The banning of 'The Human Centipede II': It's good to know that England is keeping censorship alive. And, of course, helping to market the very movie it's banning.


Image Credit: Film Images

When I heard on Monday that the upcoming gross-out horror film The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) had been banned in Britain, I confess that the news gave me a few goose pimples of nostalgia. Banned! Censored! Stamped with an X! Because it was just too nasty to be watched by civilized beings! The very notion that a feature-length motion picture could still be that shocking and grotesque — that it could show something so forbidden that it had to be, you know, forbidden — took me back to a previous era, when movies that smashed taboos could really generate some infamy, could seem almost outside the law. Of course, the way it works now, when horror junkies routinely seek out and gorge upon the most vile and extreme movies they can find, the announcement that the British Board of Film Classification had denied Human Centipede II an “18 certificate,” effectively squashing the right for it to be shown in any form in the UK, basically became a signal to those same horror junkies the world over. The signal said: Here, in case there was any doubt, is a movie you most definitely want to see.

The most infamous film ever banned in Britain was A Clockwork Orange (1971), and that happened because, at the time, it was literally perceived to be striking too close to home. The way that the expatriate Anglophile Stanley Kubrick directed his adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel, A Clockwork Orange is a very English movie, a kind of boarding-school delinquent’s snotty birth-of-punk nightmare, with “naughtiness” inflated into puckish sadism. Malcolm McDowell’s Alex was the sociopathic id who was begging, in essence, for a spanking, but many commentators looked at the brutal antics of Alex and his droogs and feared copy-cat crimes (which had begun to be reported). And so did Kubrick, who ultimately had the film pulled from distribution. The anxiety, of both critics and the filmmaker himself, inflated what should have been a simple issue of outrageous art — and the right to create and distribute it — into one of public safety.


Image Credit: Comedy Central

And that, from what I can gather, is the key motivation behind the banning of The Human Centipede II. The few hardcore horror mavens who saw The Human Centipede (First Sequence), which was released last year without the foundations of society crumbling (hey, it was even parodied on South Park!), will recall that it was about a psychotic surgeon, living in placid anonymity in the German suburbs, who kidnaps two women for a sick “experiment” in which he surgically joins them (and another victim), mouth to rear end, to create the title monstrosity. The most entertaining thing in the movie — and, as I said in EW, in its gruesome depraved way it was entertaining (if that’s the right word) — was the performance of the veteran German actor Dieter Laser (above), who with his sunken cheeks and Nazi zombie rag-doll stare seemed to be starring in some Rainer Werner Fassbinder version of The Boris Karloff Story.

So why, after all that, the sudden uproar over Human Centipede II? Because the new movie goes so much further? I haven’t seen it yet (it’s set, right now, to be released in the U.S. sometime this summer), but from what I’ve been able to gather, the key incendiary element is that the sequel is actually about someone who becomes obsessed with a DVD copy of The Human Centipede and, inspired by the first film, attempts to replicate the mad surgeon’s body-part/insect handiwork. In other words, it’s Human Centipede gone Blair Witch: another psychosexual exploitation nightmare (made by the same filmmaker, Tom Six of the Netherlands), only this time served up with a framing device of “reality” that, in the eyes of the BBFC, could prove to be yet another invitation to copy-cat criminal horror.

Not that the board’s official rationalization is even that subtle. “There is little attempt to portray any of the victims in the film,” says the BBFC statement, “as anything other than objects to be brutalized, degraded and mutilated for the amusement and arousal of the central character, as well as for the pleasure of the audience.” Well! That may be true, but I would say that it’s also true of every slasher potboiler since the gore-gore glory days of Halloween and Friday the 13th. It’s also true of hundreds of other contemporary horror films, ones that aim to be art (like Takashi Miike’s Audition) or just to see how much damage can be inflicted on the human body with a circular saw.

