Sunday, April 10, 2011


Two female American tourists in need of a tow knock on a German recluse’s door and end up being unwilling participants in a gruesome surgical experiment calledThe Human Centipede. And how, exactly, does one create a human centipede? Aided by a stomach churning slideshow, Dr. Heiter explains that the “segments” (the girls and a male tourist from Japan) are to be sewn “ass to mouth.” Gulp.

Dutch director Tom Six made two other films prior to The Human Centipede: Gay, a lowbrow comedy about, well, gays in Amsterdam; and I Love Dries, a comedy centering on the fictional kidnapping of a real Dutch singer by a married couple in short supply of celeb donor seed. Oh my. You’ll forgive me for being less than stoked upon the announcement that Six had another flick in the can.

When I was given the chance to see The Human Centipede at a genre festival in Amsterdam, I tentatively entered the auditorium with zero expectations (that’s not entirely true — I expected an abomination), but when the lights went back on, I’d been surprised. Not pleasantly surprised per se, but surprised all the same. While it's true that The Human Centipede (taking place in Germany but shot in Holland) gives new meaning to the phrase “ass to mouth,” Six left most to the imagination. Maybe he realized gore wasn’t necessary — the premise alone suffices to make some people heave — or perhaps he simply lacked the funds to create convincing special make up effects. Either way, it’s not in the gore department alone where Six shows admirable restraint: his actresses are topless for a significant portion of the film’s running time, but not once does the camera linger on their breasts.
The Human Centipede isn’t cerebral by any stretch of the imagination, but Six DOES seem to be more interested in the victims’ mental ordeal than in gratuitous exploitation.

The Human Centipede never becomes as intense as a, say, Martyrs, but the victims’ anguish is palpable enough: the two girls can’t do anything but moan and sob uncontrollably, their eyes expressing continuous fear and pain. Just imagine the humiliation, the strain on your neck, the cramps in your arms and legs, the inability to properly breathe, the knowledge that if you’d yank yourself loose…um, you know what, let’s not even go there.

A particularly interesting aspect of the film is that the victims and their tormentor are of different nationalities. Ironically, it’s the Japanese Katsuro Dr. Heiter made the ‘head’ of the centipede; while the intactness of his vocal cords enables Katsuro to verbally express hate and disgust, he neither speaks nor understands German or English and the crazy doctor simply treats him like a disobedient pet. At the same time, intonation proves to go a long way when it comes to conveying meaning and intention. Besides, the majority of the communication in this film is of the nonverbal variety anyway: pain, anger, and fear are international emotions that make subtitles superfluous.

Critics have been unkind about the acting abilities of leads Ashlynn Yennie and Ashley C. Williams. I don’t know on what kind of yardstick judging of acting with one’s lips wrapped around an “arsch” can be based, but I think both girls are solid. Creepy Dieter Lasser as Heiter is the undeniable show stealer here, despite — or because of — his tendency to ham it up (“Feeeddd herrr!”). Akihiro Kitamura is probably the best of the bunch, convincingly displaying a wide range of emotions.

I’m not sure if The Human Centipede is a good film. It’s an effective piece of work, that’s for sure, but it never becomes the hard slap in the face it could have been. Maybe Six lacks the experience to take the audience to a really dark place, or maybe he got scared of the material’s potential and opted to keep things as lighthearted and unpretentious as possible.

Looking forward to The Human Centipede: Full Sequence (to be released later this year) yet?