Today: February 21, 2024

Human Centipede, The

Every so often a film comes along that gets the collective knickers of
the chattering classes in a twist. It’ll be
controversial, taboo, dangerous. Usually it’s violent, often it’s sexually
The Daily Mail will hate it. A certain type of filmgoer (almost
young and male) will speak of it in hushed tones. It’ll
be talked about around water coolers and you won’t be able to get to the bar in
your local pub for people trying to sell you a pirated DVD of it. Watching it
will become almost a rite of passage;
all the cool kids have seen it.

It might be a horror film; a sleek engine of terror like the original Texas
Chainsaw Massacre
. It might be torture-porn like Hostel or the Saw films. It could
push the boundaries of explicit sexuality in mainstream cinema like In The
Realm Of The Senses
, Last Tango In Paris, 9 Songs or the films of
Catherine Breillat (Romance, Anatomy of Hell). It could be Lars
von Trier’s latest exercise in rampant misogyny (Anti-Christ). It could be
pretty much anything by Takashi Miike. Every so often it’s something genuinely
transgressive and disturbing like Baise-Moi, Irreversible or The Isle. Sometimes it’s
just a wallow in the depths of human depravity. This year there’s already two
contenders that have got the hearts of the world’s Internet geeks all aflutter;
A Serbian Film and The Human Centipede (First Sequence).

While A Serbian Movie (the Citizen Kane of snuff-themed
movies) struggles to find a certificate, The Human Centipede (First
is off the starting blocks like Usain Bolt and will do for the girlie
trip to Europe, well, pretty much what Hostel did for Eastern
European sex tourism. Kill it stone dead. Two pretty but dumb American girls holidaying
in Germany, Lyndsay (Williams) and Jenny (Yennie), get lost on the way to a
party and, when their car loses a tyre, are forced to take refuge at the home of retired
, dog lover and barking mad scientist Dr Heiter (Dieter
Laser). A nice soothing glass of rohypnol later and the girls wake
up to find themselves tied to hospital beds in the good doctor’s basement as he
explains his plan to connect the girls and a male Japanese tourist via
their digestive systems
(yup folks, ass-to-mouth), stitching them
together to create his very own Siamese triplet, (drumroll puh-lease) the ‘Human

Unless you’ve been in a coma for the last couple of months or just
haven’t bothered reading the preceding paragraphs, it’ll come as no surprise
that The Human Centipede is far from a subtle film. Apparently born of a
drunken conversation Dutch writer/director Tom Six had with friends about the
most fitting punishment for a child molester (to have their mouth sewn to a
trucker’s anus), what’s surprising is just how coy, how tasteful the film
actually is. Once you get past the essential ‘yeuchness’ of the central
conceit, The Human Centipede is actually a pretty restrained
exercise in sustained tension
. Gore hounds will be sorely disappointed;
apart from some throb-inducing amateur dentistry and a few explicit
surgical scenes
as Heiter sews his victims together, The Human Centipede is rather light on the expected
blood and guts torture scenes horror fans have come to expect, deriving much of
its ‘pleasure’ instead from the excruciating, escalating perversity of the situation.

From the opening scene the film creates an atmosphere of dread and dislocation. The world the
girls move through is an anonymous one of soulless corporate hotels
and disposable rental cars before eventually finding themselves trapped in
Heiter’s IKEA show-home. With almost the entire film confined to the house, a
neat freak’s lair of clean, sleek lines, tasteful soft furnishings and
minimalist decor (sterile operating theatre cum dungeon optional), Six
ratchets up the tension and claustrophobia to stifling levels, playing a
game of cat-and-mouse with his audience in much the same way as Heiter plays
with Lyndsay, the feistier of the pair, whose desperate escape attempt
ends in failure. The scene in which Heiter traps the terrified girl in his
swimming pool and merely waits for her to surface for air so he can
shoot her with a tranquiliser will have you squirming in your seat.

A horror movie for the Two Girls, One Cup generation, The
Human Centipede
may be the kinkiest mainstream (or at least
above-ground) movie since 2002’s Secretary. While the nudity is surprisingly non-sexual, Laser’s Dr Heiter
and director Six take a leering delight in the more fetishistic aspects of the
film with Heiter strutting around in jackboots with a riding crop
as he ‘trains’ his new pet, administering a sound thrashing when his victims disobey him. Inevitably,
nature must take its course and, when the gross-out moment we’ve all been
waiting for finally comes (and you know what moment I mean, don’t try to
deny it), it’s surprisingly tasteful (well, as tasteful as defecating in a
woman’s mouth can be), restrained even, with Six implying the full retch-inducing horror of what’s
occurring through Lyndsay’s tortured reaction rather than through fountains
of scatological filth
. Coprophiliacs and BDSM aficionados should book their
tickets now.

Looking like the stillborn fruit of the unholy union of Christopher
Walken and Udo Kier, Dieter Laser as the mad doctor delivers a performance of
such camp, mannered eye-rolling insanity that you find
yourself wondering if he’s actually acting or was just a passing sexual
. His ecstatic gasp of release upon beholding his creation for the
first time is both chilling and prompts nervous laughter; I wouldn’t
want to have been the wardrobe mistress on that film as I’m pretty sure they
had to chisel Laser out of his underpants at the end of each day. As the
head of the centipede, Akihiro Kitamura’s performance is perfectly judged,
humour tempering his justifiable outrage and
providing some of the films most intentionally funny moments. But the best
performance in the film is that of Ashley C. Williams, the fiestier of the two
female victims and the middle segment of the centipede. She takes the bare
bones of her character and puts flesh and blood on it, her expressions and body
language far more eloquent than the mediocre dialogue she’s
forced to deliver in the first half of the film.

While there is a worrying streak of misogyny running through
the film, after all only the women are made to eat excrement and have their
faces sliced and sutured, The Human Centipede is that rare
beast; a gross-out, slice of reprehensible torture-porn that actually dares to humanise its victims whilst
overtly implicating the audience making it probably the most scopophilic
in mainstream cinema since Psycho. At the beginning of the film we want,
we need something nasty to happen to the female leads. They are
every brash stereotype of the ignorant American abroad
that we Europeans have loved to hate since WW2. They’re stupid, they’re smug.
Their faces are blandly perfect, their bodies tight and athletic. Who wouldn’t
hate them? And then the something nasty happens. Deprived of speech
(their voices are like nails on a blackboard), their silent suffering elevates their
characters beyond the walking chalk out-line victims they were before and
humanises. The scene where the two girls desperately search for each others
hands, establishing the simple comfort of human contact, is devastating and almost too
painful to watch. It’s the intelligence and restraint of moments like this that
raises The Human Centipede above movies like Hostel or Saw.

The posters and trailers for the film may trumpet that its “100% Medically
Accurate” but it’s worth remembering that director Tom Six was one of the
creators of the original Dutch Big Brother. Just think how much better the
show would be if this year’s crop of half-wits had been sewn together in a
daisy-chain and forced to eat each other’s excrement. A nasty, warped, little
fantasy, The Human Centipede is a difficult film to watch and a harder
one to recommend but if you don’t see it you’ll never be able to boast about
seeing it.

David Watson

David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email:

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