Of course, what really renders the banning of The Human Centipede II an almost nostalgic act of stiff-upper-lip state control is that in the digital era, banning a movie is virtually impossible. One way or another, it’s going to bleed and leak across boundaries. If the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” could become the number-one single in England 34 years ago on the week it was banned, you’d better believe that The Human Centipede II, in the form of digital data, will find a myriad of ways to get into the hands of those who want to see it. So what the British cultural authorities have really done is to turn censorship into virtually the only thing it can be anymore in a free society: not a way of keeping people from seeing movies — but, in fact, the ultimate outré consumer guide.

What do you think of the banning of The Human Centipede II? Does it bother you when something like this happens in a free society like England (as opposed to, say, the regulated theocracy of Iran)? Do you agree with the ban, or do you think (like me) that no film, no matter how repulsive, should be subjected to state censorship? And does the banning of The Human Centipede II make you want to stay away from the movie? Or, just possibly, see it more?

Follow Owen on Twitter: @OwenGleiberman

Comments (139 total) Add your comment
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  • Aldo

    I don’t condone the use of censoring or banning entertainment products under the regulation of the government, but this movie is just a piece of sh*t. This is not art and by seeing the first movie, there is no reason for the movie’s exsistence other than for the sake of making the audience cringe.

    • LMFO

      Tonight’s SOUTH PARK was a classic! I hope EW reviews it…or at least mentions it somewhere.

    • Brenda

      Another pathetic EW clown trying to sound hip by latching on to a crappy meme.
      This article is horrible.
      The film is full of torture scenes and brutal rapes. Did the writer not even do a simple google search to get a couple of facts? Sickening move by EW to give this trash publicity in the guise of “protecting art”.
      Teens and perverts will now seek this out online thanks to EW’s promotion.
      Sickening move.

      • Cris

        Brenda, considering the whole idea of your “sickening” comment is to “ignore ths movie and not give it publicity,” aren’t you adding to the intrigue by posting what you just posted?
        EW may be “sickening,” but you’re a moron.

      • Feverish

        Nice to see you think of teens and perverts in the same vein.

      • @ Cris

        Brenda is commenting on an article, she didn’t write and publish a piece and plaster it on a widely-read entertainment site. Not the same thing moron.

      • liza

        The new film? I don’t remember any rape in HC. I ike horro movies and can’t wait to see it. I like this better than all the “reality” crap on TV. To each his own.

      • Shadowlands

        I think perhaps that you’re missing the point of the article. He’s not advocating on behalf of the film; he’s trying to create a dialogue about censorship and whether or not this is possible in today’s technological age. News of the banning was widespread over the last few days so naturally it’s going to be covered, especially in a widely read entertainment magazine. The fact that you don’t think its appropriate is your opinion to hold, but the topic itself is valuable. As for the film in question, I saw the first movie last year and wasn’t impressed with it as a horror film – it’s gruesome, but fails on a number of levels. I’m tempted to see the second to see if Tom Six has improved on his storytelling, but the concept itself has already been done so I hope he’s got some other tricks up his sleeve.

      • Brian R

        Streisand Effect

      • Nicole

        liza, yes, the new film features victims being raped, one with barbed wire.

      • SteverB

        @ @Cris: Brenda’s comment is now attached to the article, which makes it the same as the article. She has now written and published her comment, plastering it on a widely read entertainment website. I think the ending “moron” is understood here.

    • Kevin

      I am not nearly for censorship at all, but I agree with the ban. I do think if people want to watch something this disgusting then that is their own issue, but I what about the rest of us you have had to hear about this? EW has covered it, it is on shelves at best buy, Jason Sudekis and Stephen Colbert make jokes about it…it is a grey area, I don’t believe in censorship but I don’t like that I have been subjected to even the premise of this. If I were a struggling actor, I would sooner do porn.

      • Bingo

        What is so “grey” about it? If you don’t like it do not watch it or read about it. No on said you had to click on this headline to read it.

