Taste the Pain
We are at something of a cinematic crossroads these days. Many people make the assertion that we've reached a point where Hollywood has become essentially bereft of new ideas. That bankruptcy of the imaginative extends to nearly every genre, to the point where even the already inspirationally shallow sub-genre that's been dubbed "torture porn" is beginning to simply play the same tapes over and over. The torture porn genre is one that, despite my love of horror movies, I completely avoid. I'm interested in things that are scary and creepy and disturbing, but that doesn't mean I'm interested in people being raped and ruined with such unpleasantness and prurient eagerness. Regardless, the torture porn genre itself has fallen victim to that creative emptiness, wherein now it simply seems as though filmmakers are trying to out-gross their predecessors.
In the case of The Human Centipede (First Sequence), writer/director Tom Six is trying to change both of those games, by creating something as new and bizarre as his mad scientist's twisted visions. Human Centipede succeeds on both of those fronts to various degrees, though it also fails in several others.
At this point, I don't know how much of a plot synopsis is needed, since I've been inflicting news about the film on our unwitting and frequently unwilling readership for months now. Unless you stumbled onto the site via some very unusual Googling, you pretty much know the deal. But just in case... The Human Centipede (First Sequence) is about Dr. Heiter (Deiter Laser), a retired surgeon who used to specialize in separating conjoined twins. Heiter has a dream -- a vision, if you will -- to successfully surgically meld three humans via their gastric systems to create a single self-sustaining organism -- a Human Centipede. He finds his unfortunate participants in the form of two young vacationing American women (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie), and Katsuro, a random Japanese man (Akihiro Kitamura) he kidnaps. From there on out, there isn't much to report, plot-wise. There are a couple of attempted escapes, and then, well, he creates his Human Centipede, a gruesome concept that would disturb even the most avid ass-to-mouth fetishist.
If I tell you that the movie is weird, is that an understatement? Because, well, it's weird. Really fucking weird. Everything about it (and not just the shit-eating and ass-mouth-fusing) is weird. Laser's portrayal of Heiter is so diabolically eeeeeevil that it's pretty much ridiculous. Although, I'll confess that Heiter is actually quite fun to watch. He's a fucking nut, and completely one-sided, but Laser has fun with him, all stony stares and licking lips and strangely cadenced monologues. As for the remaining cast, well, what's there to say? Williams and Yennie as the unfortunate tourists are actually both pretty terrible actresses, although they're not given particularly compelling material to work with. They're vapid morons who are too stupid to change a tire, and every time they speak, you cringe at their stupidity, to the point where I found myself thinking, "fuck, when is someone gonna sew an ass to that chick so I don't have to hear her prattle on?" They are lousy actors reading crappy lines, although there's a small part of me that feels like maybe Six is more self-aware than that, and was playing them off of conventional female horror stereotypes consciously and deliberately.
Kitamura was actually not bad either, despite not speaking a word of English. He's the de facto spokesperson for the Centipede, given that he's the only one who still has lips and isn't eating ass all day. But his fury and outrage and occasional attempts at defiance are actually rather compelling.
As for the claim of the film being "100% medically accurate," well, I don't know. I watched it with my wife, who is a doctor (who says I don't know how to show a lady a good time? Amirite?!), and she seemed skeptical at best, particularly about his grafting techniques. To which I wanted to reply, "It's a goddamn movie about people's mouths and asses sewn together, woman! Focus on the issues at hand!" Let me tell you, living with a veterinarian with no gross-out meter is strange at times.
Two things struck me about The Human Centipede, besides the sheer fucking insanity of the concept. The first was how it... wasn't as bad as I'd expected it to be. Not that it was a pleasant experience, mind you. It's still pretty goddamn gruesome, particularly the first time Katsuro has to go number 2. That's... not a good scene. One of those things that you really wish you could un-see. Nor is it exactly happy fun time when Jenny (Yennie), the unfortunate end-segment, starts developing pus-filled infections around her mouth staples. OK, so maybe it's pretty bad. But not unwatchably so (depending on your stomach, I suppose). The surgery itself isn't shown, and Six pulls his punches just enough to make it awful and disgusting without crossing the line into Hostel territory. The thing that makes it so fundamentally and outright horrific is really the concept itself, and honestly, the sewn-mouthed muffled screams of the middle and rear segments are the most perturbing parts.
The second thing that struck me is in many ways more unfortunate, and that's this: It's just not a very good movie. In fact, as strange as this sounds, it was kind of boring. I don't know what that says about me -- that a movie about three people being subjected to some of the most awful and disturbing fates conceivable could be boring -- but it was. The first act sort of plodded, spending way too much time on the American girls (especially since it's not like you were going to hear them speak after the first 40 minutes, so you couldn't get too attached to them. Get it? Attached? Oh, fuck you). The second act is strangely fun, mainly because it gives Heiter a chance to be fabulously sinister. But then, once the escapes are averted and the asses are stitched, The Human Centipede sort of runs out of gas. Ouch. Gas. Sorry about that. I couldn't help thinking that even though the concept is wickedly original and twisted, it's still not quite enough to make a full film out of. Human Centipede would have made an excellent (not really) short film, perhaps.
In the end, I simply can't bring myself to endorse The Human Centipede (First Sequence). Not because it's so twisted (though it is) or because it's to gruesome (it's that too, in parts). No, I can't recommend it because when the only comments I can offer are "it's not as bad as I expected" and "it's kind of dull," well, that's hardly a reason to run out and rent it (it's only available on IFC On-Demand and possibly Netflix). Human Centipede is shocking and disturbing, to be sure, and in many ways one of the few purely original films I've seen in a long time. Unfortunately, Tom Six had an idea, but lacked either the means or the skills to fully execute that idea. In the end, you'll likely just be a combination of grossed out, unimpressed, and left with a bad taste in your mouth.
TK writes about music and movies. He enjoys playing with dogs, raising the dead, and tacos. You can email him here.
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