Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Human Centipede [First Sequence] (2010)


When I first read about the original Human Centipede film in 2009 the concept deeply unnerved me, and so did the promotional screenshots that I saw. I had not seen the movie yet but burned into my memory I could just not get it out of my mind. Something escalated by clips and trailers later on. After seeing enough of the body horror from directors David Cronenberg and Takashi Miike, why was this feature of the same ilk written and directed by Dutch avant-garde artist Tom Six burrowing so deep under my skin even though I had yet to see the dam thing? I think it was the surgical stitching of mouth to anus, which made me shudder so. A year later and I finally saw the film that had stayed with me since I came across that first piece of news about it. After three viewings now, unlike not seeing it I am not as disturbed especially compared to the recently released sequel ‘The Human Centipede II [Full Sequence]' (2011).


The set up uses the old horror convention of stranded in the middle of nowhere. Strangers in a foreign land Lindsay and Jenny (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie respectively) are two dippy American tourists in Germany who are driving along late one night when their car gets a flat tire. After an unwelcome encounter with a fat old German pervert getting out of the vehicle and discovering no signal on their mobile phones they search through a roadside forest for help. Caught in a rainstorm they eventually come across a house and answering the door is Dr Joseph Heiter (Dieter Laser). After inviting them in, he drugs the two girls by slipping a rape drug into the glasses of water he gives them. Later they wake up tied to the beds of his basement hospital ward alongside a man. He is a trucker Heiter kidnapped in the opening scene. Deciding that this man is not compatible, the doctor kills him by injecting him with poison. Venturing out in his Mercedes, he picks up Japanese tourist Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura) to replace him.


In an extremely unpleasant scene, we learn during a presentation from the mad doc to his captives that he is a retired well-known leading surgeon in the separation of conjoined twins and that he wants to reverse the process. His first attempt was with his three Rottweiler dogs creating a canine triplet. He goes into extensive detail while using a projector showing step-by-step diagrams maintaining a chilling calmness as he explains the horrifying surgical procedure that he is going to perform on them in order to create a human centipede. This includes a tissue match, a severing of the kneecap tendons enabling them only to move around on all fours and attaching mouth to anus with the removal of teeth and posterior to face skin grafts creating a single digestive system. After an unsuccessful escape attempt from Lindsay the operation begins. As punishment for trying to escape, he makes her the middle part, Katsuro is the front and you know where Jenny is.


‘The Human Centipede [First Sequence]’ is an impossible movie to ignore due to the overwhelming curiosity induced by the taboo it so explicitly promoted. It is just that this promotion campaign that had me hook line and sinker for something so perverse had me fooled until the time came to face my fears. Afterwards rather than exclaim to myself “Oh my God I cannot believe what I just saw!” was instead more of a shrug of the shoulders with “Oh right then.” In what is really a sick twisted vile affair teases us with what could have been one of the most disgusting films ever made. Alternatively, we are treated to minimal graphic imagery with the repulsive situations implied much more than what we actually see. What director Six also does so cunningly here is to make the audience laugh at the most inappropriate moments. In scenes that should just mortify, contain the supplement of black humour that distracts us from how horrible the entire event really is.


A prime example of this is the outdoors scene in Dr Heiter’s garden during one of his training sessions for the monstrosity he has created. Apologetically to Lindsay, Katsuro defecates in her mouth and she forcibly swallows his excrement. Now while obviously this is a horrid act it is implied realistically with fortunately none of the brown stuff in sight and it is just as putridly effective here without being obviously so. The extensive bandaging on the human centipede allows this oddity of a movie to be disturbing but without having to be graphic about it - hence no poop in sight. The actors contribute to this also who improvise the forced shit feast so well. Distracting us from how revolting this all is, is the sick humour of the bat shit crazy Heiter. I cannot help but laugh aloud when he shouts out his commands in that German accent during the passing of turds to mouth: “Feed her, feed her! Swallow, swallow it, bitch! Swallow. Feed her, feed her!”  The director plays out the whole situation of the film with the blackest darkest humour forcing us to get out sadistic laughs rather than making us chuck up in disgust. The equivalent of this sequence in the sequel is as all out disgusting as I expected it to be with this. 