      • holla

        That is what he is saying genius, he doesn’t want to watch it but doesn’t want to have to hear about it either. That he doesn’t believe in censorship but this isn’t just a black and white case of censorship.

      • toots

        There are plenty of things I don;t want to hear about. You know what. I just don’t listen. Why in the world would you take the time to read and resond to this article?

      • sarah

        so when I am watching the MTV movie awards and Jason Sudiekis makes a joke referencing this atrocity, that is my fault? I should shield my eyes and cover my ears so that I don’t ever have to hear about this garbage, it is impossible to do what you are saying toots and you aren’t looking at it from any other point of view but your own.

      • matt squared

        “If I were a struggling actor, I would sooner do porn.”

      • @ sarah

        Lame comment. If you don’t pay attention to HC2 then Jason’s joke will have no meaning to you. You have no idea what my point of view is. Anyway, your comment is exactly why this should not be banned. Life is full of atrocities that you can’t or shouldn’t shield yourself from. this you can just chose to not watch.

      • @ sarah

        I didn’t want to hear about it but still I can’t escape the talk of Weiner’s weiner.

      • HMac

        I agree with you Kevin.

      • @@sarah

        that is a lame defense, anyone who doesn’t get Jason’s joke will undoubtedly go searching for what it is and then…BAM!

      • raingod

        Maybe we should ban idiots like you.

      • Steve

        I’m sorry, but saying that something should be banned because you don’t want to hear about it is a statement that just seems to contradict itself. Things that get banned are some of the most talked about things, if for no other reason than the sake that it is banned. Controversy breeds attention like this, so using the desire to not want to know about something as an argument as to why it should be banned just seems moot. I’m with the crowd that states, “If you don’t want to watch it, then just DON’T WATCH IT!” Whether things like this do or don’t get released does not change the fact that people are going to keep making things like this and that there’s always going to be a group of people who will seek this material out. I, for one, saw and hated the first movie, mainly because of the terrible acting and some unbearable scenes. When it comes down to it though, it was my choice to watch it. Why can’t people just leave it at that? You have every right to say no to supporting things like this yourself as the filmmakers who make this crap out have the right to do so. Personal freedoms, simple as that. Society did not fall apart with the release of the first film and won’t do so with the inevitable release of this one.

      • Lauren


      • Michael

        So if I don’t want to be subjected to images of the Holocaust, communism or murder, we should ban all movies that deal with these topics? I can’t believe that in this day and age there are still people who are advocates for censorship. THAT makes me sad for the human race.

    • Alan

      Yes, I should jump up in a First Amendment Flag Waving fit of pique against this banning. But you know what? I’m kind of glad that Britain had the balls to stand up and say, you know what? THIS IS A PIECE OF SH*T (literally!!!). The US MPAA makes it own moral judgements all the time. Shouldnt there come a point when they have the right to stand up and say, you know what, no, I don’t think so.

      • raingod

        No there shouldn’t you nazi.

      • Lisap

        I read part of decision to ban this in England and they basically said the reason this was banned but the first wasn’t is because this movie has someone becoming sexually obsessed with the “creature” from the last one. Basically using it as a sexual object as opposed to a scientific experiment was why they were drawing the line. Whether that affects anyone’s opinion on the ban I don’t know but I do not think the author gave sufficient info about the ban (or the ban on CWO for that matter) to explain the motivation.

      • dan ehrl

        You mean shouldn’t there come a point when you stand up and tell people you’ve never met what you think is best for them? No, there certainly shouldn’t be

    • Seth Derrick

      You could say that about most commercial “art”. Why does it always have to be about “artistic merit”? Why can’t “purile entertainment” be enough? Who the frack are you or anyone else to tell another adult what they can and cannot see?

  • Wes

    It also in the BBFC statement that key scenes in the movie involve a man masturbating with sand paper and raping a woman with his man parts covered in barbed wire. I love horror movies, but I don’t think I can tolerate watching this film.

