The Human Centipede
tl:dr: More Tusk than Hostel, this film is far more restrained than a movie about people getting surgically ass grafted has any right to be.
The rest of this review is probably NSFW, so I’ll put it behind a cut. You’ve been warned.
I should not take girls on movie dates.
I’ve taken dates to see Cannibal Holocaust. I took one girlfriend, who admitted several times over the course of the relationship that she hated horror films, to see both I Know What You Did Last Summer and Wishmaster in theaters. So when my wife suggested we pick something from the Netflix slush pile, I zoomed past the gay rom-coms, past Boyhood, decided not to watch Oldboy again and instead said “Let’s watch Human Centipede.”
In my defense, it was in her Netflix queue. And it was something she wasn’t going to watch on her own.
I went in fully prepared to hate Human Centipede. I expected it to be The Room bad, in terms of quality, acting ability, and production values. I mean, c’mon! It’s the story of three people who get kidnapped by a German doctor and sewed together ass to mouth! How good can it be?
As it turns out? Not bad. Not great, but not bad.
Hear me out.
At first, the film starts out like many horror movies. We’re introduced to Lindsay and Jenny, two ditzy American girls road-tripping through Germany. While driving to a party through the woods they get a flat tire and it starts to rain. After a creepy encounter with an old pervert they inexplicably decide to leave the car in search of help. Thinking they’re going to find help in the forest they cut through, finding the house of Dr. Heiter.
(At this point there’s been so many movie cliches presented I’m thinking “Okay, I’ve seen Hostel; I know where this is going.”)
And the movie does go where you expect it to. Dr. Heiter drugs the girls and chains them to medical beds in his basement. The two girls will form the main body of his human centipede. It’s even explained just why Dr. Heiter does what he does: he used to make a living separating conjoined twins. Guess separating people got too easy, because now he’s eager to join them together via the gastric system. Mouth to anus. A Japanese tourist forms the head of the centipede, and since he doesn’t speak English, he spends most of the movie shouting at Dr. Heiter. After the three are joined, the movie focuses on the “training” of the centipede, with Dr. Heiter teaching his new pet how to walk, sit, and eat. Eventually, the police come and rescue the centipede…or what’s left of it.
I’m not going to defend the concept: this movie is as disgusting as you would imagine. But the key word is imagine, because Human Centipede is far more restrained than it could be. Human Centipede may be many things, gross, shallow, vile, but what it isn’t is torture porn. Fans of Hostel or the Saw franchise will be disappointed by the lack of blood, nudity, and fecal matter one would expect to see on-screen in a movie about people getting their mouths sewn to other people’s asses. There’s barely any blood because a lot of the medical procedure happens off screen. The centipede segments are all wearing bandages, so there’s not a whole lot of nudity. As for fecal matter, well when one person’s mouth is grafted to another person’s anus, you aren’t going to see any feces. Makes sense, if you stop and think about it.
(Please don’t stop and think about it.)
In many ways, Human Centipede is more like Tusk or 8MM. With its common themes (deranged lunatic practicing extreme body modification) Human Centipede feels like Tusk’s spiritual predecessor. And if you haven’t seen it, give it a watch; Joel Schumacher’s 8MM is more restrained than any movie dealing with snuff porn has any right to be. The common theme among these movies is how much is left to the imagination. The majority of the actors in both Tusk and Human Centipede spend the majority of their respective films acting only with their eyes, to great effect.
As for the main character not limited to eyeball acting, holy hell. Dieter Laser may have starred in 60+ German films before 2009, but he will be forever known to American audiences as Dr. Heiter from Human Centipede. Laser owns this film. From the moment he hits the screen, this Jeremy Irons lookalike is every bit the creepy/imposing mad doctor the audience needs him to be. Yet there is a method to Laser’s madness, and in his own little world he is just as sane as Tusk’s Howard Howe.
It’s this mix of superb acting and directorial restraint that elevates Human Centipede to something higher than your average schlocky horror flick. I am in no way suggesting you watch this film at night on an empty stomach. (After it was over, my wife and I watched four episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic back-to-back for a palate cleanser.) But don’t dismiss this as a pure exploitation flick either. While its sequels may descend into meta-silliness, The Human Centipede (First Sequence) knows just how to make audiences squirm by turning their own imagination against them.
Quick summary: Two American girls knock on the wrong German man’s house and end up getting to know each other a little too well.
Too many writers? I’d be disturbed if it took more than one person to come up with this concept.
Recommended if you like: Tusk, 8MM
Better than I expected? If I say “the whole movie,” is that a cop out? I had seriously low expectations and came out of it impressed. Disgusted, but impressed.
Worse than I hoped? This movie requires a serious suspension of disbelief all the way through. See below.
Would it work better in a different medium? Like what? A stage play? A TLC reality show? Dear god, no.
Verdict: If you go into Human Centipede with an open mind and no/low expectations, it may surprise you. It did me.
Related Reading: Wiki article, which talks about how the film is kind of a critique on fascism. Sure, okay.