After seeing this film, you will wince every single time you read or hear somebody shout “kiss my ass!” Guaranteed.
Well, I just did it again. No, not that! I meant, I just worked up the nerve to watch yet another uber-infamous film in the horror genre. As in, one of those movies that are extremely notorious for being very difficult to sit through due to its particularly disturbing subject matter; thoroughly twisted premise; and scenes of horror and gore that are supposed to go beyond–well, I dunno, acceptable levels for a film containing scenes of horror and gore, I suppose. In other words, the type of film that gains a large amount of notoriety due to heaps of reviews describing how depraved the creative mind behind such a movie must be to unleash a celluloid monstrosity like it upon the world.
It also holds the dubious, publicity-accruing dishonor of being banned by one or more national governments. After all, nothing builds a reputation of vileness and “omg, I gotta see it just once!” around a flick than when the elected–or appointed–officials of any government decide to get all paternalistic and spare us the burden of freedom of choice over what we might view. After all, what if we get traumatized by what we see, or worse yet, end up actually enjoying the depravity playing onscreen before us? Politicians would be remiss in their perceived responsibilities if they didn’t make sure our thoughts were sufficiently “free” of offensive imagery (or information) that the moral police (read: our elected parents) wouldn’t approve of. Yanno, like the previously reviewed nasty piece of cinematic work known as Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust.
But that’s an issue to be tackled here another day, in another category of this blog. This category is for reviews, and it’s about time I cut The Human Centipede down to its component parts–which in this case are three human beings surgically combined to give the concept of “togetherness” a very uncomfortable twist.
Yes, Dutch director and screenwriter Tom Six did indeed indulge in some of the darkest fantasies any human being could be expected to conceive so as to bring us a truly warped addition to international cinema that wouldn’t exactly make a good date film, nor a movie you would show to the fam during your periodic holiday get-togethers. Or just before dinner on any occasion or day of the week, even when confined to the good company of just yourself.
First, without judging, let’s call a spade a spade: Six did indeed take torture and humiliation “porn” in an entirely new and utterly ghastly direction. Within the dark recesses of his mind were several scenarios exploring what would happen if a brilliant but truly demented surgeon who specialized in separating conjoined twins decided to do his work in reverse, and create a “pet”–read: hapless torture object–out of three living creatures of the same species who were surgically attached to each other mouth-to-anus, while sharing one long, artificially constructed digestive system.
Now imagine this medically skilled lunatic (perhaps a metaphorical “stand-in” for Six himself?) first doing this to a threesome of rottweiller dogs. Then try–however hard that may be for a sane person–to imagine that uniting three dogs into a single pathetic life form for your own amusement and mental need to vent via subjecting another life form to torturous humiliation wasn’t enough. You can only get so much pleasure out of doing this to life forms who were non-sentient, and thus not fully capable of appreciating the sheer horror and trauma of being surgically “conjoined” in such a fashion, i.e., where two of the party of three have their mouths become permanently part of someone else’s rectum, with the “lead” of the three having to do all the eating for both himself and his two new gastric mates.
No, unfortunately, I’m not making this up. And don’t call me depraved for reporting this, because it wasn’t my mind that spawned this rather unpleasant little storyline *points an accusing finger in Mr. Six’s general direction* I was just a helpless bystander, i.e., the schmuck who sat before the screen and watched Six’s demented fantasies played out on the small screen before me, as if I had a direct line to the usually suppressed part of his psyche that Freud liked to call the id. How kind of Mr. Six to share his darkest thoughts with us in such a direct fashion.
Now, before it sounds like I’m going to join the herd and spew a self-righteous tirade against Six in defense of Victorian notions of moral propriety, let me make one thing clear: I believe his exploration of his own dark fantasies, and horrifically original way of playing out the time-honored theme of “emotional venting” by subjecting various targeted individuals to relentless physical abuse, were crafted into a surprisingly effective horror film and dark comedy that explores the depths of human despair and insanity. It explicitly depicts the nightmarish relationship between a master and enforced trio of slaves–made into a single slave by brutal and brilliant surgical craftsmanship–as the former seeks to teach the latter tri-victim their “place” in one of the most unimaginable nightmares anyone could possibly find themselves in. So maybe we should thank Six for having the audacity to actually imagine something like this and then commit it to celluloid.
But first, let’s take the time for a brief synopsis. To make a long nightmare short (i.e., bearable), two college girls from America, Lindsay (very beautiful Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (kinda adequate by comparison Ashlynn Yennie) are taking what I presumed to be a spring break trip in Germany for some reason. Possibly all the vacation packages to Cancun or Montego Bay had been sold out by the time they got enough money together, or something. Anyway, these girls suffer one of those terrifying coincidences that thankfully only seem to happen to people–quite often groups of college students–who live in horror films: Their car breaks down on a lonely Germanic road, and they find themselves needing to approach the nearest home and throw themselves on the mercy of its occupant(s) to call for help. And of course, in fine horror film tradition, they just happen to be in the neighborhood containing the worst possible house whose doorstep they could possibly step upon. Also as expected, this villa is the only “game in town” (or at least on the road), considering the dearth of other homes in the area. Convenient for the plot, eh?
