The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009) Movie Review

For the past several years, I have been completely underwhelmed by American horror films. I have criticized their lack of ambition, ridiculed their penchant for remakes, reimaginings, and reboots, belittled the distributors who provide a platform for underachieving directors, and poked fun at the genre’s overall lack of imagination. Even the once-intriguing “torture porn” subgenre has become nothing more than a series of impossibly cheap rehashes, rip-offs, and shoddy direct-to-video reach-arounds. It’s hard to get excited about an industry that keeps feeding its audience the same old thing, especially when there are so many other options to explore.

Tom Six’s remarkably twisted 2009 psycho-thriller “The Human Centipede (First Sequence)” is a prime example of why I’ve slowly turned my cinematic attention towards motion pictures produced overseas. Everything about this odd little movie is inventive, imaginative, and above all else, wholly original in both design and execution. Rarely do I find myself looking away from something unfolding across my television screen, but Six managed to accomplish this astounding feat several times over the course of this undeniably deranged 90-minute sideshow. Much like the demented Dr. Heiter, Tom Six is one sick, sadistic bastard who revels in his ability to unnerve his captors.

After a somewhat conventional opening that involves two girls, a flat tire, and a mysterious house in the middle of nowhere, “The Human Centipede” gradually begins to find its footing. Drenched from head-to-toe and desperate to locate someone who isn’t a stark-raving lunatic, Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie) arrive on the doorstep of the mad Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser). Despite giving off an impossibly creepy vibe, the rain-soaked companions take refuge inside the not-so-good doctor’s spacious abode. Before you can shout “bad idea”, the girl have been administered a powerful date rape drug, which allows Heiter to easily secure them in his hospital-like cellar.

Once his three selections are awake and ready to pay attention, the forthcoming procedure is explained in excruciating detail. Using an overhead projector to illustrate the finer aspects of his plan, Heiter explains how each person will be surgically connected to one another. Needless to say, none of the unwilling participants are too thrilled with the idea. In a moment of desperation, Lindsay escapes from the cellar and makes her way to the surface, only to find her unstable tormentor waiting for her in the backyard. Her defiance, he decides, has granted her the centipede’s most undesirable role: the dreaded middle segment. This sequence essentially marks the point of no return.

Proclaiming “The Human Centipede” to be one of the world’s most nauseating experiences is a serious understatement. Seldom has a movie unsettled me to the point of physical discomfort. In fact, the last film to get under my skin in such a manner was Takashi Miike’s 1999 classic “Audition”, a movie that still ranks as one of my all-time favorites. Despite the film’s collection of controversial and deeply revolting moments, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Six had infused his outing with a wickedly dark sense of humor. It’s not laugh-out-loud funny, mind you, but the absurdity of the situation and the doctor’s over-the-top theatrics make for some amusing scenarios. Watching Heiter scream “Feed her!” during the film’s infamous bowel movement scene is so bizarre its comical.

Despite some strong, sympathetic performances from Williams, Yennie, and Akihiro Kitamura, it’s German actor Dieter Laser’s turn as Dr. Heiter that ultimately steals the show. The guy is the personification of crazy, and Laser seems to thoroughly relish his role as the film’s grossly unstable antagonist. The doctor’s psychotic obsession with creating the ultimate Siamese triplet reverberates through every single frame of the film, culminating in a final reel freak-out that ranks as one of the best I’ve seen in ages. Although it may sound kooky to say as much, but I’d watch the whole thing again just to see Laser in action. It’s truly something to behold.

As the champion of several highly unpopular opinions, I’ll go out on a limb and declare “The Human Centipede” to be a twisted, unrelenting masterpiece of modern-day horror. Despite initial speculation to the contrary, the film’s gimmicky premise is powered by a strong, straightforward narrative and a truly unforgettable performance from Dieter Laser. However, seeing as how the film is warped in just about every way imaginable, I doubt others will share my enthusiastic feelings towards Tom Six’s bold and provocative endeavor. Regardless of your own personal feelings towards the project, you have to admit its one of the fiercest, most original genre pictures in recent memory. Even if you hate the movie with every nerve ending in your body, chances are you won’t soon forget it.

