It is shameful that people get so fixated on the shock value of Tom Six’s movies that they fail to see any deeper meaning. To be fair to audiences, Six has nobody to blame but himself. When the centerpiece of a film is being forced to eat s**t, the subtextual critique of Nazi ideas inevitably takes a backseat. The Human Centipede trilogy maybe—nay, is—about the regurgitation of awful ideas from the fascist fringe into the mainstream via toxic fandom, but it’s hard to blame viewers for never getting past the whole a*s-sewn-to-mouth thing. Likewise, once the trailer for Six’s new film, The Onania Club, hit and involved women masturbating to 9-11, that was as far as most were willing to go.
This is the sort of thing that may distract a casual viewer from the real societal critique beneath the cheap shocks. But in that event, the movie probably wasn’t meant for such a viewer in the first place. Covid-19 has left the film in release limbo, like many others, but a select group of critics got to screen it online. And frankly, that only added to the forbidden fruit appeal. Watching it on a laptop in the dead of night with the rest of the family asleep and the internet clear enough not to buffer incessantly, it felt like I was watching something I wasn’t supposed to. (Even though, and let’s be clear on this, I had full permission from all involved.)
“…finds herself a part of a secret club that gets together at a lavish mansion to group m********e over footage and stories of suffering.”
Six’s Human Centipede trilogy villains, portrayed by Dieter Laser and Laurence R. Harvey, were uniquely male grotesques; disempowered loners with terrifying faces who can only feel better about themselves by finding people (mostly women and minorities, notably) to bully and victimize. Here, he turns to a specific female type (and arguably a very Los Angeles one) – the impeccably groomed, successful ball-buster who revels in cruelty. Now, arguably this archetype only exists because it’s a survival mechanism in a patriarchal capitalist society, but The Onania Club never quite goes there except by subtle hints. Maybe it’s a thesis best left explored in a sequel.
Hanna (Jessica Morris) is in a listless marriage to a man with multiple sclerosis and is a mother to a kid who is always crying and annoying her. After Hanna hears about the violent death of a friend’s husband, she finds it to be a massive turn-on and goes online to find kindred spirits. Soon enough, she finds herself a part of a secret club that gets together at a lavish mansion to group m********e over footage and stories of suffering. A group tattoo is involved.
And the story goes where such tales inevitably do. Like Fight Club, which it superficially resembles in premise, or any story of addiction, our protagonist and her cohorts keep needing bigger highs. Hearing about suffering stops being enough; next, they have to cause it. And of course, the stakes get bigger and bigger, until the inevitable rock bottom forces a reckoning. The term “torture porn” was once absurdly applied to a subgenre of horror movies in which protagonists have to escape from deathtraps or torturers (the first Human Centipede would count as such). The Onania Club, in which the characters literally use torture for the same purpose most people use pornography, deserves that moniker more. Not as a dis, but as simply truth in advertising.
"…Tom Six...remains an acquired taste, but one I continue to enjoy savoring."