The girls turn out to be a wet dream come true for home owner Dr. Josef Heiter, the aforementioned demented surgeon; but not for the reasonable reason one would imagine!
The role of the Evil Doc was played most excellently by actor Dieter Laser, and a better choice by whomever the casting director may have been could not have been found. Laser is profoundly creepy and deranged as the tremendously sadistic, torture-loving doctor, and it’s his portrayal more than anything else that may give me lasting nightmares. Thin as a rail with those unnervingly protruding cheek bones (imagine the head of a mannequin with too much wood under the artificial skin), Dieter’s onscreen character is the quintessential black sheep of the human race, and a truly horrifying cinematic specimen to behold. It’s actually a filthy shame (well, not quite as filthy as Six’s imagination, but yanno what I mean) that most of Dr. Heiter’s past was shrouded in as much darkness as both his soul and Six’s imagination. Then again, perhaps the notoriety of this franchise will one day encourage Six to create a prequel to the First Sequence, something like The Man Who Made The Human Centipede: Prologue Sequence. I’m sure Heiter’s life story on film would be a spectacle that got banned even in France and Japan, especially if it was conceived by the likes of Mr. Six.
And speaking of Japan while also getting back to the synopsis: No sooner do Lindsay and Jenny fall into Heiter’s clutches then the Doc soon finds a loud-mouthed and spirited Japanese guy named Katsuro (the very loud Aikhiro Kitamura) to provide the “lead” for his mad creation of anatomical nuttiness. Where he acquires Katsuro from, I have no idea; he sorta just walks into his hidden basement-cum-surgical lab with the unconscious man over his shoulder. It’s one of the things about this movie you had to just sit there and accept, and not ask too many questions about; otherwise you would get frequently bitten by a psycho-metaphorical creature I like to call the Logic Shark. And its bite hurts quite a bit!
At any rate, the three hapless “guests” of Dieter wake up tied to their own surgical beds, and as one might expect, they’re in a state of realistically portrayed and totally understandable terror, far worse than what you experience when confronted by a creepily leering dentist when you needed to be put out for a tooth extraction. And their state of mind wasn’t helped any when Heiter began playing his sadistic game on the psychological level by meticulously and gleefully describing each step of the procedure that would unite them into a single organism, including the precise number of teeth that had to be removed from someone’s mouth in order for it to be permanently grafted to another person’s anus; how the lips had to be removed in a circular fashion to allow the attachment; etc., et al. The horror experienced by these three at literally being the butts of this mad doctor’s sick joke was palpable to the viewing audience.
Well, I should mention that Lindsay made a heroic effort to escape, and this provided the only scene in the movie that really made me get sick and light-headed for a bit (yes, I endured, though not easily; but much more easily than the motion sickness I experienced watching Cloverfield). Perhaps that happened due to the fact that I had just recently been admitted to the hospital for the first time in my life, and experienced I.V. units stuck in my arm and hand for the first time. The relevance of that to the scene in question? Well, let’s just say that Lindsay’s harried escape from her hospital bed without bothering to carefully remove the I.V. needle inserted into her vein showed me exactly the mess I would have experienced if I would had reason to hurriedly vacate my bed during the two nights of my hospital stay.
This led to a sequence in the movie where Heiter pursued Lindsay throughout his massive villa, while she did everything one panicky person could expect to do while being chased by a doctor straight out of Hell who was wielding a tranq rifle. I don’t think I’m giving you a true spoiler here by making it clear that her efforts, however noble, were ultimately futile; everyone reading this is well aware that the movie wasn’t titled The Attempted Human Centipede or Dr. Heiter’s Human Centipede That Almost Was.
So, to bring a capsule synopsis to completion, Dr. Heiter did the surgery, and his three guests spent the rest of the film trying to escape from an inescapable nightmare they couldn’t wake up from. It has to be seen to be believed, trust me. Six rarely hesitates to indulge in every horrid possibility this mega-lurid torture porn fantasy scenario provides for him and his dumbstruck viewers. So, I think I can answer a few questions you readers may likely have if you’ve read this far, even if you are highly reluctant to know the answers; don’t worry, I won’t go into too much detail!
Yes, we do find out exactly how a bowel movement is conducted by this artificially created triune freak of surgical craftsmanship. Yes, we do see exactly how poor Lindsay reacts to being the “middle person” in this freakish anatomical abomination when Katsuro can’t hold it in any longer (he apologizes in a heartfelt manner, for whatever that may have been worth to Lindsay). And yes, Dr. Heiter openly enjoys the experience and cheers Katsuro on when this happens. And yes again, I wish I was making all of this up (not that I would have any inclination to do so, mind you!).
