A Disgusting Act of Censorship

The British Board of Film Classification freaks out over The Human Centipede II


Humorlessness, an almost pathological inability to see the fun in anything, has long been part of the job description of censors. But even so, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), which age-rates all films released in the UK, has taken the censoring classes' joylessness and lack of self-awareness to dizzying new heights with its latest ban.

It has refused to classify Dutch director Tom Six's gorefest The Human Centipede II, on the basis that it might "deprave" or "corrupt" those who see it—witlessly unaware of the fact that Six's movie is a blood-spattered critique of the very idea that audiences are easily "depraved" or "corrupted." So the BBFC has banned a film that explicitly mocks the notion that cinema audiences are like nodding dogs who are warped by what they see, in the name of defending from harm the nodding dogs of the British film-viewing public who might be warped by what they see.

The Human Centipede II certainly sounds nasty. It tells the story of a man who gets his kicks by creating a "human centipede." He kidnaps people and stitches them together, mouth to anus, and then watches with glee as his hideous creation writhes around on the floor, its individual members forced to shit into each other's mouths. Nice. At one point, he becomes so excited by the freak he has created that he masturbates himself with sandpaper. Bambi it ain't.

The BBFC refused to classify the film on the basis that its characters are mere "objects to be brutalised, degraded and mutilated." Apparently there's a great risk that the movie could "deprave or corrupt a significant proportion of those likely to see [it]" and therefore it must be squished, chucked into the dustbin of history alongside the 27 other freaky films that the BBFC has refused to classify since the year 2000. After all, we wouldn't want any cinema-going Brits to rush home and try to create their own human centipede, would we?

Yet The Human Centipede II actually sends up the notion that adult audiences are lethally impressionable. It flips the bird at "media effects" theory, the stubbornly un-proven idea that films can have a dangerous effect on the behavior of those who watch them. It parodies the life out of this elitist outlook by actually having its central character become obsessed with Six's first Human Centipede movie, to the extent that he tries to recreate its hideous human monster for himself.

The first film, The Human Centipede, was released in 2009. It tells the story of a creepy German doctor who kidnaps three tourists, drugs them, and stitches them together. The BBFC passed it, even though—inappropriately venturing into movie-criticism territory—it said it found the film "tasteless and disgusting." When Six took that first film around various festivals, he says he was repeatedly asked by brow-furrowing journalists about the danger of "copycatting," where viewers might become so enamoured by his wacky centipede that they would try to make their own. Six says he thought that idea was so demented, so patently a product of fearful journalists' salacious imaginations rather than of any hard evidence that films actually warp people's minds, that he decided to put it in the sequel.

So in the second film, in an ironic, post-Scream mashing together of fiction and reality, the lead character becomes crazily obsessed with The Human Centipede. He decides to go further than the film's German doctor by stitching together 12 people rather than a measly three. He's so brainwashed that he constantly pleasures himself over his bigger, more hellish centipede. Six has denied that there is any message to his movie, but somewhere in all of that, amidst the blood and poo and insanity, there's a devilishly clever assault on the idea that people watch movies and copy them, that our minds are so malleable, like putty, that we can be turned into psychos by psychotic films.

By making "media effects" theory the underlying, unspoken theme of his gory sequel, Six shows just how mad the theory is. If it is ridiculous to claim that Taxi Driver is responsible for attempted political assassinations and that Natural Born Killers unleashed rampant violence, it's even more ridiculous to fret that a film about a German bloke who makes a human centipede might lead to copycat behavior. Yet that concern was raised by straight-faced journalists when the first Human Centipede movie was released. By depicting it, Six demolishes it.

And what does the BBFC do? It bans The Human Centipede II, just in case the movie might tempt audiences towards centipede-obsessed depravity. The BBFC, which was founded in 1912 and was more appropriately known as the British Board of Film Censors until it changed its name in 1984, makes great play of the fact that it doesn't actually have the legal authority to ban films. And it is true that, like the Motion Picture Association of America, age classification is the main role of the BBFC. It decides whether a movie should be classified U (Universal), PG (Parental Guidance), 12A (where those under 12 must be accompanied by an adult), 15 (for 15-year-olds and over), 18 (for 18-year-olds and over), or R18 (for movies that cannot be shown in cinemas but may be sold in one of Britain's 250 licensed sex shops).

Yet it is highly disingenuous for the BBFC to say it doesn't ban. Its refusal to classify a film, to deny it even an R18 rating, effectively means a film is blacklisted in Britain. It makes it extremely unlikely that the film will be shown in any cinema and makes it a criminal offence for anyone to supply it on DVD or video. So if I get hold of a copy of The Human Centipede II and distribute it in Britain, I could be imprisoned. If that isn't censorship, I don't know what is.