    • Emma

      I just threw up in my mouth reading this comment. No offense, Wes.

      • anonymous

        Do us all a favor and swallow. Gulp

      • tom

        I agree Emma. Who finds that crap entertaining? It’s scary actually.

    • @wes

      So don’t watch it! What is so hard to understand here? BTW, it is all acting. It is a HORROR film. not condoning it just saying you all have freedom of choice.

    • Lisap

      I honestly have to say that I give them credit for finally drawing a line somewhere. Also, I think the comparison of this to CWO is absolutely ridiculous.

  • Johnification

    You’re right; if their motivation for banning the movie was that the victims were so thinly portrayed that they basically were just bodies for a-hackin’, there’s no reason why every single “Saw” movie shouldn’t have also been banned.

    Now all I have stuck in my head is a Japanese man eating cuttlefish and screaming, “I’m sorry, Kyle!”

    • TedStriker


      “So sowwy Kyle, but I am stahving. Which would you-a ratha I eat? Should-a I eat a cuttlefish and asparagus or the vanilla paste-o?”

  • Matthew

    Well Owen, I might agree with this article for the most part, and how it may seem like an overreaction by the British that will only further promote the movie, but from their statement released about the movie, it seems like this movie has some disgusting sexual parts in it that make the messed up parts of Antichrist seem quaint. I dont think we have another Clockwork Orange on our hands here is all Im saying.

  • Jackson

    You either choose to watch it or you do not. But at least there is a choice. All government wants to do is limit our choices. Wake up people, take your head out of the sand, please.

    • Kevin

      Dramatic! In a case this extreme, I agree with the ban. If it had been banned in the US I would probably never have known it existed along with most of the general population, which is what garbage like this deserves. Just the idea floating around in my head makes me sick to my stomach.

      • Matt

        Actually, Kevin, if it had been banned in the US, you would be hearing about it MORE. The only reason we are talking about it now is because of the UK ban. Kinda the point of the article, and what no one seems to understand(because they keep doing it) is that when you ban something, or even call for a boycott, all you do is cause MORE people to hear about it and see it. You are providing free advertising for the very thing you are trying to quash.

      • jen

        it is still better than doing nothing.

      • matt squared

        Matt, it would be a flash in the pan at best, how much would we be able to talk about something we can’t see? and the sickos here who would seek it out most likely don’t socialize with the general population.

  • Emma

    All I know is, after reading the description of the first one (and I guess also the second) I need a bath and cocktail. That was disturing. I was hoping the title was just a metaphor.

    • kremzeek!

      @ emma,how ’bout i join you,toots?

  • Kcams

    This is the worst tyoe of sensationliat journalism and the reason why a proper debate on censorship always denegrates to a purile arguement. You should presents the facts as they are with slanting them to your stories agenda.

    The two instances of censorship you talk about weren’t even ‘official’ banning, the sex pistols were only banned from radio play but you could still buy the records in the shops, not much of a ban if you ask me, and Clockwork Orange as you state was removed at the request of Kubrick, not banned by the censor or anyone else, but you don’t make that clear as it doesn’t support your agenda, anyway that is self censorship.

    • Lpp

      Dude, read…
      “Kubrick, who ultimately had the film pulled from distribution.”
      …before you write.

  • Donal Logue

    Gleiberman – you’re an idiot.

    • donal logue

      this is donal logue here and I am shocked to see someone leaving a post in my name- mostly because I don’t think of myself as well known enough for someone to do this! I can assure you Donal Logue (above) that I have met Owen and he is far from an idiot, but a talented film critic- something we need more of.

      • Alex

        Grow up.

    • Liver

      Will the real Donal Logue please stand up? :P

    • Lala

      OG liked the first one and gave it a good review in the magazine. I wish to this day that I could unread it. The review itself was enough to give me nightmares. there is something seriously wrong with OG.

