Tom Six, wearing his trademark white cowboy hat, sat down with me recently to discuss the disturbing sequel to his body horror film The Human Centipede. Premiering at Austin’s weird and wacky genre film fest Fantastic Fest, The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence not only out-grosses the original film, but stands out as one of the most deranged movies I’ve ever watched.
Many people question why the Dutch filmmaker first decided to make a movie about a creepy German doctor who makes his dreams of a human centipede come to life, surgically attaching three victims together mouth to ass so they share one gastrointestinal system. Whatever his reasons (and they will be revealed…read on!) The Human Centipede made quite a splash when it premiered at Fantastic Fest a few years ago, and has since earned something of a cult following.
Now audiences get a sickening sequel so depraved and sadistic that it makes the original look like a Disney movie (sound familiar? Six used that comparison himself). Not only did I get the chance to ask Six if he harbors a poop-eating fetish, but I learned a little something about the planned “third segment” aka The Human Centipede 3. While Six kept most of the details under wraps, he did say the third installment will be filmed and set in America. Yikes.
Here’s the interview with writer/director Six, who was accompanied by the creepy-looking (but surprisingly verbose) star of the film Laurence Harvey.
We Got This Covered: So, the movie was disturbing for me. I had to hide my eyes a lot. Right off the bat, what do you want people to take from this film? And what reactions would surprise you? What were you going for with the “reveal everything” approach?
Tom Six: Yeah sure, no, when I was writing the first script…I had so many ideas I couldn’t put them all in the first film. And I wanted to make the first film psychological. So I wanted to get the audience used to the sick idea first, then go full force in the second one. Yeah, exactly. Then what happened, a lot of fans of the first film thought “ah, this is for sissies…you don’t see anything,” and now I really shoved them in, in the second one.
WGTC: So you were planning a sequel from the beginning?
TS: Yeah, definitely…a trilogy.
WGTC: So what does that mean for the third one? I mean, how can you outdo the second one?
TS: I’m not talking about outdoing. It’s just a completely different film again. And I approach things from a different angle. Some people find the psychological stuff more disturbing. Others the second one. And for the third one I have some horrible stuff up my sleeve of course…you can imagine…but outdoing myself is not really my goal.
WGTC: So the third one…you’re not revealing anything about that?
TS: I can say that the beginning starts with the ending of part two, like I did between one and two. So it’s going to be one big film of four and half hours…like a centipede.
WGTC: So the self-referential qualities of the second one, I mean it’s a man watching the first film…is the third one going to be a man watching the second one watching the first one?
TS: Yeah, it’s the same. Everything’s a movie, you see, eh? So I say part one is a movie in part two, but part two is also a movie, of course. So yeah, it kind of works a little bit like that system.
WGTC: What inspired this? How did you come up with this concept, the history of it? Are you a fetishist in any way?
TS: No…I was with friends one evening and there was a really nasty child molester on television. It was very disturbing. And I said ‘they should stitch his mouth to the ass of a very fat truck driver as a punishment,’ that is a good punishment…?
WGTC: That is a good punishment.
TS: Oh my God, it’s horrible! And I myself thought ‘ahh, that’s the most disgusting thing that can happen to you,’ but I also thought it made a great idea for a horror movie. And that’s how it all started. I started writing, and came up with this Nazi-like doctor, and it just grew and grew, and before you know it we’re here.
WGTC: And when you first came up with the concept, how did you go about pitching that? I mean, it’s an extreme idea even for a horror movie.
TS: Well, I left out the words ‘mouth to anus’ of course…it was about a surgeon who stitches people together and you know they like that…it’s original…we’ve not seen that much.
Laurence Harvey: Yeah if you leave out the ‘mouth to anus’… it’s a traditional kind of mad doctor thing. A traditional Boris Karloff mad scientist.
TS: And I said ok, and we did three films in Holland…and they were kind of happy about that, and because the film got so successful I also got the financing for the second part. So I had to kind of trick myself a little bit for the first one.
