Written by Michael Schutz-Ryan
Dogtooth is not a horror movie, but its twisted themes and dark storyline certainly warrant a mention here. The 2009 Greek film (and 2011 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language film) tells the tale of the sheltered lives of three siblings, whose names are never revealed. A son and his two sisters are held captive by their parents, probably to safeguard them from the evils of the world, but we are never explicitly told their reasons. The absence of the question, “Why?” illustrates the foreign film sensibility that sets Dogtooth a step above the thrillers Hollywood pumps out. The movie knows that the “why” doesn’t matter when the “what” is so compelling.
The film opens with a tape-recorded vocabulary lesson, redefining words indicative of a world beyond the family’s back yard. “Sea” is a leather chair with wooden arms. “Motorway” is a very strong wind. Their routine is comprised of tests and challenges to earn rewards—mostly the honor of choosing the night’s entertainment. One of the most popular choices is videos—simply home movies of the family. The siblings come up with their own twisted games, too. The youngest delights in games of “endurance,” to see who can stand pain the longest.
Dad—the only one to leave the “compound”—brings home a woman, a co-worker, to fulfill his son’s maturing sexual needs. This is followed by a cheery group pose with the woman because the family doesn’t “have one with Christina yet.” Just how long has this been going on? Unsatisfied with the robotic sex, Christina begins to trade petty possessions for cunnilingus with the elder sister. Who then persuades her younger sister to lick her, and a recurring black comedy ensues as the girl takes to licking the elbows, ears, shoulders of her family members. It is one of these trades with Christina that open the elder girl’s mind to the great big world.
Wondering yet how the parents explain the airplanes flying overhead? Or what they say about the discovery of a cat in the garden—a creature the siblings have never seen nor heard of? Let’s just say that they are a deviously ingenious couple.
The film shows us this bizarre family right at their tipping point. The maturing children are beginning to doubt, to question. It is, of course, the son’s sexual awareness that brings in the outsider, and is therefore the catalyst for the final catastrophe. But it is the elder daughter’s plight that we most connect with. She has grown impatient and longs to know what lies beyond the property-enclosing fence.
Revealed with a sort of clinical detachment, the film doesn’t judge these people or events. It presents its own stark reality and allows us to laugh or cringe however a particular scene strikes us. Dogtooth is truly unique, dark, and disturbing, told with the abject realism only found in foreign and indie films. It may not be horror, but anyone interested in the more subtle terrors of the human mind will find much to like with this one.
Four Dweller Heads!
Written by Michael Schutz-Ryan.
When I say “extreme horror,” I’m talking about all those bloody and disturbing movies from Hostel to Flowers of the Flesh and Blood, with all the vile bits of August Underground in between. Tom Six’s sequel to his original The Human Centipede definitely has enough blood and viscera to hold its own against any gore-fest you can think of. But it also features a strong story and a fully realized anti-hero that propels this movie far beyond most extreme horror.
Within the first ten minutes, we are introduced to Tom Six’s artistic elements that elevate this movie. His choice of black and white is a bold statement. It makes the film stark, both ugly and beautiful. And when the blood starts running, the gore is monochromatic black. It’s a bit more palatable that way, though I am sure it is not for the audience’s benefit. It is more a reflection of the unaffected view our protagonist Martin takes of his violence. And the colors remind us not to judge these characters, but rather to see them and their choices as all the shades of grey imaginable.
Martin is an odd, repulsive character that David Lynch himself would be terrified to run into. He’s a crowbar-wielding, goggle-eyed, asthmatic, sweaty, fat, undoubtedly ugly parking ramp attendant. And he never speaks in the film, expressing himself with escalating grunts and piggish squeals. He makes me wonder what the casting call asked for!
The third element that strikes the audience is that in this world, The Human Centipede actually exists as a film by Tom Six. Martin is obsessed with the movie, watching and re-watching on the laptop he takes to work. And at home, he assembles a scrapbook dedicated to the film. The affection he shows for this book is the only loving moments in the entire movie.
Throughout The Human Centipede 2, we are given glimpses and mentions of Martin’s past. His father sexually abused him and landed in jail. Martin’s mother blames him for her husband’s imprisonment and tries to murder her son. And Martin’s psychiatrist is handsy, confiding with a friend that he’d like to fuck Martin, whom he calls “that retarded boy.” These horrendous offenses enlighten Martin’s psychopathy but do not even attempt to excuse it. This film succeeds by neither empathizing nor sympathizing, but rather presenting a blunt portrayal of events.
All these offenses have converged and led Martin to his one ambition: to create his own human centipede. Gone is the static, medically-accurate procedure we saw in the original. There are no tidy sedative injections—Martin simply cracks his victims over the head with the aforementioned crowbar to stun them into submission. And just as would happen in real life, his efforts at centipede construction go horribly wrong. Cutting into a prisoner’s buttcheek produces an overwhelming gush of blood. Martin has no sutures or training, so madly staples his captives in the ass-to-mouth position. And Martin is most interested in the single digestive tract creation, force-feeding the head (Ashlynn Yennie of the original, playing herself) and when unsatisfied with his centipede’s bowel movement progress, injects laxative into the human segments.
The Human Centipede 2 is the most brutal, intense film I’ve ever seen. The gore comes about organically and doesn’t feel rushed or superfluous. It may not have the verisimilitude of Cannibal Holocaust or Grotesque, but its depravity is unrelenting. Once it gets going it never lets up. But most of all, I found it to be a solid film that ranks right up there with Martyrs with its originality, story, and characters.
Four Dweller Heads!