      • dan ehrl

        The review gave you nightmares?? You, ma’am, are a liar

    • Melvie

      Diabolik y Eyes without a face en panallta grande, que maravilla. Funeral Siniestro un cle1sico colombiano poco visto por ace1,excelente. Juan Piquer Simon’ y su rip-off de Superman, obligatorio verla con todos los fans del cine fante1stico. MORBIDO se ha volado la barda.

  • LOL

    Crap like this would die on its own. It doesn’t need to be censored. Now it will be bigger than it would have been.

    • Apos


  • jj6

    umm did owen even read the full description of what goes on in this “sequel”? Its not that it was just bad it the particular tortures are disgusting beyond anything. Just reading the report made me feel sick

  • Allison

    I think the main reason for the refusal to give it a rating is the sexual parts. I would think most people would understand the desire to prevent someone copycatting that….

    (And before anyone jumps on me for being pro-censorship, I’m not commenting on whether it should be censored or not. I just think that the article above didn’t really present all the information.)

    • Bingo

      SO any movie with a rape in it should be banned?

  • Brandy

    Liked the first one. England banning it just makes me all the more excited to watch the sequel.

    • yeppers


    • crispy

      We invited a bunch of friends over to watch it on PPV and got drunk. Everyone was laughing. These movies are comedies, not horrors. And none of my friends went home that night and kidnapped 3 people and turned them into human centipedes… we managed to restrain ourselves.

  • Nicolaus

    Whether or not the film should be censored, I do appreciate that the British film authority was so specific about the reasons they chose to do so. This is a case of a watchdog group doing its job, and being more open about that process than the MPAA in the U.S. ever has been.

    I do take issue with Mr. Gleiberman suggesting that films like “Halloween” and other slashers/horrors treat their victims like “objects to be brutalized, degraded and mutilated for the amusement and arousal of the central character.” This isn’t true. In these films the killer is not the central character and is usually mostly offscreen. Moreover, such victims are usually sympathetic, relatable protagonists that the viewers actually do care about. The difference between these films and something like the unmitigated torture porn of “Human Centipede” is very distinct.

  • SparkyUK

    Reading the full BBFC statement then I would have to agree they have done the right thing. I can’t see how you can disagree with the BBFC once you have read about the scenes which prompted this action. If you disagree after reading the full facts and want to see this movie then that’s make me sad for the human race.

    • Cris

      Sparky, it’s not about agreeing or disagreeing with the CONTENT. It’s about agreeing or disagreeing with the government telling you what you can or can’t see. I saw the first movie out of curiosity and found it utterly repulsive. I won’t watch the new one, but I want to be the one who decides what I can and can’t spend my money on in the theaters or on DVD, not my government.

      • LJ

        Cris, do you know what government you’re talking about? They’re just banning it from the theatres. In this day and age anybody who wants to see it, can find a way. You won’t be put in jail for watching it online. I agree with above posts, that there is a difference between slasher horrors like Friday and this disgusting torture porn. They’re making the movie as disgusting and extreme for shock’s sake, not in an attempt to make art.

      • crispy

        No, they’re not just banning it from theaters. It wasn’t even submitted for theatrical distribution. It seems you’re the one who doesn’t know what you’re talking about.

    • Jolane

      I applaud the UK government for doing this.

  • Hooby

    First off, censoring films/books/music is like forbidding kids to eat candy – then they want it all the more. Secondly, as sick as the description of this film sounds (according to the BBFC ruling) it’s a rom com compared to SERIOUSY sick stuff out there – Anthony Underground’s Mordrum anyone? And don’t ask why I know such “films”…

    • K_Sull

      And I believe you just killed your own argument by labeling Human Centipede II a “rom com” – when this isn’t even the worst thing out there, we’ve truly regressed as a society. The sort of “SERIOUSLY sick stuff” you mention shouldn’t exist because it has no redeeming value other than to shock and disgust. That isn’t art, it’s filth.

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