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November 16, 2010

The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

(2009, Dir. by Tom Six.)

When I was in school, one of the assignments that came up was pretty simple - conduct some sort of scientific experiment.  As a farm child, I offered up a pretty corny experiment.  In fact, I tried to grow corn in foam cups filled with soil.  One cup was fed Miracle Gro on a daily basis, one was fed water, and one was fed Gatorade - I believe it was Lemon Lime Gatorade, to be exact.

(For those wondering, it's exactly what you'd think it is - the Miracle Gro produced a bigger stalk than the water, and the Gatorade - despite its electrolytes - produced no corn stalk.  And yes, I did this a full decade before Idiocracy happened.)

This has nothing to do with The Human Centipede, except to point out that my type of science is decidedly different from that of Dr. Heiter, played by Dieter Laser.  If you're at all familiar with the film, which has created buzz simply by being shocking, you know what his experiment is.  If not, I'll spell it out simply: Dr. Heiter wants to cut off some people's kneecaps, stitch their mouths to others' back ends, and created the titular Centipede.  Do not ask why, because I'm not even sure I can tell you that. 

When news of the film broke, I immediately chocked it up as one of those signs that I'm growing increasingly out of touch with the modern horror fan.  I've read some say that this film is "Frankenstein for the Saw Generation", and that sentiment makes me sick to my stomach.  What we have in The Human Centipede isn't a morality tale about the dangers of playing God, it's an attempt to be repulsive for the sake of repulsion.  Heck, The Human Centipede's lack of humanity makes Saw look like Frankenstein.

I know I'm coming off all sour grapes here, and my problem isn't the fact that the film exists. It's the fact that the film exists with so little actual drama to it.  There's no story here.  A couple of American tourists - both incredibly vapid - stumble upon the Doc's secluded home, an art deco setting that just has to be hiding something.  (To be fair, the set design is one of the few highlights of the film.)  Sure enough, the girls are roofied quicker than you can say Jack Robinson.  A film that was interested in building characters would take some time to develop the characters; to build a rapport with the Doctor before his sick mind is revealed to them.  This is not that film.

Soon enough, the girls and a previously captured Japanese man are sewn together, with the man who can't speak English in the front acting as the mouthpiece of the Centipede.  This leaves us with about an hour of film in which the man yells angrily in Japanese at Dr. Heiter, who speaks with an accent that's hard to get through, while the girls whimper as loudly as is possible while their mouths are tied to bums.  The performances of Laser as Heiter and Akihiro Kitamura as the man aren't bad, but they seem pretty wasted in an endless cycle of "YOU ARE A CRAZY PERSON WHO'S TORTURING US!" (All caps denotes the Japanese language, naturally) and "Yes, I am torturing you, and you might die soon".

I guess the goal of the film is to gross us out, but I didn't find it very effective in that regard.  There are some gross moments dealing with the surgery and resulting infections, and that moment when we realize how bowel movements work creates some haunting thoughts, but the film played a lot tamer than I thought it would.  There are some gory moments as the film goes on that result in some impressive bloodletting, but it's nothing that should really get under the skin of anyone who would be interested in watching a film like this.  The final moments are effective on an emotional level, but seemed to emphasize the hollow nature of the film to me.

With little effect from the gore and no human drama (the characters are so poorly developed that I considered their fate the same way I would consider the fate of an animal), the only thing left for Six's film is the hope that it will make us think about the depravity we've seen and will inspire fear in that regard.  But the concept is inherently silly (and had been spoofed so many times before the film even hit DVD) that there's little to ponder.  Sure, it would be terrifying if a doctor stapled my mouth to an anus, but I'm not too worried about that happening in the near future.  (I've got too much junk in the trunk to make an effective Centi-piece anyway.)

I'd say there's an audience for this film, but only in the "Hey everyone, lets all watch The Human Centipede and have some fun with it!" regard.  This isn't a moral tale of horror or a haunting mind who plays God.  It's an endurance test for the viewer, one that's much easier to get through and much less interesting than I hoped it could be.  When Frankenstein happened in 1931, advertisements proclaimed that "To have seen it is to wear a badge of courage!"  Though The Human Centipede will be remembered for its one-of-a-kind idea, I wouldn't offer more than a badge of resilience for surviving this one.


Hey! Look Behind You! said...

I enjoyed it on the level of it just being simple silly and numerous (especially being in a theater of people chanting "ass-to-mouth" before the movie started.

I love the insanity of the doc and his driven passion towards wanting to make something so effed up but overall the movie itself was a bit stall and lacked connection (no pun intended)

But again, it is fun to get people who aren't typical horror movie watchers to see something so twisted.

stonerphonic said...

i have a confession to make: i am DYING to see this film. my GF saw it and said she'd prefer to not watch it again, but for some twisted reason i can't shirk the idea that despite the negative reviews by the majority of bloggers out there, there's something in this film i NEED to see. to experience. to inflict upon my already tortured and twisted psyche.

even if i don't get "the badge", i will still wear "the scars" with a smug sense of satisfaction for sure.

i know, sick bastard....

my captcha on this comment = sufro

freud would have loved blogger!!!

Chris Regan said...

I liked that the Dr was operating on a level almost beyond insanity - that there was no reasoning with him, no way to understand what he was doing. To me that's what's scary about it. But the filmmakers didn't seem too keen on exploring that and for me the whole thing was kind of empty. As you rightly point out the character development is especially poor - the two girls may as well be the same character as there's barely anything to distinguish them and the dialogue was truly dreadful. I think what writers and directors forget is that if we don't care about the characters then we don't care about what's happening to them. I winced a couple of times, but the whole thing would've been a lot more tense and unbearable if I'd been made to care.

Anonymous said...

You hit the nail on the head for me and my sentiments fall in line to a 'T'. And now I'm not sure I need to write a review myself :)

Overall, it rang hollow and wasn't nearly as shocking as billed. The only interesting character was the mad doctor and without having a background story or context with which to judge him, really took me out of the film. At the end, just a big, resouding, 'meh' from me.

Anonymous said...

I've heard so many varying opinions of The Human Centipede that I guess the only way for me to make a fair judgement of the film is to see it myself, and since it will only cost me a dollar to do so, I guess I will have to "see for myself".
Dreaded Dreams
Petunia Scareum

The Mike said...

Wow, some awesome comments peeps!

Nicki - I could totally see this being fun with a group, though I'm still not sure it'd be my first choice for that kind of setting.

Stonerphonic - I think the flick is just one of those that has to be seen. I didn't necessarily want to see it from the description, but it haunted me long enough and I got on it. I wouldn't say to avoid it, just not to expect much.

Chris - Right on. I did think there was potential with the Doc, but the victims worked against him because they were so shallow.

James - Read your review a bit earlier, and can definitely tell we saw the same flick. I almost wonder if the girls were just improvising considering the German background of the film.

Pete - As I said earlier, this is definitely one of those movies you have to see for yourself. Can't wait to hear what you think!

Hopsy the beer drinking clown said...

Well, I saw this awhile ago and I must say that I enjoyed it. I appreciated the fact that as a jaded horror movie fan I had never quite seen anything exactly like this before. True, the characters are on the shallow side, but Dr. Heiter seems to function on a level beyond morality, beyond insanity, he is truly bizarre and 'out there'. I hope to see Dieter Laser in a few more movies. Perhaps we should suspend further judgement until we see the sequel which is already in production I believe...