WGTC: And you told the financers that it’s going to be a trilogy, so you’re already set for the third?
TS: Yeah, they are already very enthusiastic for the third one as well.
WGTC: How do you feel about the horror genre? Is that a film genre you want to continue working in?
TS: I’m a movie lover, so I like horror, comedies, dramas. For myself, I love to make films that cause a little controversy. I’m a guy like that…that for me is where all the fun is, that people get a strong reaction from films. But in Holland I made three dark comedies, and I also see The Human Centipedes as dark comedies. It’s for the viewers if they see the humor in them or not.
WGTC: So you want the audience to laugh a little bit?
TS: Yeah, it’s my way of thinking. So when I’m writing, I’m not deliberately writing a comedy, it’s just some situations are comical because you feel awkward watching shitting scenes and stuff. But at the same time they’re funny, for me they’re funny.
WGTC: Well, fart jokes…you know…
LH: Yeah yeah…But I think there’s a point where you stop laughing.
WGTC: Yeah…the parts where I was hiding my eyes.
LH: Well in the UK it’s traditional for kids to hide behind the sofa when Doctor Who is on. But there’s nothing like that for adults.
WGTC: Doctor Who…did you just make a comparison between this film and Doctor Who?
LH: Yeah, well it has to do with a doctor…
WGTC: So I’m interested in how you draw your villains. In the first one it was Dieter playing this crazed German doctor, and in the second one it was the very bizarre Martin…both extremely different, I mean obviously both sick, but how do you come up with your villain caricatures, and what are you thinking for the third one?
TS: Well, when I had the centipede idea I wanted to have a surgeon doing the operations, of course, so I immediately thought about the notorious Nazi doctors from WWII. If you were operated on by them, you were…oh it was the most horrific thing I could imagine.
So I wanted a German actor. And I scouted the internet and everything, and I came up with Dieter. And when I met him I thought he was brilliant for the role. He had never acted in a horror film, just dramatic pieces.
And then, for the second film, I didn’t want to have a copy of the doctor. They do that all the time, have a guy in the sequel that’s similar…no, I wanted to have the complete opposite. Dieter is long and thin…
LH: …and I’m fat, is that what you’re saying?
TS: Short and fat. Sorry Laurence. Yeah, but…
WGTC: So you were trying to get very physical differences?
LH: But it’s also that the characters are opposite as well. Both the height and…the doctor was kind of powerful middle class elite, and Martin is kind of a lowly…lower working class pathetic character, who’s abused by everyone around him. He’s completely powerless.
WGTC: So for casting…the look of Dieter and the look of Martin, they’re noticeable without even throwing in dialogue or putting them into characters. Were you looking for a very noticeable physical look?
TS: Oh absolutely. I cast for a really specific face in mind, that really can radiate on screen. That’s the kind of actors I love.
LH: But I think that all the actors in this film, they all have great physiognomy. Even the women, they’re beautiful but they’re not kind of conventionally featured. They’re all really kind of interesting.
TS: Yes, I’m really looking for that…
WGTC: So you’ve had tall and thin, and you’ve had shorter and stouter; so what can you do now for the third?
TS: No, the film is going to be phenomenal again. I’ve finished the script, and I’m going to start shooting next year in America. It’s going to be a totally different film again, like one and two, and I really have some cool things up my sleeves. It’s going to be, again, hopefully terrific characters.
WGTC: Tell me this, will I have to hide my eyes for the third one?
TS: Oh definitely, definitely…yep, you’ll have to suffer again.
WGTC: Tell me about the choice to play it in black and white?
TS: Part one is very clinical, the colors and everything, the camera work…it all fits well with that story. With Martin, I really wanted a dark feeling, like it’s all gross, it’s hand-held, and I love the black a white. It gives it a really uncomfortable feeling when you watch the film.
