it’s much more likely that a kid will jump off his roof on a broom from seeing a movie like Harry Potter than actually try to create a human centipede. Plus, it’s very hard to do.

Harvey: If people are violent, they’ll maybe hold their gun to the side like Chow Yun-Fat in The Killer to look cool, but I don’t think people directly copy a film and become violent just because of the film. I think they’re already predisposed to violence.

"People think I’m a monster. I’m like a sheep in wolves’ clothes! I couldn’t hurt a mouse!"

You must have seen the hilarious South Park parody of The Human Centipede.

Six: I loved it! When I was out in L.A. and it premiered, I was having dinner, and I left the Chateau Marmont and was chased by TMZ reporters. They wanted to see what I thought about it. It’s also being parodied in the upcoming season of Beavis and Butt-Head.

Your films are often grouped into the “torture porn” category, along with the Hostel and Saw movies. 

Six: I think the phrase “torture porn” is very funny. I like porno movies. I don’t like torture, of course, but I watch Hostel all the time. Maybe “torture porn” with a European art-house tint, or something. [Laughs]

Hitchcock made Psycho in black and white because he thought shooting it in color would be too much for audiences. Is that why you shot the sequel in black and white?

Six: No, not at all. The clinical colors of part one and steady use of the camera really helped that story, and with this one I wanted to flip it. I wanted a dark, dirty film because it helps the story. It’s not really as much about the centipede as it is about the character of Martin. I did a Schindler’s List—whereas they do the little red dress, I did brown diarrhea. It was an ode to Schindler’s List.

So you’re going to do a third film?

Six: Yup, there’s going to be the final sequence, and then I’m fed up with centipedes. You can literally connect the films, so part two started with the end of part one, and part three will begin with the end of part two. So you have one four-and-a-half-hour film. But it’s the final sequence, and it’s going to have a happy ending. Normally I don’t like happy endings, but I’ll do one for the third film. I have something up my sleeve for part three, and there will be references to the other films. It’s going to be pretty crazy.

Have you ever personally witnessed a brutal act of violence?

Six: No. Never. I’m the victim of a very happy childhood, and I’ve never seen anything extreme. People think I’m a monster. I’m like a sheep in wolves’ clothes! I couldn’t hurt a mouse! I just love eating curries. I eat them almost every day. I just enjoy life and write my movies. I don’t have crazy hobbies or collect dirty things.

People must be terrified of you in real life, Tom, and soon will be terrified of you as well, Laurence.

Six: Definitely. Some women are afraid to look at me or talk to me, and some have even said I’m worse than Hitler. And then another guy came up to me after a screening and called me Jesus. But some women have given me dolls stitched together. So how people react is crazy. I got a lot of death threats for part one. 

Harvey: At the Fantastic Fest, where we had the premiere, someone was afraid to come up and shake my hand.

The British Board of Film Classification refused to classify the film, which means it can’t be legally released in the U.K. What did you think about their decision?

Six: First, when I heard it I was screaming from joy because only 11 films have been banned in 99 years, including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The other emotion is anger, of course. How can you say that adults can’t see a film? You can’t ban things anymore! But we use it now in marketing.

Laurence, was there a time when Tom wanted you to do something and you refused?

Harvey: At the first casting, Tom came with the whole film fully formed in his head. There was only one thing that really bothered me, and that was the rape scene.

Six: IFC had to take a few minutes out for the cinema. 

Right. I heard it was a scene where you wrapped barbed wire around yourself and raped the back of the centipede.

Harvey: Yes. I tend to see them as two different things: the barbed wire is about self-abuse, and raping the centipede is more about being a part of the centipede. [Laughs] That was the only scene that bothered me while shooting.

What’s the grossest scene in this film for you guys?

Harvey: I was sort of squeamish about hammering the teeth, because I had some molars in the back that were broken, and because they were broken, the dentist couldn’t just pull them out. She had to go in with pliers and kind of break them up and ended up fishing them out like Martin does in the film. I could just see all this blood coming down and thinking, “Déjà vu?”

Six: The sicker it gets, the more enthusiastic I become. The s--t scene, the rape scene, the baby scene with the head under the pedal of the car—if the audience is horrified, I get enthusiastic.

Harvey: The sign of approval while shooting was Tom yelling, “Oh! That’s so nasty!”

What sort of gore scenes really gross you guys out?

Harvey: Any kind of ocular stuff, like in Un Chien Andalou. Even though you know it’s a pig’s eye, your mind doesn’t read it as that because it cuts so quick.

Six: Nothing in films, but I have a very big fear of hospitals in real life. I can’t watch documentaries where people are operating, drawing blood, cutting you open. People are just cutting you while you’re asleep! Also, planes. I hate going into a plane. When the turbulence starts I can almost cry, because for me that would be the worst way to die. You’re screaming, there’s screaming all around you, and you know what’s going to happen for minutes.

Harvey: Things like bungee-jumping or skydiving scare me, but not because of the height. It’s the height at the end that I find the scariest. I get dizzy even on chairs sometimes.

Speaking of chairs, I read that Tom had you rape one during your audition.

Harvey: He wanted me to do the rape scene, and because I come from a systemic performance-art background, and you take an object and find different ways to use it, I thought that I needed something about that high to imitate the rape, since it’s on a centipede, so I flipped a chair over and then I went for it.

Six: It was pretty impressive! He did it with glory, so I thought, “This is my man.”

The human centipede itself is also about degradation. Have either of you guys ever felt humiliated or dehumanized?

Six: No, never.

Harvey: I’d like to be! [Laughs]