No Pain, No Gain: Strategic Repulsion and The Human Centipede

Abstract
Tom Six’s The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009) and The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (2011) are based on a disturbing premise: people are abducted and stitched together mouth-to-anus. The consequent combinations of faeces and bloodshed, torture and degradation have been roundly vilified by the critical press. Additionally, the sequel was officially banned or heavily censored in numerous countries. This article argues that these reactive forms of suppression fail to engage with the films themselves, or the concepts (such as disgust and offense) on which those judgements are made. Six’s films are far more sophisticated than has been accounted for. These films wear their generic lineage on their grimy sleeves, contextualising conventional motifs such as the mad scientist archetype against contemporary cultural anxieties regarding the body, sex and violence. Furthermore, Six’s constructed persona exposes the interplay between commercial success, grotesquery and censoriousness as a cyclic system that can be abused. Thus, the series epitomises how repulsion can be strategically utilised. Six anticipates his detractors’ offense, and disarms them of their ability to critique his films without adding to their notoriety. The Human Centipede films demonstrate how controversy can be tactically generated to create meaning.
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