By Scott Martin
The Human Centipede (First Sequence), Netherlands, 2009
Directed by Tom Six
You know that series of movies that Lionsgate puts out, the “8 Films to Die For,” or its off-shoot “After Dark Films” series? This midnight movie wannabe sits comfortably in that zone of quality, and having seen a large handful of those films, I genuinely enjoyed two. I wish I had genuinely enjoyed this, but the lack of joy (even for his own craft) that director Tom Six (apparently that’s his actual name) injects into this experiment makes it absolutely unwatchable. I’ve no qualms with the darker side of independent horror; in fact, I consider it some of the best cinema around. It’s the creation of neo-grindhouse art that I so greatly appreciate, but at least that has some joy in it. It isn’t made solely to piss on its audience, nor is it made to make a point. Six, who seems to be channeling pre-Rampage Uwe Boll, takes what could have been a modern grindhouse masterpiece and turns it into a shock-theater piece of the worst kind: banal.
Six has stated that he loves making movies that push boundaries and that pay no mind to political correctness, so, disregarding the film’s World War II allegory, we’ll take him at his word. Here, he has crafted a film so vile, and yet so uninteresting, that he seems to not only be disregarding political correctness, but also his own mission statement to push boundaries and do something original that hasn’t been done before. The Human Centipede (First Sequence) can be down to this: two teens get tortured by a crazy man. Even more boiled down, it’s Saw (2004), but with a pinch of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie (1984, with a remake on the horizon in 2012).
The actual plot of the film is as follows: on a road trip in Germany, two pretty young American tourists named Lindsay and Jenny (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynne Yennie, respectively) get a flat tire. Unfortunately, making the wrong decision like most American tourists in horror films, they go wandering through the woods into someone’s front yard. Of course, that someone is the demented Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser), a retired but famous surgeon who made a career separating Siamese-twins. Honorable work. Of course, since his retirement, he snapped and now wants to put people together, rather than taking them apart. He dreams of creating a Siamese-triplet. He tried it with his dogs, but … well …. He already has the first unwilling participant, Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura), a Japanese man who has been drugged and is not happy about it.
He drugs the girls and they wake up strapped to hospital beds, next to their new Japanese room/house/body-mate. The doctor tells them that he used to be famous but he’s been retired for too long, so, to get back in the game, he’ll create a monster. First, he’ll clip their kneecaps, to keep them permanently on their hands and knees, presumably so they can’t escape. Then, he’ll slice open their cheeks, line them up in front of each other, and quite literally stitch them to each other – one girl in the back, mouth sewn to the anus of the girl in front of her, and that girl in the middle, with her mouth sewn to the anus of the man in front of her. The idea is that he’ll eat, have a bowel movement, it’ll go into the middle person’s mouth, she’ll eat it, then have a bowel movement, the girl in the back will process it, and have the final bowel movement. But first he trains them how to fetch the paper for him. Priorities.
What follows past this basic plot is just as insulting to any given viewer: the cops come, people die, and, somehow, we’re afforded room for a sequel, in which Tom Six promises to make this one look like My Little Pony? Okay. He’s just trying to egg us on at this point, right? I hope so. What I’m hoping for in a subsequent viewing is a glimmer of “tongue-in-cheek” (no pun intended) humor that maybe I just somehow missed this time. There’s no way anyone involved could have been taking this so seriously, except that Laser, who plays the German Dr. Heiter, supposedly spent the entire film’s production completely in character, a la Daniel Day-Lewis, and Six apparently went so far as to have a surgeon as a consultant so that the film would be “100% medically accurate,” a claim that has been rightly laughed at by anyone who has ever played Operation in their lifetime. It loses its reputation as “the sickest midnight movie ever made” by showing little to no violence on camera, perhaps attempting to join the ranks of Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983) and the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) in the pantheon of Most Violent Movies of All Time in Which We Barely See Any of the Violence Onscreen. The thing about those movies, though, is that the violence implied is frightening and still palpable. This is just stupid. Ridiculous and stupid.
The most frustrating thing about this movie, though, isn’t the three teens making up the centipede, neither of whom can act, nor is it Deiter Laser channeling the lovechild of Klaus Kinski and Tommy Wiseau, nor is it the lack of passion Six seems to have for what he’s doing. It’s that the film really does seem to have an air of self-importance, like what it’s doing is necessary, rather than just needlessly repugnant on just about every human level. The film gives what it offers, if ever so slightly, and of course it comes complete with its own drinking game: every time Laser molests something off-camera with his eyes, take a shot. So that should be a popular Halloween event. Count me out, though. I’d rather dig through my old VHS tapes from when I was a kid and watch that Marc Summers haunted mansion movie that was on Nickelodeon.
Contact the author: ScottMartin@MoviesIDidntGet.com