When it came out last year, the first Human Centipede film generated a huge amount of publicity due to its original, if disgusting, central idea. Within weeks of its release there were countless articles, analyses and jokes about the film – there was even a South Park episode parodying it. In spite of its place in the public consciousness however, relatively few people actually watched the film.
Consequently, when the inevitable sequel, Human Centipede 2 was announced, it initially didn’t make much of a splash outside of our film fanatic community. Even in the run up to the film’s planned straight-to-DVD release this summer, it wasn’t getting more coverage than any similar cult horror film.
And then, in June, the British Board of Film Classification ‘banned’* it, causing every news outlet in the country, and many more around the world to suddenly take an interest in the movie. We were no exception, reporting “The BBFC have denied The Human Centipede sequel a certificate on the outrageous grounds that it’s too “sexually violent and potentially obscene””.
With the film finally out in the UK, we decided that it was the perfect time for us to do some digging, and try to understand what it was that so offended the BBFC initially, and what persuaded them to finally change their minds. In the interest of balance, we also spoke to Tom Six and Laurence R. Harvey, respectively the director and star of Human Centipede 2.
In their statement on the refusal to give the film a rating, the BBFC stated, ‘There is little attempt to portray any of the victims in the film 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.’ Tom Six didn’t mince his words in response to this, ‘That’s total bullshit! You can see in the film that Martin is bullied. Everybody is nasty to him, and I didn’t want to create characters who were friendly. In the first film it was very visible who was good and bad: the girls were sweet, the doctor is bad. This film, everybody – the victims of the centipede – is nasty to [Martin]. The thing is, what makes people angry, maybe at the BBFC as well, is that, here is this guy who is bullied, doing those perverse acts, so as an audience you are very confused, because you sort of like the character a bit.’
Lawrence R. Harvey, who played ‘Martin’, the protagonist of the film has equally strong views on the matter, ‘I think the audience has sympathy for Martin, but then he takes things too far… The violence isn’t for sexual pleasure. Martin is a character without power, who is being abused by everyone around him – his family, people at work and so on. In order to change that thing, he focuses on a powerful figure of Doctor Heiter, from the first film, and then it’s Doctor Heiter’s imagination in creating the Human Centipede that Martin finds fascinating. It’s the power of the imagination, and the status that is conferred on Doctor Heiter by that, that Martin then tries to emulate and focus upon. So Martin kind of sees that if his human centipede in his imagination can be realised, he would be powerful, and he would have status in society.’
AN OBSCENE PUBLICATION
When they refused to classify the film the BBFC stated ‘The BBFC also seeks to avoid classifying material that may be in breach of UK law, including works that may be potentially obscene under the Obscene Publications Acts 1959 and 1964’. Once more, Six was candid in his response ‘In my opinion this is crazy. My God people, this is a movie. It’s not real. It’s actors going to work, having a great time, and it’s your own choice whether to read a book, watch a film or see a work of art… All those fancy words should be applied to real life situations, real people getting murdered and those images being shown to the public, not to art. Make believe. It’s a fairy tale, nothing more than that.’
We asked the BBFC to clarify their position. Craig Lapper, a senior examiner for the organisation responded, ‘We had sufficient concerns about Human Centipede Part 2 to consider there was a risk that it might be found obscene in its complete version. However, that was very much a secondary concern and our main concern was potential harm, as set out in the Video Recordings Act. We also had regard to the likely acceptability, or otherwise, to the public of the material in the work.’
HUMOUR, SATIRE AND IMITABLE VIOLENCE
Like the first Human Centipede film, the sequel isn’t a straight horror. Instead it comes across as something of a satire on the ‘Torture Porn’ genre, as well as a direct swipe at those who believe on screen violence leads to real life re-enactments – something hinted at by the BBFC’s statement and their subsequent press release. When asked to clarify how these elements affected the BBFC’s refusal to classify the film, Lapper explained to us, ‘If a film goes that far in terms of satirising extreme violence, there’s always the risk it will fall into the same trap as the material it’s attempting to satirise. I’m afraid that’s what we felt had happened with HC2…
‘It seemed to us that the film could be read in a variety of ways, as many films can be. However, we also felt the film went to such extremes that it breached the Classification Guidelines and posed a real, as opposed to a fanciful, risk of harm to potential viewers within the terms of the Video Recordings Act 1984 and may have been in breach of the Obscene Publications Acts 1959 and 1964’.
Unsurprisingly, Six disagreed, ‘It has a lot of black humour in it, and [the BBFC’s commentary] says it was about sexual obsession by the main character, and I think that’s not true. It’s not a sexual film. Of course there are elements in it, but that’s not what the story is about, and everybody was thinking it’s about this sex crazed maniac or something. I’m very glad if people see the film now, they see a whole different film than the BBFC gave in their report.’
