With the third Human Centipede film nearly upon us @theevilbread takes a look back...
There are a lot of body horror films out there, it’s a great little sub-genre within horror that sets out to, for lack of a better term, get under your skin. Many of the genre’s greats belong to this; The Fly (1986), The Thing (1982), Hellraiser, etc. As gruelling and grotesque as they can be, there is a comforting thought that most of these storylines either involve an external supernatural/extra-terrestrial source conducting the horrific acts, let’s face it, the odds of having yourself or your love interest turn into a giant man-fly hybrid is significantly unrealistic.
Then we have the concept of The Human Centipede, which granted, makes you think of The Fly, the result is far from the expected…
Flashback to about five years ago when this concept first hit the internet, now, I’ve seen and heard a lot of sick shit in my time but this concept was one that truly disturbed me. The buzz about this film spread like wildfire, people were literally posting their reactions to the trailer, seeing their faces turn from ‘been there, done that’ to ‘what the fuck’ within a matter of moments was certainly something relatable. The fact that the initial concept for this depraved idea stemmed from a joke on how child molesters should be punished should give you an idea. I don’t think I’ve ever done this before, but if by any chance you’ve been living under a rock for the past half decade (wow, I feel old) this is a concept that is potentially damaging to fragile minds, I would advise those who are not into body horror or are very squeamish to not go ahead with this.
This review is the first part of a three part special; I’m going to cover all three of these films within the series (the third is set for release next week as of this review) and take you into one of the most…unique franchises in horror history, shall we say.
The Human Centipede: First Sequence was released in 2009, directed by Tom Six and starring Dieter Laser, Ashley C. Williams, Ashlyn Yennie and Akihiro Kitamura, it has all the makings of every horror film to have ever existed. Lindsay and Jenny, two American girls on a road trip across Europe manage to find themselves stranded in the woods when one of their tires blows out. Seeking help in the pouring rain they come across the home of Dr. Josef Heiter, a prestigious surgeon who, when practising, specialised in separating Siamese twins. However, in the years since retiring, the good doctor has since become quite insane, a literal mad doctor. Heiter offers the girls a drink, which he slips roofies into, knocking both girls unconscious. When they awake, they find themselves strapped to beds in a make-shift hospital ward, Heiter having conducted tests on both girls, discovers that the third captive, a German trucker, is not a match and swiftly kills him. Shortly after, Heiter returns with another victim, a Japanese tourist, Katsuro, who unfortunately for them, is a match. Having discovered that all of their tissues match, Heiter proceeds to maliciously and sadistically describe in detail how he will remove the ligaments from their knee caps, rendering their movement to crawling on the floor and attaching all three people together, mouth-to-anus, creating the first segment of his pet project, The Human Centipede.
The horrific surgery process, I won’t go into, because it’s best experienced first-hand when you watch the film, the scene itself is terrifying and just absolutely vile, the kind of monologue that a villain strives for, almost James Bond in its portrayal. You have baddies within horror that simply set out to kill you, that’s really the worst they can do right? Jason can only decapitate you or snap your neck. Dr. Heiter however is just an absolutely fucking evil psychopath who has absolutely no regard for human life and essentially reduces these three people into something that is a fate worse than any death. Even if you survived such an ordeal, no amount of post-trauma reconstructive surgery and therapy would ever help. What’s worse is that Tom Six consulted a surgeon on how to go about performing such an act, the tagline of ‘100% medically accurate’ is true, someone with Heiter’s experience could technically perform this surgery. I reckon this is genuinely one of the worst scenarios you could ever find yourself in, now THAT’S horror.
Something to give credit for is that this is a horror film that truly makes you sympathetic towards its victims. Fair enough, from the initial off-set, we know these girls are dead meat just from retrospective experience of previous horror films, but when you see these people crying and whimpering in cages with absolutely no hope of rescue or even a normal life, grasping each others hand, trying to find comfort in an impossibly heinous situation. It’s centred in a cruel, unforgiving world that is from your worst nightmare.
Doom and gloom aside, the film could be considered a dark comedy. Sure, it has a horrific premise behind it but the situations, apart from the defecation (even then to some…) can be seen as funny if you have a warped sense of humour, which yours truly does. The concept has become engrossed within pop-culture to the point of dilution by this point; but seeing three people having to fetch a newspaper while being connected in a permanent rimjob is an idea too outrageous to not laugh at. The dark comedy element is further explored in The Full Sequence, which we’ll get onto with an abundance of ridiculousness.
Tom Six certainly has an eye when it comes to cinematography, whether or not you like the film, you’re repulsed by it or even indifferent to it, after viewing you cannot deny that it is shot beautifully, almost otherworldly when combined with the score, almost David Lynch at points. What I can certainly applaud Six on is that he refrains from actually showing us anything disgusting in this film, all the disgusting traits associated with the surgical procedure are showcased through actor reactions and sounds, this is incredibly effective and absolutely the right choice, we see just the right amount of blood and just the right amount of surgery which surprisingly isn’t much.
Dieter Laser as Dr. Heiter is phenomenal to say the least; he’s up there with the greats for this performance alone. The man is mesmerising to even look at, he has the natural physicality that make-up artists and method actors spend hours/months working on. I honestly cannot flaw this man one bit in this film, he’s absolutely despicable. With no motives for his acts and his ruthless, cold and psychotic attitude towards human life, he doesn’t care about prolonging the life of the centipede, he’s just out to prove he can do it and get as much enjoyment out of the depravity as possible before moving onto his next project. A true psychopath.
Subtext wise, there’s not a great deal to go on. I can certainly see that Six was aiming to explore human interaction and survival bonding when faced with impossible odds and situations, the centipede is totally useless as a functioning being until all three segments learn that they need to work with each other and not with an independent focal point. Heiter is not just conducting body mutilation on his victims; he’s completely removing their humanity. As for social commentary, not in this film, this is just setting the structure for an abundance of it later on. There are obvious links to Nazi human experimentation, Heiter himself clearly inspired by and named after Dr. Josef Mengele who conducted human experimentations during World War II at Auschwitz and who would be deserving of the worst form of execution humanly possible if he weren’t already dead.
The biggest flaw of the film however, is the plot. The initial concept is unforgettably horrific, however when these three people are eventually attached together, the plot just sort of comes to a standstill. There are some escape attempts which are exciting, but we genuinely know it’s not going to be that easy for them. It’s just sequences of the doctor trying to train his pet, their horrified reactions and yes, THAT scene which you all know is coming. The writing isn’t the best, a lot of the time; the plot is reliant on the stupidity of the characters. The ending of the film comes quite abruptly too, it’s still horrific and lacks any kind of hope, but it just sort of stops. The concept for the film seems to be a crutch that the film holds onto for dear life.
The Human Centipede: First Sequence is something truly unique, some hate it and some love it. In all honesty, this film is a guilty pleasure without any depraved intent. What draws me to the film is that few films come out in modern day cinema that truly shake people up, this may not be an Oscar worthy film, this may not even be a film to some people and plot holes aside, it’s just a bizarre experience to behold. As horror fans, we often place ourselves in the situation when discussing with like-minded folk but in this instance, what the hell would you do?
The best way to describe The Human Centipede is that it’s a modern day freak show and being the curious mind that I am, count me in for a front row ticket. It’s not so much a film, more as an experience and one that you should definitely give a chance to if you have the stomach for it.
Now if you thought that was bad, just wait until The Full Sequence...