The key problem with "media effects" theory is its patronizing view of the public as automatons and attack dogs, who see something and act on it. In arguing that films can invade and mess with our heads, "media effects" theorists call into question the very existence of free will and free choice, depicting our minds as empty vessels waiting to be filled. They overlook the fact that there is something standing in the way of horror films leading to horrific societies—and that is us, reasoned viewers, who know very well the difference between fiction and reality and that kidnapping 12 people and turning them into a human centipede is a pretty rotten thing to do.

Six says he is working on a third Human Centipede film. He hasn't revealed any details yet, but I hope he sticks with the po-mo, meta approach, perhaps by having members of the BBFC become so warped by a film that they jealously keep to themselves that they turn into centipede-creating lunatics. After all, if, as they believe, movies can make ordinary people go crazy, why can't movies have the same effect on the authoritarian suits who preview and classify them on our behalf?

Brendan O'Neill is editor of spiked in London.

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  1. the censoring classes’…lack of self-awareness

    Lack of self-awareness? How so? It seems increasingly that anyone who disagrees with anyone else must be “unself-aware”, whatever that means.

    1. the BBFC has banned a film that explicitly mocks the notion that cinema audiences are like nodding dogs who are warped by what they see, in the name of defending from harm the nodding dogs of the British film-viewing public who might be warped by what they see.

      How so? There you go. Explains it right up front in the article.

  2. Sounds interesting in a “movie I’d never EVER see,” kind of way.

  3. The BBFC, which was founded in 1912 and was more appropriately known as the British Board of Film Censors until it changed its name in 1984

    The irony, it burns.

    1. The timing is pretty hilarious.

  4. Oh great, I bet someone goes out and does it now.

    1. South Park did it!

    2. there’s an app for that!

      1. copy-catting; how does it work?
        COPY-CATTING; how does it work?

  5. Free publicity.
    Nobody would pay to see a video of me pooping but if the Gubmint bans it I’ll make some coin for sure.

  6. We should do that here. YOU MORONS!!!

    1. Stay out, Savage. We don’t want your censoring ways over here!

  7. Thank God for these government censors, otherwise I will do what happens in that movie and masturbate with sandpaper.

    1. I read a case study on a man who masturbated with rough sandpaper and was ‘suffering’ injuries due to tissue damage. The Psyc had him gradually change the grade of the paper to ‘very fine’.

      I always wondered if he had very soft penis skin?

      1. Maybe not soft, but smooth

  8. Every time someone makes a movie about Jesus, audiences run out and start nailing people to crosses.

  9. The British censors are pretty fucking sensitive. Straw Dogs got banned, and I swear it was more for the negative light it put the limeys in than for the graphic Penckinpah violence at the end. Fuck, that film is awesome.

    And guess what? Rod Lurie is remaking it, that talentless fuck hack. And for all you southerners out there, Rod is making the shifty rapist locals southerners instead of limeys. Isn’t that nice? How much will this suck? Let’s speculate. I say it will be worse than Glitter.

    1. What was wrong with Glitter?

      1. It wasn’t terrible enough. I had to skip to the end and listen to the director’s commentary to finally be able to laugh out loud. That’s too much work.

    2. You seem personally offended by the project. Would you like us to hack his studio?

  10. Forgive me if I fail to see the point of making either movie. Yeah, I know: profit! Fine, whatever. But sheesh, they both seem like a waste of film (video?) and potential movie-making talent.

    Not saying government should ban it, but I’m certainly free to criticize it. Just sounds like a vile and worthless movie. Of course, I cannot begin to fathom the shit or piss fetishists anyhow.

    1. The more depraved, the more we adore it.

    2. You’re never felt the velvety warmth of excrement spread lovingly across your flesh with a garden trough…

      1. Shut up and drink!

      2. Yes I have.

    3. You should never, ever watch Nekromantik, then.

      1. German, how did I know?

    4. You’ve not criticized the movie so much as you have the description and the concept. If you fail to see the point of making the film, fine, but what’s the point of the BBFC banning it other than nanny-state protectionism and general totalitarianism?

      1. That is the point.

      2. Maybe you missed the part where I wrote “not saying the government should ban it.”

        1. No I didn’t, I just failed to see the point of your comment much like you fail to see the point of the film.

    5. It’s honestly not that gory at all. The Thing, for example, was much more gruesome.

      1. I agree. I was expecting to be revolted and perhaps stop watching the first movie, but it was filmed “antiseptically” and the people’s faces were just shown near the backsides of the one in front and covered with bandages so it was all imagined by the viewer. (i.e. no sh*t was observed in the movie). Ironically, the last scene was more disturbing than the main premise of the movie.

