Many of you will be aware or our affection for the Human Centipede series, perhaps the most inventive and original trilogy of films to come along for a very long time – all entirely different in style and theme, yet also working as a whole. That the films seem to cause such a visceral reaction amongst their detractors is just the icing on the cake. In a world of bland, socially aware and self-conscious horror, Tom Six’s films are a breath of much-needed toxic air: gleefully un-PC, deeply challenging and hilariously excessive, the movies do what horror is supposed to do – threatening the establishment and upsetting the po-faced.
We rarely interview anyone – at least not on the website – but we have chatted over the years to director Tom Six and stars Dieter Laura and Laurence R. Harvey. Below is a remix of the interviews, conducted at the Human Centipede 3 UK premiere at the Mayhem Film Festival in Nottingham with Laser and Six, and over the phone with Harvey.
I started off by asking where the whole Human Centipede idea came from…
SIX: I was watching television with a couple of friends, and there was a child molester on there, and as a joke I said ‘they should stitch his mouth to the anus of a fat truck driver, that would be a proper punishment’. Because most of the times, people get punishments that I don’t agree with, I think they are too soft or something. So it came from a joke, but then it kept lingering in my head, and at one time I thought it might be great idea for a horror film. And then you start from there, and yeah, if you come up with an idea like that you can imagine going over a lot of hills and troubles!
It’s not the most immediately commercial concept…
SIX: Absolutely! No.
Dieter, what did you make of this outlandish idea when it was presented to you?
LASER: Tom is a wonderful storyteller, and the first step was that we had a meeting in the Hilton Berlin, and this wonderful couple standing there – Ilona Six, Lady Ilona and Sir Tom. And I thought that I am going to an audition and that I would meet my esteemed colleagues from Germany, going in, coming out, but the lobby was strangely empty. And this wonderful couple there, in the back light of the big windows… and I approached, and I thought “oh, no colleagues to be seen” and then we met and I discovered Ilona is the sister of Tom and she is the producer, and then Tom, in real time, told me the whole story, very precise, very visionary, and with passion. And I jumped up at the end of the story and I said “sir, I see the passion in your eyes, I see the vision, I see you know what you want, and I see your competence, so we have to do that”. Handshake. Then Ilona said “let’s have a deal” . And five minutes later, we had a deal by handshake.
Then the script came home, later on, and I opened the script… and they had shown me the drawing of the centipede, and I said “no problem’”. At home, I thought “wonderful, I’m eager to read the script”. And then the script came… and I thought at first “yeah, no problem sewing people together as a scientist”… maybe he’s angry that in Germany, you have to retire at the age of 65, and many famous scientists migrate to Great Britain or to the States because they want to work. So maybe he’s so angry that he says “I do the contrary that I did with twins, I don’t separate any more, I sew together”, by hatred and revenge and anger. But then I read the script and suddenly I discovered, oh gosh, it’s one digestive tract. I suddenly I saw the shit and… what the audience later has in their minds! I was shocked to the bones! I thought “I am a serious actor, I have a reputation in Germany on the stage and in German films – I can’t do that.” But then I said “a contract, even by handshake – it’s a CONTRACT.” So I said “Dieter, you sissy, sit down on your ass and start working on the character, and we’ll see what happens.”
Then I discovered the next layer in the script. Because Tom’s scripts have many layers. And I said “wait a minute, idiot, what’s written here? In his former life he separated twins. Wasn’t it the Angel of Death, Josef Mengele, who experimented at Nazi time with twins?”. Phone call to Tom: “Tom, may I call him Josef?” and he said “now you got me. DO IT”, and then the fun started.
So you are making a film with three people stitched together. That’s a hard sell.
SIX: It is, it is. You have to convince people. I’m used to the idea, but then you have to talk to people… like when I was casting the girls in New York, 70% of the girls said “you are a European pervert, I don’t want to have anything to do with you”, and in New York you hear the constant police sirens outside so we thought they were coming for us each time – it was like “oh fuck”. But yeah, all these actors in my film, Dieter and the girls, they have mammoth balls.
LASER: And you know, when you meet him the first time, you discover he is an artist, he has passion, he knows what he wants to do, but you could never see or feel in advance how beautiful it is to work with him on set, because of how much tenderness, respect, decency the centipede is treated. They are cared for. Always, Tom thought about them being not too long on their knees, and you know the American girls are so sensitive with their tits, so we all looked in the air until the camera was rolling, and they were treated like Jesus.
SIX: You have to, you have so many directors that are like assholes, yelling all the time… you would lose your actors. They would just cry and go home. So you have to be charming to get what you want, I think.
LASER: And he is charming, he is not pretending – that you feel. You feel in your little finger if he’s lying or not. And he’s not lying, he’s a really nice guy.
Were you surprised that the film had the impact that it did?
