Whatever your thoughts on the Human Centipede film series, you’re going to be hard-pressed finding a horror movie as unique and extreme in concept as Tom Six’s trilogy. From the first film, bound to become a cult horror in 2010, to what is said to be the final entry in the series, Human Centipede III, this absurd and stylistic horror series has been a constant talking point for years.
With the third film currently screening in a limited capacity across Australia, we had the opportunity to chat to Laurence R. Harvey, the accomplished British actor who was a stand-out in part two. Harvey has a pivotal role in part three, making his return as a different character, putting him in the perfect position to give us a bit more insight into the film and how it is different, thematically, to the previous two.
Let’s talk about the origins of Human Centipede 3. What was it like jumping back into the series?
It was nice to go back and work with Tom Six and the crew. A lot of the crew were the same guys from Human Centipede 2. It was like meeting up with family again. Except obviously this one was a bigger scale film, a bigger crew and cast, and in L.A. So everything has been kind of ramped up a little bit more. It was no longer the low-budget, underground thing; it felt more like a proper cinematic film.
Were you surprised by the idea of a third when it was pitched to you?
No, not really. I think Tom tries to make each film separate to one another in terms of tone and narrative. The first one was like the more traditional ‘mad scientist’ film with a spoof of horror tropes. The second one – when we shot it I thought we were making a splatter comedy…obviously Tom wanted to make it darker. The colour was great and the industrial soundscape was added, the humour ended up being a lot blacker. This one…he wanted to make it a bit light and emphasise the humour a bit more and give it a more American vibe. The colour of it makes it seem like an exploitation film from the 70’s, with this kind of outrageous humour like a Farrelley Brothers movie. I’m sure it’s going to divide opinion, but that’s what each of the films have done!
Tell me a bit about Dwight Butler, who you play this time around?
When Tom first approached me to do the film, he told me about Bill Boss and Dwight Butler being this kind of Laurel and Hardy of evil. Dieter Laser as Bill is kind of outrageous and over the top and Dwight is kind of the restrained one who is more about the banality of evil. If you look at history, like the nazi era, Hitler is this kind of over-the-top figure that you focus on, but the final act was done by the people in charge of logistics and transport, and so on. That’s kind of scarier, the fact that it is the pen-pushers that are the ones who are stripping away peoples humanity.
The audience may be sympathetic with Dwight because he has the boss from hell, but at the same time it’s his idea to experiment on these prisoners and force them into this human centipede chain of 500 people. Dwight is quite and calm, as the little man, but he is the one with this gross, dehumanising idea.
Were you surprised that you were called back to do a second Human Centipede, as a different character?
Yeah this is my second one, but even when we were doing part two, Tom always had this idea of doing a trilogy, three films that were linked thematically rather than narratively. I knew there was going to be a third but I didn’t realise I was going to be called back to be part of it. When Tom approached me, he approached with that idea of doing different characters.
What’s your reaction to the extreme criticism some people have towards the film’s gory content?
I think that the films have a reputation for being gory and disgusting, yes part two has it’s gory element but that’s in reaction to part one being less extreme in terms of gore. There’s no gore in part one. In part three there is kind of this gory element, but it’s more played for comedy. I don’t think these films fit into the ‘torture porn’ category that people often assume. They are three different films with three different visual styles. I always say that part two is the one testing peoples stomachs but it isn’t specifically a ‘torture porn’ movie.
Tom was inspired by sort of 70s Europe for the first one, and the second one draws on more midnight movies like Eraserhead and Thundercrack!, as well as Japanese gore films. Part three is more like a 70’s grindhouse prison film, mixed with some Farrelly brothers. Each film has it’s own kind of low and high brow references.
With the different style of this film did you have to draw on different inspirations for the role?
Yeah, it’s completely different from Martin [from part two], it’s more about trying to play it straight. The way the film’s structured is that Bill Boss is so over the top that he becomes like the nexus that every other role works against. It’s like an acting tag team wrestling tournament.
What was the dynamic like, playing opposite Dieter?
He is a monster in character, sometimes he just runs completely over you and then other times you have to stand your ground and kind of fight for the scene. Other times, certainly as Dwight, you have this kind of silent commentary on Dieter’s portrayal of Bill’s outrageous-ness. Tom used a lot of cutaways to Dwight’s reactions to kind of comment on Bill’s character
You’ve mentioned that this film has more of a Hollywood style. What did that require from you as compared to the European style of the second one?
The glossy American style worked because we were in L.A and it was a bigger cast, a bigger film. Tom wasn’t trying to do a Hollywood film though, more of a Hollywood meets Grindhouse film.
With the idea of things getting bigger and more intense, were there any ideas which crossed the line for you?
No, not really. I’ve seen worse! Maybe I shouldn’t mentioned that though, there might be a police raid on my video collection!
I think Tom’s pretty responsible about what he depicts. Certainly in the second film – the rape film is where you lose all sympathy for Martin and it’s not used as entertainment. With this film, the violence is there but it’s Farrelly Brothers rather than Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
With scenes like rape, which you see a lot on TV now like with Game of Thrones and Law & Order, there’s this backlash over it saying that if it doesn’t add to the narrative or it’s gratuitous then it can’t happen. Is that always in the back of your mind when these scenes are pitched?
It certainly was when we were filming Human Centipede II, we all talked about it for quite a bit before doing it. None of us wanted to make a gratitious scene, it had to have a strong impact to shock people out of complacency and lose sympathy for Martin. It worked in a way that makes the narrative work properly and reconsider what they saw before that scene. I think a lot of people had sympathy for Martin and then just lost it immediately during the rape scene.
I believe the prison that it was shot at, the name has a political connotation – George H W Bush prison. What do you feel it adds, working in those explicit political references?
The third film is kind of cartoon-ish, it is broad humour. To me the naming of the prison is very much like Blood Camp Thatcher in Turkey Shoot, which is an early Grindhouse movie. So it’s Tom playing reference to those type of films.
Do you feel there might be a fourth film?
No, Tom wanted the films to be a triology so they could make a similar centipede to that triple-centipede in part one. I think he wants to edit all three together and show it at galleries or release it as some kind of long, fourth-and-a-half-hour film. We’ll wait and see!
How do you see the legacy of Human Centipede in a few years time?
When I first got on board the series the first one was still on the festival circuit so by the time we shot part two it was already becoming this kind of cultural bean. I’ve seen it become this generations Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Teenagers would dare each other to see it, or brag that they’ve seen it even when they haven’t. It’s become one of those films that even hardened horror fans can’t stomach. I do think the series will last the test of time, I think part two will definitely be something people remember me by for quite a while, I’m very proud of it! I’m really pleased how it has all turned out.
You can head along to see Human Centipede III at the following screening:
Adelaide: Wednesday July 1st at the Mercury Cinema, City Centre
Brisbane: Thursday July 2nd at New Farm Cinemas, New Farm
Sydney: Saturday, July 4th Filmink Presents at Ritz Cinema, Randwick