        I give it 2.5/4.0 stars for originality.

  11. Just hearing the description of the movie made me a little ill. More power to you, dude, but I’ll sure as hell never watch your movie.

    1. This is all I’m trying to say.

  12. The key problem with “media effects” theory is its patronizing view of the public as automatons and attack dogs, who see something and act on it.

    Social engineers, socialists, progressives, and other statist fucks can’t hide their raw contempt for their fellow human beings.

  13. I don’t know, I was pretty left wing until I saw the book trailer for Welchlespie’s new book. That media made me want to copy it all over the place.

  14. I saw the first one. Too ridiculous to be scary.

  15. The Human Centipede II

    I wonder if it will be as hot as the first one…

    1. You get to be the middle piece!

      1. As I recall, it was not a reward.

  16. I hope he sticks with the po-mo, meta approach, perhaps by having members of the BBFC become so warped by a film that they jealously keep to themselves that they turn into centipede-creating lunatics. After all, if, as they believe, movies can make ordinary people go crazy, why can’t movies have the same effect on the authoritarian suits who preview and classify them on our behalf?

    Indeed. Shouldn’t the BBFC members be jailed immediately any time they deem a movie unrateable, for the safety of all? Then just appoint new members until the next mind-warping film comes along.

    1. How dare you judge them by the same standards they use to judge others?!?

  17. Why don’t they just treat it like a car commercial here in America? Just put a “DO NOT ATTEMPT” label at the bottom during the entire film. Problem solved.

    1. Or just violently depose the tyrannical government of the United Kingdom, hang all members of Parliament, and burn every government-owned building to the ground. And then laugh as the statists burn.

      1. ^^^DO NOT ATTEMPT^^^

        See? Now no mindless drones will ever revolt and take their power back from these tyrants.

        1. Your forgot to add “Professional sado-masochists on closed movie set.”

          1. “No politicians were harmed during the making of this film.”

      2. Good idea Jeff. To their shame, the brits have gone from the birthplace of western freedom to possibly the most totalitarian country in the world.

        1. You should see what the people there have turned into — whimpering, submissive cowards. I’ve seen it first-hand. It’s damned disgusting.

      3. “Or just violently depose the tyrannical government of the United Kingdom…then laugh as the statists burn.”

        SEE!!! This is why we should have banned V for Vendetta as well!!!

    2. My bass lures are small plastic fish with multiples sets of treble-hooks hanging prominently from them. On the back of the packages are the words ‘Warning: Do not eat’. The first time I noticed this I was dumb-struck for at least a minute.

  18. I’m looking forward to the next sequel, Human Centipede: The Fellowship of the Ring.

  19. The whole concept is flawed… I mean, c’mon. Four limbs per segment: it’s a human millipede.

  20. They are Anonymous. We are Anonymous. I am Anonymous. Are you? #antisec http://t.co/9dQvqbT

  21. frankly, i thought human centipede I was not nearly as shocking and gross as the hype made it out to be. but that’s usually the case when a movie gets totally hyped- it never lives up. frankly, it was boring, the police procedural aspects were stupid (even for european cops), etc.

    frankly, south park did it better (THE CUTTLEFISH!!!)

    i thought martyrs was way more disturbing, frankly.

    the brits are censorious fucks. iirc, they banned cannibal holocaust and lots of other stuff – even music.

  22. Depraved or corrupt? It’s romantic comedies that depraved and corrupt! In real life an ugly guy doesn’t get a pretty girl! Romantic comedies create false expectations. I’d rather get my social skills from Jason Voohes and Freddy Kruger. LOL. God I miss the 80s.

    1. unless they are a rock star. ric ocasek and paulina porizkova (sp?) etc.

      1. Billy Joel and Christina Brinkley.

      2. Seal and Heidi Klum.
        Rod Stewart and Rachel Hunter.
        Chris Robinson and Kate Hudson.
        That guy from Biohazard and Tera Patrick.

        1. seal is actually pretty handsome imo

          rod stewart was at one point, but now he is old and wrinkly and shit, i agree. (cue: south park reference)

          i played in bands in high school and college, and it is clear that nothing attracts the wimmins more than being in a band (guitar or vocals mostly) except that drug dealers do ok with the drug skanks and athletes do pretty well too

  23. God save the geeks!

  24. [Standard Libertarian Disclaimer, blah, blah, blah]

    I haven’t seen The Human Centipede, and I have no intention of seeing it or the sequel. I like horror movies in general, but I’ve never really gotten the whole torture porn subgenre. I’ve seen two of the Saw movies (how many are they up to now? Eight? Nine?), and I saw the first Hostel. I didn’t care for any of them. Although, they did have the exact opposite effect of that which the BBFC seems to think movies have. After watching Hostel, I have less desire than ever before to vacation in Eastern Europe.

