The XX Factor

“Human Centipede” Censors: Science is Okay; Sex is Not

I’ll confess: I have not seen Human Centipede (First Sequence) , the 2010 horror film about a mad surgeon who sews three luckless people together, mouth-to-anus, in an attempt to create an organism with a single digestive tract. (Though I do quite enjoy this slightly NSFW cat toy .) But even for a squeamish, delicate little flower like myself, there’s plenty to chew on (sorry) in the recent decision by the British Board of Film Classification to ban the sequel, Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) , in the U.K.

Reading the board’s adjudication -which, fair warning, has highly graphic descriptions of the film’s events, not to mention spoilers-it becomes clear that the film isn’t being banned just because it’s “grosser” and more explicit than the first one. Rather, the board seems to be caught up on two other, crucial differences. The first issue is about audience identification. In HC1, the board notes, “the focus [is] on whether the victims will be able to escape.” In this film, however, “the viewer is invited to witness events from the perspective of the protagonist,” and there “is little attempt to portray any of the victims in the film as anything other than objects to be brutalised, degraded and mutilated for the amusement and arousal of the central character, as well as for the pleasure of the audience.” That seems like a salient point to me-there is a difference, isn’t there, between watching someone commit a horrible act that you’re encouraged to condemn, and being encouraged to imagine yourself committing and enjoying said act? The latter makes the film more like pornography (albeit of a sick and violent sort). Whether that’s enough to ban the film, I’m not sure, but without having seen the film it does seem like an important, qualitative difference.

What’s more baffling is the fact that, as David Cox notes at the Guardian , the board says that HC1 was okay because its deranged surgeon was conducting “a revolting medical experiment,” while HC2 is not because its people-welder does it purely for the sexual thrill. Granted, the new film sounds sick-making-there’s a horrific rape scene that sounds so revolting, I have a hard time thinking about it clearly. But I’m stumped as to why a crazed scientist is an acceptable villain while a crazed pervert is not, especially when, in their decision not to ban Human Centipede I , the BBFC concluded that in “terms of harm, the scenario is so far fetched and bizarre that there is no plausible risk of emulation.” I’ll admit, HC2’s villain does send more shivers up my spine. Maybe that’s because he sews TWELVE people together, but it may also be because “men who might do you harm for sexual reasons” is a category I’ve been taught to fear more than “men who might do you harm for academic purposes.” But is that evidence that the sequel is, in fact, more likely to pose “a real, as opposed to a fanciful, risk that harm is likely to be caused to potential viewers”?

I’ll be waiting for some smart feminist or porn scholar to watch this film and offer answers to all these questions. Because I highly doubt I will, unless someone does a guide like this one on how not to throw up while watching.