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Fantastic Fest starts off in typically bizarre fashion

Matthew Odam
modam@statesman.com

Hundreds of fans mill outside the Alamo South. Costumed people wander through the crowds. And hundreds more hang out at the nearby Highball, to bowl, to play the latest video games and to drink and eat. It's all part of the scene at the annual Fantastic Fest, where Alamo chief executive Tim League pays homage to the best and worst of genre films.

As the festival opened Thursday, an EMS vehicle was stationed outside the South Lamar movie theater — an appropriately bizarre gimmick related to that night's film, "The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)."

The film is one the raunchiest, goriest things to ever hit the big screen. Though the medics were ostensibly a joke (and an expensive one, according to League), festival representatives said that one woman was treated for nausea after the screening.

League, new father to twin girls, kicked off the screening by saying that his recent fatherhood has changed him. Fantastic Fest would now be more family friendly, and to prove it, League brought up festival fanatic Elijah Wood ("The Lord of the Rings" trilogy) and a cast of dozens in yellow T-shirts to do a dance while watching a "Yo Gabba Gabba" video featuring Wood. The intent was to ring in a "kinder, gentler" Fantastic Fest. Of course, the cartoon gave way to exploding heads and other violent images, and League assured everyone that nothing had really changed. On with the festival!

The latest "Human Centipede" begins where the original film ended, but that ending is being shown on the computer screen of a rotund, bug-eyed man (Laurence Harvey), who sits at his station in a parking garage in London watching director Tom Six's film with perverse fascination. For those not familiar with the original, in it, a disturbed doctor comes up with the idea of making a "human centipede" by sewing its three members together, mouth-to-rear end. Yep.

In the black-and-white sequel, the parking attendant, Martin, is a deeply disturbed man who lives with his mother and the memory of the incarcerated father who sexually molested him as a boy. Obsessed with "The Human Centipede," Martin pores over still images from the film and watches the movie on a loop, leaving his cave in the parking garage to attack innocent victims with a crowbar. He then stuffs their mangled bodies in his trunk and takes them to a warehouse.

Once he accumulates a dozen victims, he begins to sew them together, replacing stitches with staples, in the way the doctor had in the original film. The result is an orgy of blood and torture that includes cut knee tendons, dentistry by way of tire iron and all manner of intestinal grotesqueness.

The early part of the film has some artistic merit. The stark black-and-white cinematography features high-angle shots that replicate the surveillance cameras at Martin's job, and the images and tone resemble that of a music video by the band Tool.

But after the initial 25 minutes or so, the film devolves into a challenge: How much disgusting violence can you take? After the movie ended, Six assured the audience, which offered only tepid applause, that there would be a third movie to complete the "Centipede" trilogy. "Part three is going to be really sick," he said.

After the movie, Six and cast members headed over to the Highball for the opening night party, which featured a "porcine centipede" of three roasted pigs lined up nose-to-tail.

Fantastic Fest continues through Thursday.

modam@statesman.com

Fantastic Fest