Tom Six (director) / Tom Six (screenplay)
CAST: Dieter Laser … Dr.Heiter
Ashley C. Williams … Lindsay
Ashlynn Yennie … Jenny
Akihiro Kitamura … Katsuro
Andreas Leupold … Detective Kranz
Peter Blankenstein … Detective Voller




About Todd Rigney

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Todd was raised on a steady diet of Hollywood blockbusters, late-night Cinemax programming, and USA’s “Up All Night,” which may explain why his taste in movies is more than a little questionable. When he isn’t providing news and reviews for Beyond Hollywood, he can be found lounging lazily on his couch, perched in front of his television, or dwelling in places where direct sunlight can be easily avoided. He's happily married, in his 30's, and totally badass. If you'd like to reach Todd, you can follow him on Twitter or send him email/scoops to todd (at) beyondhollywood.com.

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  • http://quietearth.us Marina Antunes

    “twisted, unrelenting masterpiece of modern-day horror” is accurate but I never, never, need to see this again. EVER. I had to skip over a paragraph of your review because even reading about it brings back images I'd rather erase from my memory.

    Great review.

  • tokyojesusfist

    This movie represents a new low point for cinema. One does not even have to watch it to know that it is objectively a bad movie in the worst possible way. It is nothing more than a naked attempt to be as shocking, offensive and disgusting as possible purely for the sake of doing so. The director has even stated that his only goal was to make people used to the idea (which is enough to make me physically ill just by reading about it) so the sequel can be even worse. And what is the response to such a movie? What do people think when someone proceeds to completely shit on over a hundred years of cinematic progress? They rejoice.

    The movie itself is actually the perfect metaphor for all this. First there's the director and the staff and cast who were involved in the movie's production, and they shit the movie on the guy in the middle. The guy in the middle is you, and reviewers like you. You shower the movie with praise as if you were watching Kurosawa, and dump the resulting fecal matter (review) on the moviegoing audience at large.

    I like how the words controversial, bold and provocative are used to describe the movie, as if we were dealing with some polarizing work of art that speaks deeply about the human condition. You know what else would be really controversial, bold and provocative? Ok, let me think: a movie three hours long where little children are raped, mutilated, amputated and burned alive non-stop, and then at the end they're tossed into a pit filled with shit and vomit while people ejaculate on them. Oh man, I should definitely make that movie. I'd be a “cult” director in no time. Fame and success, here I come!

    You think you're being real controversial by praising the film, which is what everyone else has already done. If you wanted to be controversial you'd admit that it's a revolting piece of shit whose director should not be allowed to come within fifty meters of a movie set. But no, you feel compelled to praise it just because it's edgy and offensive and destined to be a “cult” movie. You think this is a “masterpiece of modern-day horror?” Fuck you. A Tale of Two Sisters and Kairo are masterpieces of horror. This is a masterpiece of dog shit.

    Tom Six should not be allowed to make movies and you should not be allowed to review them. You are both idiots.

    I bet you're going to delete this post because it's so offensive and because your precious feeling have been hurt. That would be really funny because you just praised the shit out of a movie whose only function is to be as offensive as humanly possible.

  • http://www.beyondhollywood.com/ Nix

    Instead of spending all your time being offended by a movie you haven't even seen yet (I'm assuming you haven't seen it yet, but if I'm wrong, feel free to correct me), maybe you should spend it watching something you actually like? I'm sorry, but did I miss something or is Tom Six or our reviewer at your house right now with a gun to your head forcing you to dirty yourself in the film? Holy shit, stop feeling so aggrieved at everything and go on with your life. It's BORING.

  • tokyojesusfist

    When all else fails, tell the opposition to get a life. Because that always works so well.

    And you are not making sense. How am I spending all my time being offended by this movie just because I wrote one comment on the site? The reviewer spent far more time watching the movie and then writing up the review, and I'm pretty sure watching and reviewing shitty-ass movies for a website is not a particularly productive use of anyone's time. Especially when said review does not contain useful information like “don't watch this movie.”

    Anyway, your attempt at misdirection ends here because I can easily see it for what it is: an attempt to divert attention away from the issue at hand, which you are incapable of debating. And how could it be otherwise? How could anyone defend this movie and dispute my conclusions in any intelligible manner?