SIX: When we were shooting the film, I already sensed we had something very special. The crew felt it and the actors felt it. Then we did the first screening in London and then it went to America, and then it really exploded. People talked about it – about his performance, about the centipede idea, and it grew and grew and grew.
So when it came to the sequel, what was the thinking? That you had to do something entirely different?
SIX: Yeah, each time I want to reinvent myself, so many films are made and then the second part is exactly the same film but worse than the first part. So I wanted to make a completely different film, like I was making a new film, because it would be boring t make the same film again. So I came up with the idea of using a copycat, and I wanted the main actor to be completely the opposite of Dieter, so I wanted a short, ugly guy who is mentally unstable, so I’m playing with these elements. People say “oh, it must be awful to be in a centipede”, but then I say “it’s done by a medical professional, in part 2 it’s done by an amateur.”
Laurence, how did you first get involved in Human Centipede 2?
HARVEY: Basically, my agent called me and said “I’ve got some people who want you to be the lead in their new film.” As a character actor I thought “really?”. And then my agent said “I think it’s porn, I think you should turn it down.” He’d been to the Six’s website, which says ‘Six Entertainment – adult entertainment, Amsterdam’ (laughs). I think ‘adult entertainment’ might mean something different in Holland than it does here! So I asked what the title was and he said it was Human Centipede 2. I’d heard of the first Human Centipede through it being on at FrightFest – I hadn’t seen it at this point, it was still doing the festival circuit. So I said I’d be interested in going to the casting, and on the day of the casting, they did a screening for cast and crew they were casting that week, and so I saw it and an hour and a half later, I was doing the casting.
What did you think when you saw the first film?
HARVEY: (laughs) Well, Dieter (Laser) is so brilliant, I thought “well, that’s pretty big shoes to fill, and I’m sure I won’t get it, I won’t get this role at all.” I thought surely they won’t cast me. But I would really love to be involved in the film in some way, so I was going to ask if, even if they didn’t take me for the part they were auditioning me for, I just wanted to be like a neighbour that popped round for a cup of tea. Once you see what happens to the neighbour, (laughs), I’m glad I did get the main part!
Dr Heiter is obviously quite an iconic character, but Martin is very, very different…
HARVEY: Yeah, in the casting, Tom was very clear than in many ways, the film’s a kind of opposite of the first one, so he wanted somebody that’s physically the opposite of Dieter. Dieter’s tall and thin, and plays quite a powerful figure… so I’m short and fat and play somebody that doesn’t have any power, that’s kind of abused by everyone around him rather than being an abuser himself. For me, when Tom was explaining this, it reminded me – he took me through the plot scene by scene – it reminded me, there’s a sub-genre of horror in Japanese cinema where somebody that’s picked upon snaps and takes their revenge – the ‘lone dove syndrome’ films. For me, it seems very Japanese in what it was trying to do, but then there’s the whole satirical element as well, with him taking that Daily Mail figure of somebody who sees a film and is influenced by it so much that they just act it out without thinking… and how Tom wants to take that idea and run with it and push it to the extreme. So yeah, it’s interesting from that point of view. I saw the way that Tom wanted this powerless figure to be a kind of problem solver – in the first film, Dieter’s carrying people over his shoulder with a fireman’s lift, people unconscious… I just wouldn’t be able to do that, as Martin I just drag people very slowly. It’s things like that that are interesting, in Tom’s approach to the character.
Martin definitely seems to be as much a victim as anyone else in the film. He’s a product of the way society treats people who don’t fit it.
HARVEY: Yes, yes. A lot of mainstream commentators have seen Martin as someone with mental disabilities, but because I come from a disabilities point of view, I’m very much against that. When we were talking through with Tom, it’s more that he’s become socially retarded because of the abuse around him, and how that might affect him as he goes through school and employment as he’s growing up. So I don’t think Martin’s the brightest – he’s not educationally advanced, or socially or emotionally capable, but there is an intelligence there, which is why … the humour comes out when he thinks of a way to get around a problem. He obviously hasn’t got surgeon’s skills when he’s attaching people’s mouths to the backside of the person in front – he just has a staple gun and stuff like that. It’s those kind of thought processes that I found interesting about Martin.
What I loved about the character are those little moments of joy when he had a success and his despair when things went wrong… you actually feel quite sorry for him.
