The ideal way to watch The Human Centipede III (Final Sequence) would be in the kind of run-down theater where moths have chowed down on the curtains like so much stale popcorn, your shoes stick to the floor, you have to consciously avoid winding up in the one chair in your row that will impale your ass with exposed springs, and you don’t even want to know what that guy in the back is doing under his raincoat. Take a date only if you wish to end your relationship forever and get hit with a restraining order; this is utterly unrepentant sleaze that intends to offend everyone and make South Park look kind-hearted and tame, and having jettisoned all pretense at taking itself seriously, it’s also kind of a blast. But you’ll feel bad for liking it, and you probably should.
I’ll bet it’s on Quentin Tarantino’s year-end top ten list, too.
Looking like a chemotherapy Buster Keaton head jammed onto a body that’s been stretched on a torture rack, and scream-acting like an unholy fusion of Nicolas Cage and Udo Kier on Quaaludes, Dieter Laser is back from the first film – this time in the role of prison warden Bill Boss, who is pretty much the worst human being in the world. He sexually harasses his secretary into rape, eats dried human clitorises from Africa to give himself super-strength, waterboards inmates with boiling water, and at one point graphically handles a human castration himself – after which he orders the remnants be cooked for his lunch. And if you haven’t lost yours by this point, you might – MIGHT – survive the movie.
Laurence R. Harvey, the creepy villain/protagonist of the second film, is also back, this time as Mr. Boss’ assistant Dwight, who keeps trying to suggest to him that the real way to keep unruly prisoners in order is to follow the example of the Human Centipede movies, this trilogy being the only film series I can think of in which each installment exists as a movie within the subsequent one. In the tradition of good grindhouse, the film withholds the ultimate Human Centipede as one of the climactic reveals – yes, there is another – so the rest of the movie is Boss trying literally everything else he can think of to torment his prisoners and avoid losing his job at the hands of the governor (Eric Roberts).
One of the difficulties of articulating one’s affection for Human Centipede movies is that director Tom Six does his damnedest to make sure there is nothing morally defensible about them. The first two were artfully shot, to be sure – this one goes for a deliberately cheap look that’s appropriate – but is there really anything the, ahem, franchise is trying to say beyond being offensive? In broad strokes, this installment feels like an attempt at satirizing an American right wing that wants to save money and punish prisoners severely (Arizona’s hard-right Sheriff Joe Arpaio seems to have been a jumping-off point), but calling it satire is a bit like referring to the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima as “a mild police action.” It’s hard to take much offense once you realize Six is basically doing the equivalent of a naughty three year-old throwing every bad word at you he has just learned, yet people certainly will. It’s easier to laugh, especially when Laser scrunches his face as he yells every line at the top of his lungs to the point that one scarcely imagines he’ll ever speak again, nor be able to non-painfully move the thin layer of skin stretched upon his skull that we must call his face.
Movies shouldn’t all be safe, and there’s a place for films that push boundaries even if that’s the only thing they do (seriously, when was the last time you saw an English-language horror movie that actually went further than you expected?). Many John Waters movies arguably began as such, though it was by inserting gay and transgender themes that the director was truly subversive, even if more people remember Divine eating shit and that dude with the singing butthole. Six has no such social progress in mind; he just wants to create a genuine horror that will freak audiences out. (Playing himself, he even suggests by movie’s end that things have gone beyond limits even he finds acceptable.) In the case of his Final Sequence, the real terror may be how easily the director gets you to laugh at really, really, really abhorrent behavior.
Just remember: as each successive installment in the series takes pains to emphasize: this is, after all, only a movie.