LH: It’s also some of the aspects of the character that I’ve tried to work on, in order to get…it hits the ground running with him kind of attacking somebody in the first ten minutes…I wanted to kind of develop some sympathy for the character so I tried to kind of play it kind of like Buster Keaton. Not quite slap stick, but kind of dead pan comedy. And I think the black and white helps to bring out that humor and that resonance.
WGTC: Are you going to release this film in color on DVD or blu-ray?
TS: Not in many years…
WGTC: How did you prepare to play Martin? What did you bring to that role?
LH: I am Martin! No, when I first met Tom on this character, it was like ‘so he lives with his mom’…I’m thinking at the moment I live with my parents! The housing situation was not out of choice, not out of choice! Just a money thing…but when you’re back at your parents they always kind of treat you like you’re still a little child. So I was just thinking about that.
And we wanted, kind of, there to be something developmentally retarded about Martin. But I didn’t want to make him a kind of…it to be a learning difficulty or a specific kind of mental illness. I thought it more like…I wanted to move away from any kind of defined mental condition.
And it to be more like in Bad Boy Bubby where his view of the world is created by his parents. And Martin’s view of the world is created by these very abusive parents, and the people around him. Which has kind of stripped away all of his confidence, or his ability to engage socially with people, or really to engage with his own emotions.
So whilst we were filming I was staying at a friend’s house and they just have two one-year-old boys. So I was watching the boys, and the way boys that age kind of try on an emotion…So we kind of thought Martin should be like that instead. Kind of developmentally retarded. If he had grown up with love and understanding and had confidence to go out into the world maybe he would be normal. Maybe not the smartest person in the world but…
WGTC: And how was it having so little dialogue. Was that difficult?
LH: No, I knew from the start that it was a movie without that much dialogue. Uh, originally it was just the character quoting Dr. Heiter because of his obsession with the first film. And he quotes Dr. Heiter to build his own confidence. But the next time I saw Tom…oh when we were doing casting I just forgot to speak. So the next time I saw Tom he said ‘right, I’m going to take all the lines out’.
TS: Laurence has such an amazing screen presence. You can put a camera on him and you can watch him for a long time without him saying anything. And not many actors can carry a whole film without talking. Only the best, eh?
WGTC: Was the scene composition difficult on this one since you were revealing everything, where on the first one you were reserved in how you attacked and approached scenes?
LH: It’s more of taking up…idea of the person’s perspective of the film, and showing the absurdity of that. The violence is kind of over the top and messy and gory because it’s the absurdity of the situation, so it needs to be that kind of messy and horrible.
TS: Absolutely, absolutely.
WGTC: And what about the sexual elements? Because in the first one it’s not out in the open, though there may be an element of that.
TS: It’s very cool that you say that. So many people come up to me and say ‘why didn’t Dr. Heiter have sex with the centipede?’. Yes, of course, this doctor he hates human beings and he would never ever ever touch the centipede in a sexual way. But the audience was thinking about that…so maybe the audience even preferred it more than me at that point.
In the second one, I really wanted to have this. Because the audience is thinking it, and now I wanted to show it as well. And it really fits with the character as well. Not in a sexual way, but in a dominating way.
LH: Yeah, but Martin doesn’t have sex with it…he rapes the centipede in order to get some power and dominance over it. That’s something in his life and that’s the only thing that he has power and dominance over it. It’s also his way of joining the centipede.
WGTC: Why the barbed wire?
TS: That has to do with…when mentally handicapped people are sexually abused, also normal people, a lot of women become prostitutes and they go into S&M clubs…they really search for the pain. It’s the same with the character of Martin; when he has sex he needs the pain to get the satisfaction.
LH: But I think that’s about his disconnectedness with his own emotions. When he is this kind of pre-adolescent that experiences adult’s longings and desires and hasn’t really connected in any proper way…it’s more informed by the abuse he’s suffered as a child. But that’s the prism through which he views things. So I think the sexual abuse is towards himself and his inability toward his emotions and his desires.
That concludes our interview with Tom Six and Laurence Harvey, we’d like to thank them for talking to us.
The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence hits theaters in a limited release on October 7th.