    1. There are 5 saw movies, all of them great.

      The second Hostel is better than the first, specially the revenge castration, nice.

      Oh, and I resent the term “torture porn,” I’d rather call it “realistic horror” or “real horror.” I’m so tired of horror movies where people walk really slow and everything is really dark. Anyone can do that, real horror is bright, real horror is sunny, real horror features slow deaths versus quick kills.

      1. i just make the distinction between slasher horror and psychological or classic horror

        saw, hostel et al have their place

        personally, i prefer stuff like rosemary’s baby, the exorcist, etc.

        btw, the remake of last house on the left i thought was very good

        i also love devil’s rejects

        1. I don’t mind slasher flicks such as Friday the 13th, Halloween, or even the first five Nightmare on Elm Streets. I think the realism distinction is what does it for me. The violence in those movies is so over the top, that I actually root for the killer. It’s like watching anime, or playing Mortal Kombat. There is no part of my mind saying, “some sick bastard could actually do this.” I don’t enjoy the realistic presentation of sadistic brutality. Obviously, a lot of other people do, and I have no problem with that, but it’s not my thing.

        2. For real horror, you gotta watch the care bear movies, or maybe that choo-choo. (a tRAIN with a human face!!!!) That makes my skin crawl…

  25. If there was a ever a group of people who needed the mouth-sewed-to-anus treatment….

    1. …it would be anonypussy sockpuppets who use passive-aggressive interjections to make meta-comments? No…not that.

      1. Alright, fine: The British censors need the mouth-sewed-to-anus treatment. No longer passive. I don’t see how it’s “meta”, since it directly pertains to the article. As for being “anonymous”, you have 24 hours to post your name and address; otherwise, pot, kettle, black, etc…

      2. The fuck?

  26. Lord Cobbold, recently appointe to the British Board of Censors: “When I go to the theatre I want to be taken out of myself. I don’t want to see Lust and Rape and Incest and Sodomy …. I can get all that at home!”

    from Beyond The Fringe

  27. You fell into the trap. This movie is garbage, the people who made it are sub-human, and you are stupid for reviewing it.

  28. Dude. Seriously. Media effects theories are not all one and the same. Arguments are consistently made for both limited effects theories and strong effects theories, but your article up there purports that they are all the same.

    Media has proven limited effects on children and other people who stand to be influenced by specific targeting. That said, the position taken in this article *is* otherwise correct.

  29. The Jackass movies inspired my nephews – and I’m sure many – to try to copy them. Maybe dunphy can tell us how common copycat crimes are. I think people are less influenced by movies that are taken as fiction than by real events , however.

  30. The movie will “deprave or corrupt a significant proportion of those likely to see [it],” writes the BBFC.

    The film censors seem to be basing their decision on the Hicklin rule which Alexander Cockburn described in Regina v. Hicklin in 1868:

    “The test of obscenity is whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences and into whose hands a publication of this sort might fall.”

    I had thought that this Victorian legal standard had fallen into disuse, but apparently I am wrong.

  31. Heck, I’ve passed centipede by on netflix many times just because it seemed so stupid, now I’ve gotta watch both of them. Damn these censors.

  32. If I was really worried about media corrupting and depraving people–and I am not particulalry–then Human Centipede would be pretty low on my list of dangerous films. How many of the few people who actually see Human Centipede are actually going to have their attitudes and behavior ‘corrupted’ by such cartoonish and over-the-top fare vs. the number who may be affected in some way by more believable, engrossing and much more widely viewed movies routinely passed by the BBFC that subtly or even overtly promote racist, sexist, violent, antisocial and fascist ideology and actions? One would think that such films are much more likely–if likely at all–to cause ill effects on society. This logic alone points to the hypocrisy of the BBFC. Human centipede is one of the last films I’d ever want to watch let alone pay money to watch, but people should be allowed to watch whatever they want.

  33. “tasteless and disgusting.”
    Well, disgusting, sure – not that that is a bad thing. (Jeffery Goldbloom regurgitating on a donut as he turns into THE FLY speaking to his girlfriend, “Thats disgusting, isn’t it?)

    Anyway, I’m pretty sure it tasted like sh*t, or chicken.

    Actually, the intial one was pretty boring – a lot of fast forwarding. Also, who doesn’t have a GPS nowadays???

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