There’s no denying that Tom Six loves to cause a commotion. The director of the infamous Human Centipede movies is an enfant terrible who tends to inspire either loathing or love, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. Scroll through his Twitter feed and you’ll see a man who embraces extreme criticism and high praise with the same affection. He’s the type of filmmaker who appreciates a death threat just as much as a glowing review, and that’s why he’s such an interesting figure. As long as people react strongly to his work, that’s all that matters.
I’m the target audience for Six’s brand of provocative cinema, but even I scratched my head when I saw the trailer for The Onania Club, an upcoming horror movie about rich women who get off on other people’s misery. Why, you ask? Because all the trailer consists of is four rich white women pleasuring themselves to footage of 9/11. I mean, what was he trying to accomplish with this trailer apart from stirring outrage and causing controversy? Is there a point to this movie other than exploiting a real tragedy for some sick prank? Based on his previous work, I think there will be a method to the madness.
It’s understandable why Six’s work is off-putting, revolting, offensive, and flat-out terrible to many people. The Human Centipede trilogy, which boasts the revolting premise of people’s mouths being sewn to anuses and forced to eat excrement, is really gross and an acquired taste even for viewers with an acquired taste. However, those movies had a message underneath all the ass-to-mouthing and gross-out shenanigans. Sure, offending was always part of their intention; but there’s more to this deranged trilogy than shock value for the sake of it.
Funnily enough, the concept for a “human centipede” came from a noble place. Six came up with the idea while watching the news and trying to come up with a fitting punishment for child abusers. Then, he realized that his crazy idea would make an excellent premise for a horror movie, and his demented trilogy was born.
Plenty of horror movies set out to revolt, and in that regard, the Human Centipede movies are a success. It is, after all, a horror premise that’s actually horrifying. But the idea that inspired these movies in the first place came from a moralistic place in its own weird way. That’s why I’m convinced that no matter how twisted Six’s movies get, they still come from the mind of someone with a unique outlook and artistic vision. Just because his art isn’t for everyone doesn’t make it any less valid.
One of the biggest criticisms of the first Human Centipede movie is its lack of blood and gore. Despite the gross premise, it’s actually pretty restrained and interested in psychological horror. With the sequel, however, Six responded to these criticisms by delivering one of the vilest and most taboo-shattering releases of the 21st century. The first movie wasn’t fucked up enough for some folks, so Six delivered a follow-up that even some of the most ardent gorehounds couldn’t handle.
The first sequel is Six’s best achievement to date (apart from being able to raise money to get his movies made in the first place). The film is a work of divisive dark comic genius that satirizes and skewers extreme cinema by over-indulging in its depravity and making the audience feel guilty for enjoying its sadism. Part two is a complete farce, but it’s a smart one that makes some interesting observations about people’s desire to see transgressive movies constantly push the boundaries of acceptability.
For the third installment, Six returned to his original idea of capital punishment. However, rather than make a case for forcing violent criminals into human centipedes, he used the movie to criticize the racism and brutality present in the American prison system. He also used the movie as an opportunity to lash out at political correctness, which perhaps overshadowed his call for prison reform. Either way, it’s a fascinating flick that certainly isn’t boring to watch.
With this in mind, that’s why I’m interested to see what he’s actually trying to say with The Onania Club. According to Six, the film is a condemnation of how some people take pleasure in seeing other people suffer:
“’The Onania Club’ deals with human vileness on many levels,” Six explained in a statement that accompanied the trailer. “Its main theme is ‘schadenfreude’, an emotion that philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer called: ‘the most evil sin of human feeling’ and ‘diabolic’. Where ‘The Human Centipede’ trilogy is mostly body horror; ‘The Onania Club’ deals with this pure psychological horror.”
With no set release date yet or further news since the release of the trailer, Six’s next feature is hiding in the shadows, waiting to pounce on us when we least expect it. But whether you love his work or absolutely loathe it, Six’s movies always have an impact. No one is talking about The Onania Club right now, but when it’s released that will change. Because if there’s one filmmaker who inspires a polarizing reaction, it’s Tom Six. That’s why he’s worth discussing.