[A note: This year I was honored to serve on the Horror Features Jury at Fantastic Fest. We awarded The Human Centipede both Best Feature and Best Actor for Dieter Laser.]
What’s the future of horror? The genre is cyclical, with people
following the lead and look of what seems to be popular at the moment,
new filmmakers chasing the scraps of more original filmmakers. The Human Centipede (First Sequence) is
almost a metaphor for that world of derivative, boring horror where
someone chews up and digests a new idea and the next person eats their
‘leftovers.’ See, the movie is about three people surgically attached
to each other at the digestive system, giving new meaning to the term
‘ass to mouth.’
Except The Human Centipede isn’t even the first guy in that
grotesque trio. It’s the mad scientist on the outside; what I love
about this film is that it is unlike anything else you’ll see and it’s
unlikely that anybody will be following its twisted lead any time soon.
It’s a masterpiece of perverse originality, a truly unique experience
of sleaze and horror.
A German surgeon who had been famous for separating siamese twins
decides that he’s been doing it the wrong way and begins researching
how to connect people. He begins with a trio of dogs and then quickly
moves on to people; when two American party girls traveling across
Europe break down and show up at his doorstep they become the unwitting
middle and end pieces of his inhuman creation.
German character actor Dieter Laser plays Dr. Heiter, and the
performance is nothing short of brilliant. He has a serpentine look,
like an evil Christopher Walken, and he is completely and totally mad.
Terrifying in the level of how unhinged he is, Laser bounces back and
forth between quiet menace and bugshit insanity. And he looks amazing
in a surgical coat and sunglasses while holding a rifle. Heiter is a
completely iconic mad scientist, a horror archetype we see too rarely.
To me Dr. Heiter is the lead character (and sort of the hero), but in
the great horror tradition the protagonist is one of the girls. Ashley
C. Williams is Lindsay, the girl trapped with her mouth sewn to a Japanese
man’s asshole and her best friend’s mouth sewn to her own butt
(Fantastic Fest honcho Tim League described the set up as basically
‘Two girls one digestive system’), and Williams actually manages to
deliver a good performance despite the fact that she spends half the
movie’s running time naked, on all fours and crying muffled sobs into a
guy’s butt cheeks. She begins the film as a vapid nobody but finds a
real strength that the actress manages to display with just her eyes.
The film’s plot is, admittedly, light. As with any mad scientist plan, things go awry in The Human Centipede,
leading to a bloody conclusion and a final moment that is haunting in a
truly soul-shattering way. Director and writer Tom Six has delivered a
movie that is absolutely sick, the kind of film that makes you wonder
what sort of crazy shit he’s up to at home. He finds the
stomach-churning place where body horror and bondage meet as Heiter
trains his new centipede as one would train a dog. And he takes an
entirely too deep pleasure in the moments when the latter parts of the
centipede receive their… nourishment. It’s creepy in a truly
skin-crawling way, and even though Six’s compositions tend to be almost
antiseptic you’ll walk out of The Human Centipede (First Sequence) needing
a long, hot, cleansing shower. What’s amazing is that Six doesn’t go
overboard on the gore and viscera. That stuff is there – there’s a
particularly cringe-inducing tooth extraction scene – but what really
gets to you is the concept and Laser’s deranged domination of his
unholy creation. Six could have gone bigger and wetter, but he
understands that sometimes concepts and ideas are more unsettling than
The Human Centipede (First Sequence) is a dangerous movie. If you think this movie isn’t for you, you’re probably right. This is a movie that assaults your soul and leaves you changed. Or maybe the best way to put it is that The Human Centipede is a movie that leaves you scarred.