Scat queens, misanthropes and defenders of spectacularly lowbrow humor will find much cause to rejoice in The Human Centipede, a new exercise in gross-out one-upsmanship that centers on the admittedly nauseating premise of sewing unwilling people together ass-to-mouth to create the world’s most foul-breathed daisy chain.
But appetite-squelching gross-outs aside, does this Centipede have legs? Read on for our take.
We begin with an autobahn-adjacent prelude that introduces our main madman, who shoots a pooping truck driver in the bushes after sitting in his car and gazing adoringly at what looks like a snapshot of the same rottweiler Photoshopped together three time nose-to-tail (I mean, who hasn’t at one time or another had to pull over to the side of the road to admire pet pictures?).
Aside from establishing director Tom Six’s clear love for tracking shots (try and find a single scene without at least a dozen of them), the scene sets up both the central villain and the film’s off-kilter sense of humor. Right away it’s clear that this isn’t a gritty survival thriller in the school of Hostel or Inside, despite the similar focus on body terror. It’s an altogether lighter experience – believe it or not – despite the stomach-turning central conceit.
From here we move into fairly standard horror movie/fairy tale territory: Two girls (American tourists who are virtually indistinguishable despite one being slightly stupider than the other – which isn’t saying much) get lost in the German forest on the way to a party, are harrassed by a local pervert after they blow a tire, and eventually stumble upon the well-appointed ranch home of our squatter-shooter, who amusingly enough has a gravestone in his front yard marking the resting place of his beloved “3-Dog”.
Before you know it the girls are strapped to gurneys in the basement lab, and the mad doctor outlines his insane plan: To stitch the victims together, ass-to-mouth, to create … A HUMAN CENTIPEEEEEEDE!
No fucking clue.
That the movie doesn’t even bother to try explaining why the doctor is so obsessed with sticking noses into bum-bums is on the one hand kind of ballsy … but on the other is why the movie ultimately wasn’t a home-run for me: it’s such a ludicrous standalone concept that it’s hard to take any of the rest of the movie seriously, regardless of how grody it may be.
As a result, what might have been a harrowing tale of biological terror is instead a moderately gory dark comedy that’s more about kink and master/servant relationships than it is about sheer survival.
In short: You go in expecting High Tension … and you get Boxing Helena.
A lot of people (myself included) have wondered why the trailer – which has been exercising more gag reflexes than Pavol Navotny since it premiered a few weeks ago – appears to give away so much of the plot. I was surprised to learn that we actually get to what we might have expected would be the film’s climactic event about 40 minutes into the movie … after which point, much like its addled central creation, it doesn’t really have anywhere to go. A disappointing final stretch involving two hilarious-looking German cops feels like it’s something from CSI: Dusseldorf, and fails to live up to the chilling promise of the first half of the movie.
In all, I’d recommend The Human Centipede just because it’s that out there. It’s slickly made, and aside from the overuse of tracking shots (seriously, does this guy use a dolly to get to the fridge and back?) it’s competently made and bears a distinctive and unique atmosphere that’s not at all unpleasant (for better or for worse). It’s refreshing to see a visceral horror movie told in such a classic way (it’s as far from the “cameraman with a seizure” feel of the Saw movies as you can get), but in the end the humor and the general mundaneness of it all undercut the horror.
I also wasn’t a terribly big fan of the central actor, Dieter Laser, who feels like he was about another week of rehearsals away from really understanding his character – which is crucial, as the film makes no attempt to help US understand him. The result is an energetic but hollow performance that’s not as menacing as it needs to be, and which will likely make you wonder if, after starring in total crap for over 40 years, this wasn’t the role that Udo Kier finally turned down.
As our pseudo-final-girl, Ashley Williams is actually great – I look forward to seeing her in something that doesn’t ask her to eat quite so much shit. Figuratively speaking, of course! As the girls’ partner-in-misery, Akihiro Kitamura isn’t given much to do other than freak out in Japanese (which at times serves to ratchet the intensity and at other times is just plain annoying) and feels underused even when he does get a moment in the spotlight.
While in the end The Human Centipede doesn’t live up to the awesome ghoulishness of its premise, it doesn’t really try to, so it’s hard to fault it. A great party flick (Do a shot any with every ass-to-mouth! Like you don’t already…) and, for its sheer gonzo balls alone, the first true can’t-miss genre movie of the year.
RATING (OUT OF 5):
The Human Centipede is rated “NR” for Teutonic home decor, adult language, and oh yeah A FUCKING HUMAN CENTIPEDE