So the BBFC have banned Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence. It’s very rare for them to refuse a certificate outright – it’s usually a matter of a few cuts, often to achieve a lower certificate. But this time it’s a flat no. Nobody in the UK will be able to watch the film legally. And my first thought was: Oh, thank fuck for that.
This disturbed me a bit, because I think of myself as being someone opposed to censorship of this nature. Certification, sure, making it clear that some material isn’t suitable for children – don’t have a problem with that. But telling adults that they aren’t grown up enough to watch a film, one that consists of a made up story performed by actors in the process of which nobody was hurt? That’s just not on.
My feeling was always that you’re either against censorship or you’re not. It’s no good being against it until you run into something you personally find offensive; that’s easy. It’s arguing for the right of people to watch (or read, or hear) material that turns your stomach that’s the challenge. And I used to be able to do that; I’ve no desire to see I Spit On Your Grave, for example (either the original or the recent-ish remake) but I’m happy to accept the makers’ assurances that its not intended as porn for rape fantasists and allow it to be seen by consenting grown ups. Years ago, I went to see Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer partly because of the trouble it had getting a UK certificate. More recently, I went to a screening of Last House on the Left at the ICA, aware that it might be my only chance to see it (it’s since been released uncut on DVD). It was horrible, but given the subject matter it should be.
This was partly because my interest in film started forming at around the time when a fair few of the films I would have liked to see were banned. I hadn’t really noticed the Video Nasties furore, which led to the passing of the 1984 Video Recordings Act; I was just a couple of years too young to take an interest. I only really found out about it a few years later, when I picked up a copy of Martin Barker’s book The Video Nasties: Freedom and Censorship in the Media. This was how I discovered the reasons why I wasn’t allowed to see (among others) The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or The Exorcist.
I was particularly suspicious because of the sort of people who were making these decisions for me; they seemed to be ghastly Bible-bashers of the James Anderton variety, or hysterical ‘think of the children’ types. None of them seemed to speak for me, or have any grasp of the kind of films I was interested in.
But Human Centipede 2 is something else. It’s partly because I’m getting older; unrelenting misery and nihilism just doesn’t seem as clever to me as it did when I was a sixth former. Call me a big old softy, but I like a happy ending, or at least a glimmer of hope (which is why I still enjoy the Saw films: Jigsaw’s trying to help those people, not kill them!). I found Human Centipede 1 to be a thoroughly repugnant film, one that depressed me just by existing. Yet it’s apparently a picnic compared to the follow up, which the BBFC press release tells us “Unlike the first film, the sequel presents graphic images of sexual violence, forced defecation, and mutilation, and the viewer is invited to witness events from the perspective of the protagonist. Whereas in the first film the ‘centipede’ idea is presented as a revolting medical experiment, with the focus on whether the victims will be able to escape, this sequel presents the ‘centipede’ idea as the object of the protagonist’s depraved sexual fantasy.”
I certainly won’t lose any sleep from being denied the opportunity to see that. But looking at the extended plot description, I can’t help wondering if there isn’t something more going on here than the desire to shock. The BBFC release tells us the story is about “a man who becomes sexually obsessed with a DVD recording of the first film and who imagines putting the ‘centipede’ idea into practice… [there is] a scene early in the film in which he masturbates whilst he watches a DVD of the original Human Centipede film, with sandpaper wrapped around his penis, and a sequence later in the film in which he becomes aroused at the sight of the members of the ‘centipede’ being forced to defecate into one another’s mouths, culminating in sight of the man wrapping barbed wire around his penis and raping the woman at the rear of the ‘centipede’…”
What’s interesting is that the first film is here presented as a fictional work, and the villain is one of its viewers. It’s worth asking what director Tom Six is up to. Is he simply looking for a way to outdo the first film, or is he deliberately asking viewers to identify with his lead character? If so – if he has switched to making his torturer into the viewer’s point of identification, something you couldn’t say of the first film – is he implicating the people who watched and enjoyed his previous work?
From this perspective, Human Centipede 2 sounds closer to something like Michael Haneke’s Funny Games than anything else. Maybe he’s telling us that anyone who enjoyed the first film must be sick in the head. In that case, perhaps he’d agree with the BBFC’s ban.
The public mood changes over the years; many of the formerly banned video nasties have re-emerged uncut on DVD. Some can still shock, but in many cases you would wonder what all the fuss was about. Maybe the same thing will happen to Human Centipede 2; it’s hard to say, as I’m not allowed to see it. Perhaps I’d better keep an eye out for downloadable versions. That, or just shrug it off and accept that I’ve started to turn into a Tory.