Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Human Centipede Takes a Wrong Turn

I was a fan of The Human Centipede (First Sequence) and defended it against detractors. But the sequel, The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (2011), is a disappointment.

The basic problem is that the sequel is just a gorier parody of the original. The original was not particularly gory at all, using wit and suggestion to evoke the horror of the deformed destructive being (DDB), which was a combination of a mad scientist and his creation, three people sewn together mouth to anus to form a single digestive tract. In the sequel, there is no mad scientist, just a mad parking attendant named Martin, who is obsessed with making a human centipede of his own after watching it done in the original movie.

Since Martin, unlike the original mad scientist, is not a surgeon, he conducts his surgery with ordinary household tools and a whack from a crowbar as an anesthetic. In the spirit of excess, he makes his human centipede with twelve people, not three. The movie is much gorier than the original, showing all the details of the homemade surgery, from knocking out teeth to stapling mouths to rear ends. (I saw the unrated version and don't know what this all looked like in other versions.) This is slightly comic, and frequently disgusting, but it is never horrific. There was more to fear in the original mad scientist's speech and diagram of how he would do the surgery than in watching it done.

Then there is Martin himself. Morbidly obese, he is not much of a pleasure to watch, especially because we often have to watch him naked or nearly naked. Again, this is not horrific, just unpleasant.

The movie is in black-and-white except for certain brown splats on the screen that indicate the digestive system of the human centipede is working. This type of joke would go well in a scatological teen comedy, but it seems out of place here.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films

Saturday, April 7, 2012

God and Horror Movies

Just in time for Passover and Easter, here is a meditation on God and horror movies.

Not all horror movies explicitly involve God, but many do, such as The Exorcist. As pictured above, the deformed destructive being (DDB) in the film--the demon possessing the little girl Regan--is confronted by an adversary who is an authorized agent of God, a man of the cloth, Fr. Merrin. God stands in opposition to the DDB, and the divine agents are heroic, in contrast to the evil monstrousness of the DDB.

This opposition is widespread in the vampire subgenre. Dracula and other vampires are regularly confronted by vampire hunters wielding crosses, who are thus made de facto agents of God. The cross seems to be painful, fearful, even acidic to the vampire, showing his subordination to the power of God. Again, God is opposed to the DDB.

But the question left unanswered in all such stories is why God, who is supposed to be all-powerful, permits the existence of the DDBs at all. This is a version of the classic theological problem of evil, which has never been solved with sufficient finality to stop it from being raised again and again.

One possible answer that the horror movie offers is that God sends DDBs to punish wrongdoers. This is the apparent position of all such films, such as Frankenstein, in which a mad scientist transgresses against God's law (eg, by creating a DDB), and is punished for his transgression (eg, by having the DDB go berserk on him). But curiously, in such a film, the DDB stands in the position of agent of God--a punitive agent, but an agent nonetheless. Far from being opposed to DDBs, in such films, God seems to use them--even, perhaps, like them. And if he likes them, is it possible he is like them?

The horror movie begins to present the possibility that God is himself a DDB: that the universe itself is monstrous to its ground. This may be the ultimate scariness of horror movies. Only a few films go very far along these lines. Bride of Frankenstein suggests, with its Christ-imagery surrounding the monster, not so much that the monster is Christ-like as that Christ is monster-like. And Frailty suggests that God is ordering a serial killer to kill. Other horror movies are more content to maintain a simple surface opposition between God and DDB. But it may be that all horror movies in which God is involved have the potential to be interpreted more along the lines of a link between God and DDB.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Horror Dialogue

Most horror movies are best remembered for their scary moments and scenes of mayhem, and these often occur with little to no dialogue. Nevertheless, horror movies have produced some fine bits of dialogue over the years, whether spoken by deformed destructive beings or by the normals they attack. Here are a few of my favorites.

"Be afraid. Be very afraid."
--Geena Davis in The Fly

"A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti."
--Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs

"It's alive! It's alive!"
--Colin Clive in Frankenstein

"For one who has not lived even a single lifetime, you are a wise man, Van Helsing."
--Bela Lugosi in Dracula

"Thanks for the bullet."
--Henry Hull in Werewolf of London

"Kill the brain and you kill the ghoul."
--TV announcer in Night of the Living Dead

"A boy's best friend is his mother."
--Anthony Perkins in Psycho

"What is the law?"
--Charles Laughton in Island of Lost Souls

"You're gonna need a bigger boat."
--Roy Scheider in Jaws

"What an excellent day for an exorcism."
--Mercedes McCambridge supplying the voice of Linda Blair in The Exorcist

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films