Quandaries, eh?

Yes, I admit that I find myself in a small quandary. The reason is the accompanying miniature of the poster for the film I am dithering about going to see: The Human Centipede. Now don’t get me wrong – I am not in the least bit squeamish about watching films like this, at least, not normally so. However, the film itself has been termed ‘torture-porn’ and there’s something vaguely unsavoury about that epithet that leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

I’ve seen a good proportion of the so-called ‘video nasties’ in my time, and very few of them left any impression on me or upset me in any way ( the only exception to that was Cannibal Holocaust and that was mostly for the scenes of animal cruelty in it, which just seemed totally pointless and completely unconscionable in its search for realism). Most of the nasties, to my eyes, seemed poorly made with all-too-obvious special effects and painfully amateurish rubber prosthetics. A few were genuinely nasty, and deserved their reputation.  However, as I stated in a previous post (the one I wrote on Evil Dead recently), some of the choices that were blacklisted left me scratching my head as to why they had achieved their dubious status. Perhaps it was the subtexts rather than the actual gore that earned them their notoriety. Who knows…

The Human Centipede, however, strikes me as very different. It seems deliberately aimed at a sector of the market that likes to be grossed out just for the sake of it. Nothing wrong in that per se, but it seems that this particular examples straddles that fine line between providing genuine shocks for entertainment and just plain nastiness. There doesn’t seem to be any point to this film other than to be as violent and misanthropic as the film-makers are able to get away with, and to induce the viewer’s stomachs to churn endlessly.

You could argue that it’s a complete and utter fantasy, and I would agree with you up to a point, but only insofar as it’s hardly likely to ever be done in real-life. Even so, it begs the question, just how far do you take things in the search for that ultimate gore-thrill, before it becomes not only pointless, but fodder for those self-appointed guardians of culture or morals when they call for such ‘depravity’ to be banned outright, for instance? In reality, I doubt that it would ever get as far as a complete ban on horror and such, but it would certainly set back our claim that we’re just ordinary folk who get our kicks through the precarious thrill of being scared witless.

I guess the only way I can ever resolve the issue in my own mind is to actually go and see it. I certainly refuse to be counted amongst the numbers of those idiots who complain and protest against something without ever having either seen the film or read the book in question (an all-too favourite activity of certain ignorant types, sadly). Additionally, I would never presume to stop anyone from going to see the film (or read a particularly nasty horror book, for that matter) just on the shaky grounds that I find it objectionable, if that’s their thing. I will , however, admit to more then a smidgeon of curiosity and intrigue about The Human Centipede that is gently shoving me in the direction of the local cinema (if they ever show it, that is), plus I wonder if I can watch it without feeling total disgust. I can guarantee, though, that it’ll probably still leave me wondering….

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11 Responses to “Quandaries, eh?”

  1. mik parkin Says:

    Whatever you do, do it quickly, it seems the gross out level for the British public has been reached. It took only £6000 in its opening week. I have to say its not a concept I’d like to explore for 2 hours. Maybe it would have been better as a short film and will sell better on DVD. Even then I don’t think I’d be keen.

    • As one of my friends pointed out, he thinks it’ll challenge him as a viewer, which is the reason he’s going to see it – and NOT because he wants to… interesting viewpoint I think…

  2. mik parkin Says:

    the concept did have me turning over its sheer unplumbed mingingness in my head for far, far longer than any other horror film recently. So I suppose its already done its job insofar as being unsettling.

    Good luck to him, and if he’s going with someone, I hope it isn’t a first date.

  3. There was an excellent piece – not review – about CENTIPEDE in one of the sunday papers – Indy? – by Sam Leith. I have a tendency to like Sam Leith and he was intelligent about Horror generally. In fact I will try to dig it out and post it on Facebook right now.

  4. Sefton Disney Says:

    I’ve been having rather similar thoughts myself lately, thanks to the current trend of ultra-explicit horror films, although more in connection with “A Serbian Film” and “Grotesque” than “The Human Centipede”.

    On the one hand, I well remember the days of James Ferman and “Video Nasties”, and I have no desire to go back there. And I also remember the way films I loved like “The Thing” and “Videodrome” were castigated at the time by certain older critics and fans, and I wonder if I’m just a Young Turk who’s become an Old Tory.

    On the other hand, I think that far too many horror movies just aren’t particularly fun or enlightening anymore. They seem to just be exercises in misanthropy and sheer nastiness for its own sake. Plot-wise, they’re so slim that I don’t see any way that they can justify their violence with any kind of social commentary. And even then, I can’t help but think such a commentary could be delivered in a rather more subtle fashion. And I can’t see how such films are just offering a few scares and an evening’s entertainment either.

    Actually, I think there’s something rather adolescent about them; for all the intellectual pretensions of the directors, these films remind me of nothing so much as the gross-out games we used to play on each other at school.

    I’m certainly not saying they should be censored or banned – but I just don’t see any point to them at all.

    Indeed, they’re so conceptually flimsy that, once the initial notoriety wears off, I can’t believe anyone will even remember them in 10 years…

  5. Thana Niveau Says:

    JLP and I both loved it and we’re not torture porn aficionados. We thought Centipede was audacious “proper” horror with its tongue firmly in its cheek. Pitch-black humour and Charles Birkin-esque sadistic nastiness, but all so artfully done and gorgeously photographed. It’s very hard to describe, but believe it or not, it’s not as graphic as you’ve probably been led to believe. The director (Tom Six) is a fan of Michael Haneke and in my opinion brings the best of Haneke to this extremely bonkers and imaginative tale. (That means no finger-wagging at the audience and no MTV quick-cut editing.)

    In JLP’s words: “It’s a lot like a penny dreadful or a lurid 1930s horror comic brought to life. Think of some of the nastiest of the Pan Horror stories and that will give you a good idea as well.”

    Here’s his full review on RCMB:

    http://www.knibbworld.com/campbelldiscuss/messages/1/3904.html?1282470907

    I’ll be very interested to hear your thoughts once you’ve seen it!

  6. It seems to me that the horror genre is suffering from a malaise which has afflicted the movie industry for some years now, namely a complete lack of subtlety.

    With the ability of CGI to make anything appear not only real but hyper-real, it seems that rules of storytelling which have served for thousands of years have been cheerfully thrown out of the window. Characters are now reduced to a one-word tag, their motivation is singular and blindingly obvious and the plots are monotonously linear. But the effects! The effects are superb!

    And we’re becoming used to this.

    Yet a film like The (original) Haunting achieves a heightened sense of suspense next to nothing. Its VFX are limited to a single shot through a slightly-distorted lens, and a bendy door. The viewer is drawn into sharing the characters’ growing unease, whilst trying to figure out if any of this is really supernatural, or the product of an unhealthy imagination. The original book left that question open. The lamentable 90s remake can’t be doing with such esoteric questions. It’s an evil ghost, of course, stoopid!

    Now, of course, we mustn’t use our own imaginations. Instead, we’re invited to marvel at the imagination of the special effects team. And all they can do is shock us with various bits of offal from their digital bucket of guts.

  7. * Yet a film like The (original) Haunting achieves a heightened sense of suspense by revealing next to nothing.

    Oops!

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