- Rated NR
- Buy the Blu-ray
All photos © IFC
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
here’s been quite a bit written about “The Human Centipede” in the past six or so months. If you’re not familiar with the film’s concept, congratulations! Chances are you still have a modicum of decency about you. This is becoming a rarer and rarer commodity. Or maybe you live in a Red State. Either way, before going any further, it behooves me to explain what it’s all about. A mad scientist named Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser) kidnaps three young people (two American women and one Japanese man) and sews them together, ass to mouth, in a neat little row. Only the person in front – the Japanese guy – can eat, and therefore his feces passes into the first girl’s mouth, which in turn ends up going from her ass into the second girl’s mouth, and presumably finishes up by coming out her ass in the end (so to speak). Yes, it’s clearly a revolting concept, but it’s also a brilliant one, simply because we’ve never seen anything like it before, and not too many films offer up something entirely new these days. Bear with me, and don’t click away just yet.
Understand, I would not recommend “The Human Centipede” to most people, especially when there are so many other great movies to sell people on. You now know what the movie’s about, and you’ve probably already made a decision as to whether or not you’re willing to see it. Since I’ve already praised the concept, before delving into what’s good about the movie, let’s talk about some of what’s not so good.
Much of the 92-minute running time is mind-numbingly average. The first 20 minutes of it could be just about any slasher flick made in the last 30 years. Two girls get stuck out in the middle of nowhere with a flat tire. Their cell phone has no service. It is raining. We don’t care about either of them enough to worry about their plight. Director Tom Six (great name, by the way) says this was all intentional, as he wanted to lull viewers into thinking this was going to be business as usual before revealing his hand. It’s a good idea in theory, but one that doesn’t really work because it ends up just feeling like fare we’ve seen all too often for the longest time. Once the girls get to Dr. Heiter’s house, the film continues to be fairly common what with him drugging them and so forth. Likewise, much of the movie’s conclusion, which involves two police officers, is also ripped from dozens of other films. It’s also a shame that Dr. Heiter’s character isn’t drawn a little better – something, maybe just one scene where we find out what makes him tick.
Six admits to being a fan of David Cronenberg, and one wonders what Cronenberg could’ve done with this material, even though he doesn’t really make movies like this anymore. On Cronenberg’s watch, much of the banality that drags this movie down wouldn’t have occurred. Cronenberg didn’t create this – Tom Six did, and so we have the film we have. Six says the idea came to him when he was hanging out with some friends and there was something on TV about a child molester, and he piped up, “They should sew his mouth to some fat truck driver’s ass!” His friends were enthralled. But in the movie, the victims aren’t child molesters – they’re innocents who’ve randomly stumbled into a horrific situation. Would it not have been a more stimulating prospect to have made them deviants of some kind, so that as viewers we’re perhaps torn about the situation they find themselves in? Just a thought, as the film is no more mine than it is Cronenberg’s.
The middle of the film, however – which is devoted to Heiter’s insane experiment – makes it worthy viewing, and it is a very good middle. From the moment he unveils his plan to the three victims, the entire thing just moves into the strangest places imaginable. There is, dare I suggest, a sort of sick poetry to the goings-on, aided by Six’s eye, which is far sharper than you might expect. “The Human Centipede” is frequently a pretty film, with great use of color and lighting. Heiter’s house possesses this slick, stark minimalistic quality which is in direct opposition to the filthy, shitty experiment. Speaking of shit, it has to be said – it isn’t something that’s ever seen, and a great deal is left to the imagination.
It was also a brilliant move to make the front portion of the centipede Japanese, as he’s the only portion that can speak, which brings the disconnect of a language barrier to the picture. Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura) rants and raves and apologizes when he takes his first crap and it’s all in Japanese with subtitles, so even though we know what he’s saying, nobody else does. This leads to a speech he gives near the end that’s beautiful and fascinating and easily the one true great character moment in the movie. According to Six, Kitamura wrote the speech himself.
The other performances, at least given the material they have to work with, are also all very convincing. Dieter Laser is the twisted heart of the film, and through him, provided you’ve a sick enough sense of humor, the movie periodically moves into the arena of black comedy. That may be hard to believe, but I stand by it. Ashley C. Williams is the middle piece of the centipede, and once the horror begins, she gets to play some pretty solid stuff that leaves you genuinely feeling for her. Ashlyn Yennie, as the third piece, gets the least to do, and yet you still have to give credit to any actress who’s willing to go through what she had to endure for a movie like this. It can’t be easy walking around half naked on your hands and knees for the bulk of a film shoot. Of course, nobody’s likely to win any awards for this film (at least outside of horror film circles), but these folks – both in front of and behind the camera – really threw themselves into their work, and, provided you have an open mind, it shows.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
A commentary track with Tom Six is the highlight here, and it’s surprisingly listenable and interesting. I went into the bonus features thinking I was going to hate this guy – that he’d be some pompous European asshole. Not so. The man is humble, funny, down to earth, and intoxicated with moviemaking as an art form. He’s genuinely shocked that people think ill of him, and rightly believes that many folks have depraved thoughts, he just happens to be a guy who has them and then puts them onto film. The rest of the extras add up to probably less than a half hour: A deleted scene that doesn’t amount to much, some behind the scenes footage, casting tapes of the girls, a hilariously disgusting Foley session (vegans, you were warned), and a selection of posters. There’s also one further short interview with Six, and when asked who should star in the Hollywood remake, he doesn’t speculate on who should play Heiter, but instead suggests that Tom Cruise should play the front of the centipede, with Jennifer Lopez in the middle, and Paris Hilton bringing up the rear. It was in that moment that I decided I really liked the guy.