Movie fans who believed that the torture-porn genre had nothing left to offer but another execrable Saw sequel should check out the refreshing new movie from writer and director Tom Six, The Human Centipede (First Sequence). Though far from perfect, it delivers more than one might expect for a movie that has been hyped for its shocking and graphic content.
Dieter Laser plays talented surgeon Dr. Heiter, who specialised in separating conjoined twins before one day realising that he was going at it all arse-about-face. The miracle of nature, he realised, was best embodied in unity rather than separation. One of his early experiments involved the surgical joining of three rottweilers, producing an affectionate and obedient twelve-legged friend which Heiter dubbed a 3-dog. Overcome with a triple dose of grief when his tri-canine creation expires, Heiter sets out to continue his ‘work’, this time using human subjects, in an effort to produce a ‘Siamese triplet’.
Set in Germany, the movie starts off in cliche horror movie fashion: two cute American girls, Lindsay (Ashley C Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie), run into car trouble on a dark country road and opt to wander off into the woods to find help. After a predictable period of aimless wandering they arrive, cold and disoriented, at the secluded home of Dr. Heiter, who invites them in from the rain and doses them liberally with the date-rape drug rohypnol.
Dr. Heiter sets out to continue his ‘work’, this time using human subjects, in an effort to produce a ‘Siamese triplet’.
Awakening to find themselves strapped to gurneys in a basement ‘surgery’, along with another man who Heiter abducted earlier, the girls get to see exactly what kind of a maniac they are dealing with. The man in the next bed proves to be an incompatible tissue match with the two girls and is summarily dispatched with a lethal injection by the diligent Heiter, who seems to revel in savouring the dying breaths of his victim. A replacement candidate in the form of a young Japanese man, Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura), who is swiftly abducted so that the surgery can take place on schedule.
The operation itself — as Heiter explains in a short bedside presentation — involves joining the subjects via the gastric system. Incisions, the doctor informs them, will be made around the lips and the anus, which will be surgically joined with aid of skin grafts so that food passes seamlessly from the front to the back of the three-person creation. Katsuro seems to get the best deal, based as he is at the front of the chain. Dr. Heiter places mischievous Lindsay in the centre position (consuming the output from Katsuro and feeding the proceeds to her friend Jenny) as punishment for an abortive escape attempt. Poor old Jenny gets whatever is left of the food after the other two have digested it. All participants in the experiment have the tendons in their knees severed to ensure that each member of the ‘human centipede’ remains on all fours.
The movie goes on to follow the exploits of the dastardly Dr. Heiter and his newly-created dodecapod as he attempts to train it to scuttle about and obey commands. As could perhaps have been anticipated, the relationship is not a happy one and all does not work out well for the four of them, reaching a harrowing conclusion.
The shocking content is bound to divide opinion.
An impressive performance from Deiter Laser helps elevate The Human Centipede from mediocre to something altogether more sublime. Laser delivers the complex, manic-depressive character of Dr. Heiter in a way that makes the doctor seem credible; no mean feat when portraying such a seriously unhinged individual. Laser owns the role of Heiter to the extent that it is hard to imagine him in any other role. He somehow manages to give the doctor a soul, albeit a deeply twisted one. Moments of manic elation and demented, all-consuming rage are interspersed with brief periods of morose contemplation as the doctor mourns his 3-dog in a compassionate performance worthy of an Oscar. Williams and Yennie also manage to put in solid performances, despite being limited to non-speaking roles (on account of having their faces connected to digestive passages) for the second half of the film.
The Human Centipede (First Sequence) is a breath of fresh air in a genre that seemed recently to have lost its way. Director Tom Six pays close attention to genre norms, while pushing the boundaries of acceptability and forcing the viewer to deal with some difficult concepts. Six used to work for Endemol, where he was one of the pioneers of the Big Brother reality TV show in the Netherlands. With such a pedigree, it is little wonder that he is able to conjure up such a depraved premise as that found in The Human Centipede — it is conceivable that Six first hit upon the idea of force-feeding excrement to the innocent whilst developing the reality TV franchise. However, the style and flair with which the film is executed is something sorely lacking in other body-horror outings from less talented directors. The theme of the dead 3-dog runs strong throughout the film, giving the developments a surreal edge. Heiter’s attempts to train his human centipede to bring him his newspaper imbue a deliciously dry humour to a movie that might have otherwise risked taking itself too seriously.
While the shocking content of the film is bound to divide opinion, The Human Centipede (First Sequence) is a must-see. For those who think they might feel a little uncomfortable with the premise of three people joined together ass-to-mouth, I recommend thinking of the movie as an oft-times whimsical story of a misunderstood man struggling to come to terms with the loss of a much loved pet; something most of us can relate to even if we’ve never eaten faeces.