The Human Centipede (First Sequence)
Directed by Tom Six
An all-too-familiar setup finds a couple of pretty American tourists (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie) stranded in the woods when their car breaks down en route to a German nightclub. They search for help and find an isolated villa. Living there is an older German man, Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser), who identifies himself as a retired surgeon who specialized in separating Siamese twins. The girls are of course drugged and awake the next day to find themselves trapped in his terrifying makeshift basement hospital along with a Japanese man. Dr. Heiter has plans for his three victims. Obsessed with twins, demented medical procedures and possibly David Cronenberg films (especially Dead Ringers), his three patients are not about to be separated, but joined together in a horrific operation. He plans to be the first person to connect people via their gastric system, and in doing so bringing to life his sick lifetime fantasy, “the human centipede.”
For horror-film junkies who crave the extreme, I recommend The Human Centipede (First Sequence), a deeply disturbing – perhaps even deeply disturbed – surgical nightmare. Centipede plays on the notion that the only thing more frightening than death is a state of prolonged torture and imprisonment – a state in which though one’s body is no longer in their control, but the mind still remains conscious. It is a definite mix of psychological and biological horror, positioning the viewer to identify with the victim’s physical and mental suffering and lack of free will. How much pain and suffering can one individual possibly take until eventually, death is a relief?
The film itself is not as violent or grotesque as you would expect. Centipede is never as explicit as the Hollywood schlock seen in the Saw or Hostel films. First it has a style and sense of humour lacking in those franchises. Centipede disarms the viewer with comedy early on, before shifting gears into a steady second act of stomach-churning dread, but director Six has a masterful sense of how to generate that dread and suspense through performance and suggestion. The Human Centipede is one of these movies that has become infamous for its idea but it is not ultra-violent.
The film itself, as staged by the Dutch director, is a fairly crafty piece of over-the-top suspense. Its nail-biting second act gives the audience some hope that the victims will find some way to escape the horror bestow upon them. Unfortunately the whole enterprise runs out of steam before it’s done. The script tends to have a one-note plot — our victimes get captured and try to escape, rinse and repeat. It’s the midpoint of film that is the strongest – when the grand plan is realized, Six’s style shifts subtly into a more abstract rendering of the horrors he’s dreamed up and it is in this midsection that the the film is at its most disturbing. The problems all lie in the last act. When The Human Centipede begins moving toward its conclusion the effect is mostly one of relief and it is the most conventional – lacking the humour of the first act and the uncertainty generated in the middle. Even worse, Centipede concludes with the promises of a sequel.
The films two strengths are its look and its villain. Much of the film’s “entertainment value” rests on the sadistically outlandish performance of Dieter Laser, and director Six clearly has an eye for horrific imagery. The look of the film is highlighted with chillingly pristine set design and camera movements that creep up on their subjects like the stalker himself. Still, The Human Centipede feels like something less than a classic – like early Cronenberg, only stripped of subtext.
In a world of Takashi Miike’s and French New Wave horror, there’s definitely room in the spectrum for The Human Centipede, a film that, like it or not, delivers exactly (and only) what its title implies. That should be enough to lure the most ravenous genre fans.