Warning: You might want to skip this post if you’re squeamish.
If you learn nothing else from this movie, let it be this: teach your daughters how to change a tire.
The Human Centipede (First Sequence) has been widely billed as the sickest horror flick ever. I watched it on DVD last night and to some extent, I have to agree that the idea is indeed pretty darn wacky. Director Tom Six has spoken at length about his concept; I won’t reproduce it but you can read more here.
Since I did write a post about horror, you may surmise that I’m a fan of the bloodthirsty genre. I do prefer a good horror novel to a lousy film and there are a great deal of those about. This one is different. Even in a glut of torturous gore fests, this movie stands out. Not because it’s awful, although certain trite elements disappointed me.
The movie opens with a plethora of horror tropes: a sinister situation as prologue (Mercedes-driving, evil-looking guy kidnapping a trucker who is trying to take a dump), two girls lost in the woods, and the obligatory dark and stormy night.
The ladies, Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie) and Lindsey (Ashley C. Williams) wander around spewing their names at each other so we know who they are, not that it will matter later. “I think we’re lost, Jenny!” “Yes, that’s obvious, Lindsey!” “I’m going back to the car, Jenny!” “No, we have to get help, Lindsey!” “The cell phone doesn’t work, Jenny!” et al. This is virtually all we get to know of these girls, other than they are in Germany and planning to meet a cute guy at a club soirée.
Eventually they make their way to the nearest house, which happens to belong to—ta daah!—the evil-looking guy who clocked the trucker. He is Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser), a renowned surgeon who made his fortune separating conjoined twins. Heiter’s private project involves joining multiple beings at the, um, orifices, so they form one creature, a bizarre centipede.
Yes, you heard me.
He drugs the girls and they wake in a sterile, clinical basement hospital room, in time to see him murder the trucker who isn’t quite right for the ‘pede. Once he obtains another subject, a Japanese man (Akihiro Kitamura), he coldly explains his procedure to the terrified captives. He will cut the tendons in their knees so they can’t stand up or extend their legs, thus restricting them to all-fours movement, and then join them ass-to-mouth. The reaction is predictable.
Laser’s performance is elegantly restrained for such a demented character. The doctor’s contempt for all humans other than himself is plain, but he doesn’t bellow it or leap around laughing maniacally. Brief glimpses of anger and stress and his methodical precision produce disquiet in the viewer. Can this really work?
Six consulted a surgeon for the idea of the centipede, and yes, it can work. The movie is supposedly 100% medically accurate. Cue someone trying this in three…two…one….
The clinical atmosphere of Heiter’s basement lab/surgery is scary because it’s so precise and medical. If it were a filthy dungeon it would be too clichéd. The music is mostly long sustained tones, more like ambient sounds, lending a sense of hopelessness and terror.
Once the deed is done, bandages swath the creature, hiding the worst of the damage. IMBD trivia states “Some scenes of the movie are so controversial, some people walked out during test screenings.” I admit, I’ve seen so many horror films and documentaries on crime, medical subjects and forensics that it didn’t bother me much. Most people watching this film are in it for the gross factor.
I felt only the disgust that one would feel for anyone in this situation, but because I didn’t get to know the people, it was nothing more than a lip curl and a tiny bit of pity at first. If only the girls had learned a bit of car maintenance, perhaps they would have made it to their party.
So it comes as a surprise that as we watch, we actually begin to care about the centipede. The girls are reduced to wordless sobbing and snuffling, since obviously they can’t talk. The Japanese man can only speak his native language. Thanks to copious subtitles, we know the insults he hurls at his captor. He grows on us. We begin to like him but his fate is not what we would have hoped.
I couldn’t help thinking how physically tough this film must have been for the actors. The 68-year-old Laser carries several of his castmates around, the centipede crawls on all fours for the last half of the film and the captives’ emotional breakdowns become exhausting just to watch.
I think hearing too much about this film before I watched it diluted some of the shock value for me. It didn’t have me on the edge of my seat, except at the very end, and then it was merely tragic.
Overall the film was better than I expected, not as good as I’d hoped. I wanted something a bit more exciting, but I wasn’t disappointed. Six has two sequels planned and wants to make each centipede more elaborate than before. The campy grotesquerie I sought in this movie will undoubtedly show up in the sequel. I anticipate a repeat of the story in a different setting. Six can’t add anything really original, however. He would have been better served to build up to an impressive centipede in a trilogy rather than try to top this with more grue.
See The Human Centipede (First Sequence) if you think you can handle it. It’s definitely a unique little film.