Despite the fact that, as of last weekend, this film has only screened three times theatrically in Los Angeles, it seems everyone is talking about The Human Centipede (First Sequence)
. Perhaps it's the film's outrageous trailer, which has received over a million views on countless websites. Perhaps it's Roger Ebert's career-first refusal to use his star-rating system to rate the film (read his review
here), while not necessarily trashing the film in his review either - his seems to be less of a "this film doesn't deserve stars" approach, so much of a "if this is your thing then it's PERFECT and you'll love it, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's GOOD, so how the hell do I rate this sucker?" conundrum. Or maybe it's simply that we can't get enough of talking about the movie's plot - when else in the history of cinema has there been a movie about a mad scientist who kidnaps people in the effort to take a scalpel and...
Well speaking of trailer, watch this
. And if you can handle that, then read on.
Yes, The Human Centipede
is about an insane surgeon whose ambition is to suture three people together, mouth to anus, essentially creating a three-person Siamese twin with a shared digestive tract. What's eaten by Person #1 would pass through Persons #2 and #3 - argue amongst yourselves as to which of the three segments would be the unluckiest.
Though this twisted premise would be enough to satisfy gore-hounds looking to be satiated, the beauty of The Human Centipede
is that there's much more going on than the trailer would suggest, though less in plot and more in subtext. For one, it's actually not as gory as one might think. And as far as plot goes, there's little more than what's presented in the trailer: tourist girls get dolled up to party, their car breaks down in the woods, they find themselves at a mysterious house, and all hell breaks loose. And you might think - moreover, criticize - that you've seen all this before.
And there, methinks, is the winking beauty of the film.
The Human Centipede
wants this all to feel familiar - what's more, it seems to revel in its self-awareness of films that have come before, from cult classics like Joel M. Reed's The Incredible Torture Show
to Eli Roth's Hostel
series. It's not enough that our would-be victims blow a tire in the woods - it's also raining as well, and seemingly miles from anything other than one isolated house in the middle of nowhere. It's not enough that they encounter a creepy man at the house - this man is creepy
, pasty white with sunken Walken-esque cheekbones, a thick German accent, menacing eyes, and a kitchen full of Rufinol. And it's not enough that our mad scientist is German either - his name is Josef Heiter, recalling infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele as well as a last name that could be a variation on Hitler. Throw in a hilarious gravestone, the two worst cops in horror history, and - well, a plot involving a doctor who wants to sew people together ass-to-mouth - and suddenly one starts to wonder, "Wait...is this a comedy
Comedy may not be the best word for it, but truly, this is a horror film for lovers of horror films, where all the elements we've come to know have been presented, and then courtesy of director Tom Six, exaggerated with gusto. Ditzy American tourists? Here's a pair so ridiculously vacuous that they a) decide to wander aimlessly into the stormy woods when their car blows a flat, b) drink ANYTHING offered to them by a creepy stranger, c) trust said stranger to make a phone call on their behalf, and d) not escape when, at one point, the opportunity presents itself. Torture porn? Where do we start? The least
horrific thing that happens to the victims in this film is getting their kneecaps severed, their teeth ripped out, and their mouths sutured to anuses - as a matter of fact, they are anesthetized throughout that entire procedure. The torture starts when they wake up, and come to the slow realization that, among other things, they will soon either be a) eating someone else's excrement, b) excreting into someone else's mouth, or c) doing both. And whereas we thankfully never get a graphic depiction of this experience, the concept of it lingers long after the film is over - at our screening our host served some pretty phenomenal guacamole, which went virtually untouched after about halfway through the film. As far as torture, this film takes the cake - and all the while, it's completely absurd. It's as if Six took Scott Sanders' approach when spoofing blaxploitation cinema with Black Dynamite
- let's play with the genre but always deliver it completely straight
, and it will be that much more effective.
In this way, The Human Centipede: First Sequence
(and yes, take that title to heart - there is more to come...) recalls a conversation often had about 1999's The Blair Witch Project
- "I didn't think it was that scary, but damn if I couldn't sleep for a week." "They never showed the witch, or anything really, so I was really disappointed - but still, I haven't been able to go camping since..." This reviewer was admittedly expecting more of a graphic experience - after watching (and loving) 2008's Martyrs
, I was looking forward to another film that would push some envelopes and actually make me divert my eyes in disgust. I was initially disappointed by the lack of visual horrors presented by The Human Centipede
, but have to admit, the film achieved a visceral punch that has lingered. There is plenty in the high production value and gloss of the film that would suggest that Six had the budget and the means to add some more visually revolting imagery to the film, so I give him credit for leaving these things out and letting them occur nevertheless in a far worse place - in my own head, where the idea of what it might feel like to know I am about to excrete into the crying, toothless mouth of my best friend, and there is nothing either of us can do about it, has continued to nauseate me.
A nightmare, to be sure, but one that is so absurd that - if you can manage it - can only elicit the sort of shocked laughter reserved for the infamous final moments of John Waters' Pink Flamingos
. There's some true horror there, and it gets you right in the gut, but much in the same way as a drop on an intense roller coaster - you're laughing and screaming all the way.
- Logan Crow