The surgical and gore effects were quite well done, with hardly a hint of CGI. I’m not sure if that is a good or bad thing for a film like this. At any rate, part of the reason this celluloid atrocity (let’s be dramatic here!) saved on the budget was its small cast. Other than the Evil Doc and three Hapless Victims, the only other major characters were two Prying Ineffectual Police detectives who kept showing up at Heiter’s secluded home to investigate the reported disappearance of people, including of two girls whose vehicle was found in a damaged state near his home. The scenes where Heiter interacted with these detectives and struggled to his utmost to feign a cordial veneer and keep his immense ego and temper in check–and not always succeeding (big surprise!)–were as entertaining (!) as any other part of the film. Well, assuming the viewer is someone who finds anything about this movie entertaining, that is.
The only other two characters we saw was a Fat Perv Guy that could only speak in his native German who accosted Lindsay and Jenny early in the film when they were seeking help for their broken down car – his interaction with them, and the ensuing misunderstandings due to their inability to understand each others’ language, was like something straight out of an R-rated version of Three’s Company; and another fat sloppy guy who was tranqued and captured by Heiter near the beginning of the movie when he attempted to take a dump outside in the Doc’s secluded neighborhood complete with a roll of toilet paper in his hand. Alas, this guy wasn’t a good tissue match for the two girls, and thus was quickly euthanised. Despite his horror at being put to death, he had no idea how much luckier he was than poor Katsuro, who did turn out to be a good match in his place.
Another highlight of this film that needs to be seen to be believed is the drama surrounding the attempt by the Human Centipede–led (literally) by the intrepid and determined Katsuro–to escape from Heiter’s clutches when they have finally had enough of his abuse. What Katsuro has to do to get himself and his two conjoined surrogate sisters out of that house (and I’m not saying he succeeds, at least not fully) is both dramatic and horrendous, and the scene of them making haste to escape up a flight of stairs while Katsuro is constantly yelling “Eietch!” (or however you phonetically spell that awful sound he kept uttering during this scene) over and over again. This scene is especially harrowing when you consider how hard it is to crawl at any degree of speed when you’re basically a living train with another person’s face literally grafted to your ass, and another person having her face grafted to the ass of the chick directly behind your behind.
That scene will be as difficult to remove from your conscious mind as the one near the climax of Todd Browning’s infamous 1932 flick Freaks, where you saw a horde of badly deformed sideshow folks crawling through the mud during a storm to get at the treacherous carnie hottie Cleopatra and her equally corrupt strongman lover. And you may also find yourself forever contemplating what the hell it means when someone screams “Eietch!” repeatedly during heavy exertion. I wonder if you would hear that word shouted by athletes working out heavily in a Japanese weight-lifting club; or from a Japanese guy sitting on the porcelain throne while continuously attempting to eject a rock-hard turd from their system during a particularly severe bout of constipation . My gods, did watching that movie ever get to me!
Needless to say, Six did actually have some philosophical commentary to make in this film, especially embodied in Katsuro’s sad spiel and revelation towards the end of the movie. Many viewers and reviewers deny the existence of any such statements being prese in this film, but they’re there if you look hard enough. Believe it or not, “depraved” fantasies often carry inherent social messages or memes played out in a specific fashion within one’s private thoughts–but one can only share them in visual form with others if they happen to be a filmmaker who can find the budget, equipment, and thespians willing to act them out in front of a camera. The cast of this film were all commendable in putting aside their dignity in favor of artistic achievement (or something like that).
The film ends largely as you would expect it to end if it was scripted with someone of Tom Six’s mindset. Yes, a final confrontation between the ultra-arrogant Heiter and the investigating detectives does ensue, leaving no party very happy in the end, including the viewer. And yes, a personal revelation about Katsuro during an introspective moment on his part results in a majorly fucked up final fate for Lindsay, the “middle person” of their conjoined status; pardon my French, but anything less than the use of a high-power expletive would understate the situation I’m referring to.
I certainly didn’t find this film be a blockbuster in horror cinema, but for the record, I didn’t think it sucked in any fashion. For those horrorphiles whose stomachs are reasonably sturdy, you may want to check this movie out. Its screenwriter/director does have relevant things to say, and he enjoys offending his audience in ways that are simultaneously ghastly and amusing. So if you end up getting offended by what you see onscreen with a strong urge to rant about how nothing like that should ever be allowed to get filmed, then Tom Six succeeded in doing his job. And it’s a golden opportunity for the intellectually-minded to observe the darker impulses of human nature dramatized before them in graphic, unflinching detail, and society should utilize such work as potentially valuable research tools to glean understanding of the worst parts of the human mind rather than attempting to hide them from public view via censorship. This is why censorship is the enemy of a democratic society rather than its moral savior.
P.S. — Before someone reminds me in the comments, yes there is a sequel to the franchise (though not truly to the story in the film itself) called The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence by the same director and screenwriter, which is said to be well beyond even this one in terms of outrageous, darkly humorous torture porn; and a third by Tom Six–said to go well beyond the second one–titled The Human Centipede 3: Final Sequence is slated for release later this year (it’s May 21, 2013 as I type these words). I guess Mr. Six has a powerful psychological need to get his most perverse fantasies onscreen, likely accompanied by a sadistic joy in riling up the pro-censorship pundits and the easily offended. Kudos to him, I say!