HARVEY: Martin’s emotional reactions are kind of inspired by… whilst we were filming I stayed for a weekend with a friend of mine who’s got two one year old twins, and looking at the way in which they interacted – what would happen is, if one twin had something go wrong, the reaction would be huge and instant, so there was this disproportionate level to things, and I tried to keep that with Martin, so instead of being slightly disappointed that something had gone wrong, he’d start crying. But I think there’s a disconnection between his responses and his actual emotions, both in the proportional way and also how he doesn’t react genuinely. A lot of the emotional things stop and start abruptly. When I was watching these two one year old twins, one would start crying and the other one would be looking at him and see that he’s getting all this attention, so he’d immediately start crying as well, even though there was no emotion behind it – just joining in. And then the first one would stop abruptly, as if that emotion was fake all along. So there’s a level of fakery as well as the disproportionateness of their emotional reactions, which I tried to use for Martin, because there is this thing where emotionally and socially, he is still a child, and that’s very much about him living at home with his mother – because (laughs) I live at home with my parents at the moment because a housing situation in London fell through. And when you’re back at your parents, you’re treated like a teenager again, or in Martin’s case even younger . So it’s that kind of regression I wanted to capture.
It would be so easy just to treat him as a monster, so it’s impressive that you’ve avoided that. And he’s very multi-faceted and sympathetic, without any dialogue.
HARVEY: When we did the cast and crew screenings, a friend of mine came along and said you want to step in and just give Martin a hug and tell him not to do the bad things. So there should be that element of sympathy. I think you should want to have sympathy for Martin, but reject the choices that he makes.
He’s from a pretty bad family background.
HARVEY: Yeah, and of course, the absent father who you hear in voice over briefly.
Exactly. One thing that struck me watching the film – the ending arguably suggests that this could have all been a fantasy in Martin’s head.
HARVEY: Yeah, that’s valid, but I think it’s open to interpretation, because there’s the child crying. It’s whether you’re going back in time to the beginning, or to the point where the family is coming into the car park, or whether the crying is actually Martin’s psyche. I think the exact shot is picking up again is where he’s watching the businessman rail against the ticket machine over the CCTV – this is the guy that dies when Martin cuts too deeply into his buttocks. So it depends where you think its gone back to in time. When I first saw it, I thought “Martin has got away with it”, but the child was still in the car, so everything was going to come undone because there’s a secondary victim, as it were, still in the car park. Or you can then extrapolate and say that Martin now has his family, by raising the child – you can look for a happy ending…
It’s good that it’s open to interpretation.
HARVEY: I think that’s one of the strengths of it as well. I love the film as a whole but it does have an ambiguous ending.
The film was shot in colour. At what point did you know it would eventually be in black and white?
HARVEY: At the casting initially, Tom was talking about it having a kind of washed out colour – he was talking about the whole film being a mix between a gore film and Kes (laughs). He wanted a washed out, 16mm look to some of the colour, particularly because British realist films have that silvery blue light. He was always going to treat the colour in some way. I think whilst he was going through the palate in terms of treating the image afterwards, he just tried it in black and white and it seemed to have something. And I think it really works. I think what it does is help you concentrate on Martin and his actions, rather than being distracted by the reds and browns of the events at the end.
It takes it out of reality a little bit too.
HARVEY: Yeah, it makes it dream-like and I think also the soundscape makes it seem like it’s in Martin’s head, whether it’s a fantasy, or whether you’re just viewing things from his point of view. So yeah, I think it’s quite ingenious the way that it’s turned out.
I love that whole idea in part 2, where it’s going badly wrong. You can’t do this just by watching a film! It’s a warning to people! And the people who believe that people copy what they seen on-screen can feel good too…
SIX: And then the film was banned, and finally with a lot of cuts it was released here. But it made us even more famous, being banned!
I’m sure that while making the film, given the original movie and the stuff you were shooting, you knew this would be fairly controversial. But I guess you didn’t realise just HOW controversial!
HARVEY: Yeah… I thought the reaction in reviews & blogs and so on would be OTT. To be honest, when the film was finished, I thought that the sandpaper and barbed wire scenes would be cut, or at least trimmed down to a brief glimpse, just because of the BBFC and the sexualised violence that Martin directed at himself. We weren’t expecting the BBFC to reject it outright and release this long, highly opinionated statement…
That was totally misrepresentative…
HARVEY: Totally misrepresentative and way beyond their remit as well. It seems a very foolish thing for the BBFC to have done. The rejection would be fine, if that press release hadn’t come out, because at least with a rejection, you could open up a debate with the BBFC and discuss what’s needed to be cut. But that press release, saying it was uncuttable, it was all sexual violence, the whole thing – which is patently untrue. It was a ridiculous thing to do, and I think a reason they did that was to put off mainstream cinemas putting it on. It was more about the BBFC trying to flex its muscles to show that it’s doing something than judging the film on its own. It was personally insulting Tom and his abilities as a filmmaker, it’s questioning whether the first film was any good or not… they’re not there to review films, they’re there to assess films and classify films, not to say whether it’s of worth or not.
And of course they dug themselves into a hole with that statement, having now passed the film, because it makes them look like idiots, no matter what side of the censorship debate you are on. If you’re anti-censorship, you’ll be appalled by the cuts, and pro-censorship people will see the BBFC as caving in to pressure…
HARVEY: I know, it’s stupid. And also, what was a kind of niche film that people who are into gory horror would’ve seen, or enjoyed the first film would’ve gone to see, with the BBFC rejecting it, it’s created a kind of hype around the film.