    As someone who actually loves movies and doesn't watch them just so he can be edgy by association (“Tom Six made this piece of shit and I liked it!“), I am offended by this movie. You see, it's not merely a bad movie. It is, in fact, nothing short of an attack against cinema, the creative arts and humanity in general. I see it as highly troubling that it has been reviewed so well, let alone that it got made in the first place. It's a sign of the times.

    What kind of culture produces this shit and then celebrates it as a masterpiece? This movie may be relegated to cult status for now, but how long until even this would be considered good enough for mainstream audiences (like Hostel is now)? And what happens then? Well then someone has to make something that's even worse. The race to the bottom continues, the idiots rejoice and the true cinemaphiles despair.

  • http://www.beyondhollywood.com/ Nix

    I give up. Have a nice life.

  • Terran

    Nix wins. Spaz man, on the other hand, should GET a life.

    Be offended. Be very, very offended. Nasty movie, but in a good way.

  • tokyojesusfist

    Oh he does, does he? That's pretty amazing considering he didn't present a single argument or say anything of value. Also, I already shot down the “get a life” nonsense, so you may want to try something different.

  • Photoj

    Tokyo, please don't start a forum fight, it's rather unbecoming, and this isn't the place for it. If the idea of the film repulses you, then don't read the article.

    I'm not sure about everyone else here…but the second I saw the movie title “The Human Centipede” I knew it was going to be an offensive romp of evil.

    I for one am psyched for this movie. Bring it on!

  • tokyojesusfist

    Is everyone here a completely brain dead simpleton? Has nothing I have written registered in anybody's brain? Hello, anyone home?

  • vineland

    I have been following this site for several years now and never felt the need to become insulting or irrational and after watching the trailer to 'The Human Centipede' was intrigued with the same morbid sense of curiosity as I had with the likes of Takeshi Miike's 'Audition'.

    Although I'm inclined to agree with Nix simply on the grounds that I have similar taste but primarily that he(she?) never felt the need to use vulgar language. These comments remind me of a conversation not so long ago about '120 Days of Sodom' and the utter disgust from a friend of mine at how such a film ever came to be made.

    Yes objectively this film could be considered a bad movie; however I personally prefer the strange, deranged and twisted over the current churning out of terrible horror genre films like the Saw films. Read Stephen Kings brilliant book Danse Macabre where the writer of masterpieces like 'The Shining', 'Carrie' and 'It' highlights what King terms as the conflict of the Dionysian and Apollonian. Stephen King's three tiers of horror (terror/horror/revulsion) are simple to understand and should perhaps be more expressed. Read The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G Wells, or watch Tod Browning's 'Freaks' and see how and where this film actually fits quite neatly into what maybe considered an ancestry of modern horror.

    The fear of travelling in a foreign country which also happens to have an infamous episode in history for experimenting on human subjects and mass extermination is ripe for picking in the American horror genre. Although this is perhaps a tired and over laboured concept now in the 21st century this film is unpretentious and makes no bones about the subject matter at hand. Simply the title of the film itself sends the mind spinning into similar teritory as David Cronenburg's masterpiece “The Fly”.

    Now, (sigh) I also believe Kairo to be an awesome film in terms of social commentary. Kairo also happens to easily fulfils the highest tier in the horror genre in according to the criteria highlighted by Stephen King in his book aforementioned that being of terror, the lowest form being revulsion. I have yet to see A Tale of Two Sisters and since you mention both films in the same breath I will take that into consideration when I sit and watch it tonight.

    Please lets be civilised, its easy to get wound up by a film. I do every time a bus passes me by with an advert to a crappy film which usually reinforces stereotypes of women, men and black people etc. Which unfortunately for me is what the film under review seemed to do. Were you able to be more objective yourself tokyojesusfist (nice name!) you would noticed the most glaringly obvious problem with what is implied with the 'women in trouble' cliche and 'german scientist' stereotype I see in the trailer.

    In trying to use a moral standpoint tokyojesusfist you yourself lowered to the lowest form of subjective criticism by swearing which also now makes you a hypocrite. What a shame because you actually had a case for your argument.