Few recent films series have successfully infiltrated the collective pop culture consciousness as The Human Centipede series has. Even if you’ve never seen one of the films, you’ve certainly heard of them. More often than not, when bringing up the series, I hear, “I’ll never watch it,” or “That’s disgusting.” Of course, my favorite response is, “They made more than one?” Because after one film in which a depraved lunatic sews his live victims together ass-to-mouth to create the titular human-arthropod hybrid with a single digestive system, is there really more to be said? Writer-Director Tom Six certainly thought so. After unleashing The Human Centipede (First Sequence) in 2009, he upped the ante from a three-person centipede to a twelve-person one in 2011’s The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence). Instead of a traditional sequel where the evil Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser) strikes again, the follow-up went the meta route, taking place in a world like ours, where The Human Centipede is just a film and a deranged fan of the film named Martin (Laurence R. Harvey) set out to make his own horrible, “100% medically accurate” creation. Now Tom Six is back with The Human Centipede III (Final Sequence), making good on his promise (i.e., threat) of a trilogy.
Terror is replaced by farce in the latest installment. Both Dieter Laser and Laurence R. Harvey return, now playing new characters – Laser a crazed prison warden named Bill Boss and Harvey a soft-spoken account/sidekick named Dwight Butler. With names like “Boss” and “Butler,” Tom Six isn’t going for the least bit of subtly with this entry. The bumbling duo wouldn’t be out of place as the foils to a charismatic inmate in a late-80s/early-90s comedy – think Ferris Bueller Gets Twenty-to-Life. But in The Human Centipede III, Boss and Butler are positioned as the unlikely heroes. The prison is in dire straits and the pair is at risk of losing their jobs. As a fan of the first two Human Centipede films, Butler is pushing for a revolutionary and money-saving approach to the U.S. penal system—a 500-person human centipede made of inmates. Boss won’t hear of it at first, but after a drunken nightmare in which he loses control of the prison and is raped by an inmate via a punctured kidney hole, he comes around to Butler’s sadistic yet oddly practical plan.
As Boss, Laser turns in a maniacally over the top performance, comparable to a barely comprehensible love-child of Tommy Wiseau and Edith Massey (note: this might be the highest praise I’ve ever given an actor). He chews scenery, along with cooked clitorises he’s imported from Africa, a 21st century take on rhino horn. He’s power-mad and increasingly belligerent over the prospect of losing his position. And in a nearly clever reversal, Harvey portrays Butler in a sensitive and—dare I say it—sympathetic light after his thoroughly repugnant portrayal of Martin in The Human Centipede II. He may be the one instigating the surgical horror show, but he’s still a relatively nice guy.
I can’t help but feel sorry for Bree Olsen. In one of her first non-porn features, she’s given a thankless role as the secretary Daisy. She’s not so much a character than another outlet for Boss’s cruelty and occasionally Butler’s compassion. Based on her fate in the film, it’s evident that Tom Six didn’t put any thought into her character. Rounding out the cast are Eric Roberts and Tommy “Tiny” Lister. I’d like to imagine the two of them between takes, comparing their work on this film to that in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
And to complete the meta-cycle of the series, Tom Six plays himself in the film. Wearing an ill-fitting linen suit, he joins Boss and Butler at the prison, eager to see the human centipede brought to “real life” to back up his “100% medically accurate” claim for the film.
With the farcical tone, it feels tame compared to its predecessors. The gore is toned down with an in-movie explanation of a tamer surgical procedure so the inmates can at some point be removed from the centipede with ease once their prison terms are over. The violence on screen is nothing you haven’t seen before. And even Boss’s solution for lifers and death row inmates, meant to be so shocking it causes the fictional Tom Six vomit, felt like more of the same. The only truly horrific moment is entirely unintentional. Olsen’s character Daisy is violently beaten during a prison riot. We next see her battered in a hospital bed, her face swollen, bloodied, and bruised. The sight was a little too familiar to photos of adult entertainer Christy Mack after she was brutally beaten by her ex-boyfriend last year. Perhaps it’s just my pop culture-addled mind that made the connection, but the sight of Olsen’s character beaten and unconscious was troubling, and Boss’s sexual abuse of her in that state was even more revolting.
Leaving the screening, my friend commented, “I feel like the joke’s on us.” Having just watched a third film about sewing people together ass-to-mouth, I couldn’t agree more. Tom Six crafted a series in which each film fed off its predecessor. Each film serves as a link of the original three-person centipede. The first one forced viewers to confront the horror of the subject. The middle film lingered in the misery and disgust of it. And with the conclusion to the trilogy, Six makes the succinct point: Like the titular creation, what you get in the end is shit.
The Human Centipede III (Final Sequence) opens on May 22nd in New York and Los Angeles, plus VOD and other Digital Streaming Services.