Harvey also had some thoughts on the matter, likening it to Japanese cinema, ‘It was very misleading. The film’s about a powerless man looking to a powerful figure, and then emulating that powerful figure in order to get power, and he does that ineffectually because he doesn’t have the training and because he’s incompetent himself. So there is that humour element in that, but also it’s more in keeping with the Japanese horror film tradition of the lone dove syndrome films, where somebody who is picked upon takes revenge in an excessive way, and that then comments on the whole thing. It’s that, and also a satire of the tabloid image of somebody copying a violent film.’
PROTECTING MINORS AND THE MERITS OF BANNING A FILM IN THE 21ST CENTURY
In light of the incredible level of real-life violence shown on TV, and the relative ease with which anyone – no matter how old – can obtain an illegal copy of a ‘banned’ film, Six believes the BBFC’s decision was futile, even suggesting that any rating system is somewhat pointless, ‘Now children can go onto the internet and see the most disgusting stuff for real – sex with animals, the Gaddafi murder, children see all those images, and they’re real things, so they should ban the entire internet maybe. If children see a film, they know it’s a film and they’re excited about watching it, but on the news they see way more disturbing things than this.’
While Six’s suggestion may be a little overboard, he clearly has a point, even if it’s not one the BBFC agree with, as Lapper explains, ‘The fact that rules and regulations can be circumvented is not in itself a good enough reason for laying aside any form of regulation. Determined people have always been able to get around BBFC restrictions if they wish to do so. In the 1960s and 1970s they would join a cinema club or travel to an area where the local authority had overruled the BBFC. In the 1980s and 1990s they would import a VHS tape from abroad or buy an unclassified video from a car boot sale. Nowadays, some people might import a foreign DVD over the internet or watch something unclassified as a download. The BBFC can’t stop them doing that – although in some cases they might be putting themselves at legal risk – but that doesn’t mean we should be endorsing those actions. The possibility of some circumvention does not undermine the value of, and need for, film classification.’
‘CUTTING WAS NOT A VIABLE OPTION’ AND THE SOFTENING OF THAT STANCE
The final paragraph of the BBFC’s original statement on the film explained, ‘The Board considered whether its concerns could be dealt with through cuts. However, given that the unacceptable content runs throughout the work, cuts are not a viable option in this case and the work is therefore refused a classification.’ – Exactly four months later the organisation changed their minds and approved an edited version. A fact that frustrated Harvey, ‘Obviously the first time they saw it, it was uncut. It was submitted in order to ask where they wanted to cut, but they kind of rejected it outright, and said it was uncuttable – which was stupid. When it was resubmitted, it was cut with particular instances of self harm – the sexual instances of self harm removed, and I think kind of saw that some of their issues had been addressed, and then it was a negotiating point, but they should have left it open to negotiation at the beginning, and said ‘we want these scenes cut, and let’s start a dialogue from there’.’
Asked to clarify why the BBFC changed their stance, Lapper told us, ‘At the time the film was submitted, we spent some time considering whether cuts could make sufficient difference to allow the film to be classified. However, at the time we couldn’t find a way of cutting the film in an effective matter, partly because of the sadistic atmosphere and tone of the second part of the film. However, after we rejected the film and the company had lodged an appeal against our decision, they came back to us and suggested certain cuts they would be prepared to make. It would have been wrong for us to refuse to consider their suggestions and we did so in some detail. Ultimately, we concluded that their proposed cuts were insufficient but that if further cuts were made to the film it would be possible to classify it. These cuts have removed the harmful and potentially obscene material. What remains might still be difficult for many viewers to watch or accept. But public acceptability at the adult level is a supporting rather than a lead ground, and once the harm and legal issues had been dealt with there was no longer sufficient basis for rejection. ‘
With The Human Centipede 2, the BBFC have come under a surprising amount of pressure, but it’s not entirely unusual for them to refuse a film classification. As Lapper puts it, ‘We typically reject 2-3 works a year. We understand that there will be those who disagree with rejection, but we aim to apply our statutory duties and our Guidelines in a fair and consistent way’. Fortunately for Centipede fans, this ‘fair and consistent’ stance means that they will be able to see the movie with minimal delay, although Harvey offers a warning to the casual film goer, ‘It’s an 18 [rated] film that says ‘strong, bloody violence’ on it, you should know what it is before you go in, but if you go in you should take it and try to relate to it or not. Enjoy it or don’t enjoy it.’
The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Monday. Further information about the BBFC can be found on their website. You can also read our earlier interview with Craig Lapper of the BBFC.
*Or rather, they refused to give the film a classification, which barred any UK-based DVD supplier from selling it. Contrary to the hundreds of alarmist headlines from the now-interested news media, the BBFC don’t ban films.