Laser’s performance as Dr Heiter is one of the best ever mad doctor portrayals in cinematic horror. His presence eats up the screen whenever he is on it with his brooding nasty authoritative persona. His character’s relentless obsession with creating such an abomination epitomizes everything about the World War II Nazi medical experiments. This was a conscious decision on the part of writer and director Tom Six who being from Holland based his villain on Germany’s invasion of the Netherlands and the inhumane experiments that followed. WW II also played a part in Six casting two female American leads with Williams and Yennie playing two air headed luckless bimbos who while annoying with some of the most excruciating voices ever (until the operation that is) are good hearted and just do not deserve such a cruel terrible fate. The second most important World War II influence is on the other male lead of the Centipede’s lead piece Japanese Katsuro. It creates a language barrier between the doctor and him making it impossible for verbal communication between the two and obviously the women components are unable to speak.


Kitamura in his role as Katsuro is the other strong performance here. His fierce determination in fighting against Heiter and his commands make for even more compelling viewing. Aside from the black coal hilarity the film does have a great deal of uncomfortable moments as we the voyeurs witness this poor unfortunate threesome of individuals suffering as unwilling participants in Dr Heiter’s demented experiment. The most painful to watch is the movie’s climax during the centipede’s ill-fated escape attempt up a staircase followed by Katsuro’s heart breaking monologue when he realizes that it is all just useless and feels that he deserves what is happening to him due to his dishonour to his family. The very final scene is bleak, harrowing and tragic and it haunted me staying with me a good long while after.


This is a highly original, outrageously controversial and terrifying situation based exploitation film. It is also morbidly funny and directed with a keen eye for the sick material handled very carefully as so not to spill over into vomit inducing gore. With a strong ensemble cast accompanied by such plush cinematography for such a low budget and a purposely-underscored non-diegetic soundtrack for added realism makes for quite a striking movie. This was merely a precursor to warm us up for what Six had in store for us with ‘The Human Centipede II [Full Sequence]’. He has said that this first film was to get us used to the idea of a human centipede. The sequel with this time a twelve-person piece is a grim, full on grotesque, stomach churning, body horror show we were all expecting with this one. More about that later.

*** out of ****

Dave J. Wilson

©2012 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.

6 comments:

  1. Good stuff Dave, yep I felt much the same as you did about the film - I read about it and purposely ignored it, until I saw it on TV, and was pleasantly surprised about how different it turned out to be. You used the word "minimal" in your post and I think this is a key word to approaching the film - the story is minimal, the imagery is minimal, even the art direction is spare, but the old maxim of less is more wins out, and the film tends to haunt your dreams for weeks afterwards. I don't think it's a brilliant film, but I would see it again... Recently I re-read The Naked Lunch and I was reminded of The Human Centipede - the film could have easily tumbled from the pages of Burroughs' great novel, with Heiter a stand-in for Dr. Benway and his fascination with insects...

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    1. Yeah, it's not a great film but it's certainly worth while. Have you seen 'Full Sequence' yet?

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  2. No, and much like A Serbian Film I've been kinda scared off it. I would have lapped this up when I was a kid but nowadays this 30-something likes his splatter served with a dose of unreality. Isn't life depressing enough without A Serbian Film and Full Sequence ? Will you be posting something on the sequel in the future ?

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    1. I will definitely be writing a review of 'Full Sequence' at some point when I'm feeling it. I loved 'A Serbian Film'. I did a write up of that already.

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  3. I agree with Wes M. I mostly read the plot summary, trailers of Serbian Movie (torture baby porn really ?), the Centiped (2nd sequence have also a pregnant woman and a disabled) and August Underground (random violence seriously) and those are definitively movies that i will never watch ever. I got no problem with snuff and extreme but the concepts pictured really bother me, it feels really gratuitous and way too sick for art, movies.

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    1. Yeah these kinds of extreme horror films and their subject matters appeal to a specific demographic of genre fans. They aren’t made for mainstream audiences and are an acquired taste as they rely purely on their graphic imagery for shock value to convey their messages.

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