After what feels like an eternity of queasy anticipation, I finally saw Tom Six's now-infamous horror film The Human Centipede last night. I don't have too much to say about it, but horror movies are kind of my domain, and since this one was probably the most talked about of 2010, I figured I should chime in.
I first stumbled upon the premise of The Human Centipede back when it had only shown at a few film festivals, and not that many people had actually seen the film. Imagination is a powerful thing; when I heard that there was a movie about a mad scientist who stitches three innocent people together mouth-to-anus and forces them to live as one being, I basically envisioned the most heinous, horrifying thing ever put to celluloid. I immediately lost my appetite, and I couldn't shake the thought of the movie for days on end. When I heard that people who saw the movie actually liked it, I knew I had to see it myself. In my mind, it would be something like seeing Ichi the Killer again for the first time, an experience both unbearably disturbing yet strangely fascinating and gripping.
Of course, a few things happened between then and now. One, it turns out that once a concept, even one as insidious as a human centipede, lays its eggs in your brain and hatches little baby human centipedes that colonize your every thought, you eventually learn to accept and become desensitized to the idea. Two, my brother Andy, a trusted source for horror and cult movies, saw it and gave it a "meh." The film had lost its shock value and my expectations were lowered.
On the one hand, I wish I had seen The Human Centipede knowing next to nothing about it, like those original festival-goers did, where it might have been able to truly shock me. On the other hand, having fully adjusted to the filthy idea beforehand helped me appreciate that Tom Six has crafted a reasonably entertaining horror flick/cult oddity that works as more than just an endurance test. Most importantly, it actually has a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor about itself, albeit a pretty fucked up sense of humor. Take a look at the final image in the post, a picture the mad scientist shows his victims to explain the procedure he's about to perform on them, for a sense of what I mean.
It's not a great horror film by any means, I wouldn't call it a must-see or even strongly recommend it or anything like that. But I think aficionados might appreciate how Six dreamed up a singularly twisted hook for an efficient, classically scripted and structured monster/mad scientist movie. For starters, despite its completely tasteless premise, Six treats the material with a modicum of restraint (you know, relatively speaking). He knows the concept alone is enough to lure in viewers; the film is no more graphically violent than most R-rated horror movies, and the most disgusting part of the premise (the whole having to eat someone else's shit thing) only factors into one scene and you can't even see the horrible thing happening.
Six has a good knack for building suspense. Three scenes come to mind, all good enough to cover the price of admission. In one, one of the victims manages to escape the mad scientist's clutches pre-surgery, and is chased around the compound, leading to a clever sequence involving a swimming pool with an automated cover. Another involves the centipede desperately trying to function as one unit to escape the doctor's clutches, including a painful, maddeningly slow excursion up a winding set of stairs. Finally, there's a fun sequence where the doctor tries to get rid of some cops snooping around his property, and he can't even keep his act together for 2 minutes and seem like a sane person in front of them.
I'm not the only person to note that Dieter Laser, as the mad Dr. Heiter, is the film's secret weapon. He goes way over the top while still trying to make his impossible character feel "real," showing flashes of humor, crying over the death of his beloved pet 3-Hund (a doggy centipede), affectionately running his fingers over the furniture of his home as he walks by. It's a work of heroic overacting that helps elevate the film into something more fun than it otherwise might have been.