Was it Voltaire who said “I disapprove of your human centipede, but I will defend to the death your right to create it”? Yes, this is the movie in which three poor souls find themselves surgically attached anus-to-mouth on the whim of a crazed surgeon. The poster boasts that the film is “100% medically accurate”. Sure, ‘accurate’, but certainly not encouraged. It is a disgusting movie, but surely no one is sitting down to it expecting a Sandra Bullock-esque romcom. In fact, perhaps never before has a title provided such an accurate description of its contents. With all that being said, there is a certain unmistakable brilliance to Tom Six’s The Human Centipede.
But first, to the plot! It’s your typical horror movie set up: Two young American girls – Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie) embark on a Eurotrip with modest intentions, and find themselves trapped in the most horrific of situations. Their car breaks down (of course) and the closest abode belongs to a crazed surgeon (of course) who drugs them and chains them to some hospital beds in his basement (of course). The surgeon is Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser), who – for god knows what reason – has a penchant for conjoining dogs, and is now ready to work his magic on some human beings. He informs the two girls and his other prisoner Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura) that they will be a part of his latest wonderful experiment: a human centipede. Strike that. THE human centipede.
And WHAT a human centipede! Three people (read: victims) joined end-to-end, forced to sustain themselves on the faecal matter of the person before them. The visual image of the centipede itself cannot be discounted as a valuable contribution to horror cinema, not unlike the famous sliced eye from Un Chien Andalou. The very sight of this monstrosity is so evocative you will have trouble ever scraping it from your memory. So, regardless of the rest of the film, top marks to Tom Six for burning our corneas forever.
We never learn the reasons why dirty Dr. Heiter wants to commit this atrocity. That doesn’t make this film more morally reprehensible than other slasher flicks, in which silent serial killers lay waste to scantily clad teenagers. In fact, The Human Centipede might even have a better moral center than those vengeance-fuelled films. There is absolutely nothing titillating here – no half-nude girls getting slaughtered after sleeping with their boyfriends. Nor does the film attempt to frighten us at any point; there are no jump-scares, no fake-outs and no satisfying, triumphant good-over-evil climax. Six drains his movie of everything we expect from a genre film. His camera moves dreamily, almost with a sense of defeatism. Yes, everything you are seeing is happening, and it cannot be stopped.
So what is the use of a genre film that doesn’t conform to the conventions of genre? Plenty. You know this movie is called The Human Centipede. You will watch the film knowing you will see a human centipede. And when it is over, you will be able to claim you have now seen a human centipede. The evocative title, the lack of motive and the absence of genre tropes are completely intentional – Six is giving us what we want, reminding us all the while that getting exactly what we want is usually the last thing we should ever really have. Basically, The Human Centipede is a better, more effective satire (experiment?) than Michael Haneke’s Funny Games.
The performance artist Marina Abramovic presented a piece at MoMa earlier in the year entitled ‘The Artist Is Present’, in which she sat silently at a table and invited museum patrons to sit across from her and stare. An entire blog has been devoted to the participants who have burst into tears. Is sitting motionless a work of art? No, but almost. As with any true work of art, it is only complete once it is deconstructed and experienced by another. Those patrons bring something indelible to that table – whether you think the whole thing is silly or not, you can’t deny their experience. The same goes for The Human Centipede. It’s not so much a film as a feat of endurance. And Tom Six isn’t so much a director as he is a ringmaster, pulling back the stage curtain and announcing to his audience: “I give you … The Human Centipede”. Whether you look on in awe or hurl rotten tomatoes is redundant. Watching this film is to both experience it and validate it. A star rating for an experiment seems redundant. Regardless, I’ll give it four, or rather, 1.33 per link.