Cutting The Human Centipede In Half

May 18, 2010

I watched this movie.

It took me a couple of days to work up the nerve, and let me remind you: I am a horror junkie. I read, watch and listen to scary things for fun on almost a daily basis. Yes, I am a professional science fiction talker-abouter. But horror is my main interest as far as the fictive arts go.

The Human Centipede: First Sequence crawled into the public eye a few months back when its trailer started making the rounds. So I don’t think I’m spoiling much if I describe the basic plot, which is laid out for you in full vivid detail in that preview clip. Three tourists are kidnapped, drugged and held captive by a crazed German surgeon who wants to create a human centipede. This guy spent his career separating conjoined twins; now he wants to go the other way.

In other words, this is the first movie ever made about people being kneecapped, then sewn together butt-to-lips so they can crawl around while sharing a gastric system.

Here’s my dilemma: I love horror. I love to be scared. And that never happens anymore. Modern horror is pretty tame; I’ve seen it all before, right? The most recent attempt to transform the genre, remakes of 70s and 80s classics, has fallen flat, and the attempt before that, torture porn, was not my cup of tea at all.

Maybe that’s why I was so hesitant about Human Centipede. I have a built-in fear of operations (having had many, many surgeries, plastic and otherwise). Medical horror scares me because it could actually happen. “You say you like horror,” I said to myself. “So watch something that actually scares you.”

After staring at the DVD case as it sat on my desk  for two days, I took the plunge and put the disc in.

This movie does not look cheap. It was, but it doesn’t look it. Director/writer Tom Six does an excellent job working within the confined space of an actual house, and scores with his casting choices. Dieter Laser is Dr. Heiter, and I can tell you there hasn’t been a better villain since Gary Cole in Office Space. Laser, who has the best name on the planet, is the surgeon, the creepy, evil, deranged genius, who has been trying to replicate his beloved three-dog but has been having trouble finding subjects … until two stupid American girls knock on his door after suffering a flat tire in the same Bavarian forest where the opening of Suspiria happened.

The first half of the film works really well, because Laser just rocks it. He welcomes the girls in and says “I don’t like … people.” Later, as shown in the trailer, he explains the operation in chilling detail. I was loving it. I loved the attempted escape scene, the dread of the three captives, the knowledge that they could not stop this over-the-top madman from creating his vision of a sewn-together chain of people crawling around his back yard.

Horror fans, you should probably watch this. It isn’t as much of a gross-out as you might have assumed, but there are some moments that will make you squirm. It is a surprisingly effective frightfest, and genuinely horrifying, because you really don’t know what to expect. I loved the first hour. The second? Problems.

Here’s where the movie went south for me.

  • This will spoil a bit, so if you plan to see this and don’t want to know, go up there, click up top there on the previous article, and keep going until you hit the Black October series from last year. Those are horror reviews without spoilers.

Anyway, I decided around the halfway mark that this movie was working really well, because the actual surgery, the actual Human Centipede, was being held out as a threat, a final destination, a horrible possibility. Having seen the trailer, we know it’s going to happen, but I thought it would be the last few minutes. But it isn’t. It’s the second half of the movie.

It’s too much. It goes too far. Six removes the idea of suggestion and instead bombards us with images of torture, degradation and terror. It veers out of suspense territory and right into torture porn, with Dr. Heiter’s “I vant to be a surgical pioneer” justification for what he does suddenly reduced to “Vatch me drool while you poo.”

There are some good moments in the second half. The bond that builds between the three tourists as they’re forced to scuttle around, kneeless, stitched lips-to-sphincter, is handled surprisingly well. Laser’s slow mental and sexual deterioration, which is interrupted by the arrival of two cops (played by a couple of former Scorpions roadies)  looking for the owner of the car with the flat tire, is a fantastic performance. The cops, though, should have heightened the tension, but serve instead to draw things out unnecessarily, mostly because of bad mulletry.

The ending is excellent, and lives up to the tagline “100 percent medically accurate.” It’s just that middle sequence that went on too long, too stupidly. It’s better to let us imagine than to graphically tell us, and show us, what’s happening as the characters realize what “sharing a gastric system” really means.

  • Note: This was the low-budget test run for Six’s planned masterpiece, which will apparently involve a much larger chain of people. Can’t wait.

One comment

  1. Wow, that review surprises me. I really thought you were gonna hate it completely. Respecting your views on the horror genre, I will now be seeing this. As if you had slated it completely I would have known to avoid it completely, but as you found merit, there must indeed be merit 🙂

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