So now we come to part three, with both leads together, playing different characters, and I think it’s fair to say it’s the most insane of the three…
It’s completely out there! What was the thinking behind the third film?
SIX: I wanted to go back to the original punishment idea. Part One was not really about punishment, because the girls were innocent, they didn’t do anything. This time, I’m going to use it for punishment. That’s why I came up with the idea of the prison, with hard criminals, and my idea was that if you do a system like that, crime rates will drop like panties in a whorehouse, don’t you think?
And you have a prison warden who is crazier than any mad doctor in the history of cinema…
SIX: Exactly, I loved the idea of taking the lead from part one and the lead from part two, and give them completely different roles. Do you ever see that in sequels? And it’s very cool for the actors because they get to invent a new character, they don’t have to play Dr Heiter or Martin again. So when you see part three, you immediately forget about Dr Heiter and Martin, because they are so different.
Even though you still reference the other films…
SIX: Absolutely! But you forget it!
So again, Dieter, when you saw the screenplay for part three, what did you think?
LASER: Same pattern. We met in London, and I had the honour to see part two, with the wonderful Laurence R. Harvey, brilliantly directed and invented by Tom. I admire him so much for his ability to create really interesting plots, with really intelligent and sophisticated ideas. So we met, I had the honour with Inga my wife to see part two, and afterwards, he told me the whole story of part three. And he is such a brilliant storyteller, you see every detail, so in my minds eye, I saw everything, and I was hilariously excited, and I said “come on, let’s go and have a smoke on the street”… and then was saying “he’s walking like this (GETS UP AND DOES A BILL BOSS STRUT AROUND THE ROOM) and he will have a belt with a big B on it, Big Boss”. So Tom said “yeah, okay, great”… so we celebrated, we drank a lot, again a contract by handshake with Ilona, and everything was settled.
And as often in pre-production, it took a long time until the script was in final draft, and when the script arrived, there had been a long time in-between. And when I read it, I suddenly got, in my kitchen in the morning hours, I got shocked because I took it a hundred per cent too seriously. The incorrectness I took in a stupid, idiotic way too seriously, and said “I can’t do that” – to rape a woman in a coma, I can’t do that. I can’t eat clitorises – no, I won’t do it. And it escalated back and forth and finally I said “you have to change horses, I don’t do it.” Even though I have a contract by handshake. I thank Tom today on my knees because he didn’t give in. He didn’t change one word. He stuck with his vision. But on the other hand, he never ever gave up trying to convince me.
And finally, in a wonderful, four-hour meeting at the Amsterdam airport, he managed to open my German, stubborn, Kraut eyes – he said “Dieter” – and he took my hand, stroked it and looked in my eyes, and said “Dieter, it’s a COMEDY” – and he spelled the word – COM-E-DY. “Think about more in this direction.” And after four hours I said “I have to go down and outside to have a smoke” and then I came back and said “we have to do that!” and then we started. We met, same table, same restaurant in Amsterdam airport, four-hour meetings, and we started to develop together the part Bill Boss.
And you know, it was so funny because sometimes, as I do in this interview, I jump sometimes up and say “do you like it if I play it this way or that way” and then I offer my director, my beloved director, different versions of how to play a scene, and he says yes or no, do it another way, let’s think about that or this and so on. For example, he says “think of the desert, think of the snakes in the desert” and I said “yeah yeah, I will be a snake, I will work with my tongue a lot” and so on. And sometimes guests in the restaurant in the Sheraton Hotel, Amsterdam Airport, would watch that table… I’m not lying, sometimes people came to our table and would say to Tom “could we be of some help?”
SIX: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s great!
LASER: Because they saw that crazy actor there and didn’t know what happened with these two guys. In the historic canon, I call these meetings Sheraton Table Dancing. Therefore, when we came to America and started work, we hardly had to speak, because we were both so well prepared. I knew precisely what he wanted me to play, and he knew precisely how I would play it. So we hardly had any words, we would avoid rehearsal, and would do only the smallest necessary camera arrangement – I will go here and shout into that, sound watch it, it will be very loud, and that’s all – then we shoot. Because we have such a good chemistry and are so incredibly prepared, we do a lot of shots with one clap. Finished. And that saves us precious time. So if the moment comes, which always comes, where anywhere in the shoot there is a blockage or a problem, we have luxurious time because we are so fast in other scenes. It’s lovely to work so totally at ease if you are an actor.
SIX: It’s brilliant. I love his intensity, his passion. I love to work with Dieter.
LASER: We are like brothers!
You can buy Tom Six’s Movie Centipede – all three films cut together as one long movie – from Six Entertainment.