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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