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Fantastic Fest Review: The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

By  · Published on October 4th, 2009


Spoiler Alert: In order to review a movie as bad as this, I’ll have to spoil a few things to show just how nonsensical the damned thing is.

It takes a lot for me to want to walk out on a movie. I’ve never actually stood up and headed out the door, and beyond the need to keep my streak alive, I’ve seen some terribly bad films in my time which has built up mental callouses towards the stuff on the lower end of the spectrum. It never usually enters my mind, but about half way through The Human Centipede (First Sequence), I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to be in the theater anymore. You might assume that’s because of the film’s gross out concept, but it’s actually because the film exhibits terrible writing, directing and execution for a full hour and a half runtime.

Two girls (Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie) vacationing in Germany are kidnapped by a mad scientist (Dieter Laser) who wants to sew them together ass to mouth to a Japanese guy (Ashihiro Kitamura) to create a human centipede connected by a common digestive tract.

Look, I’ll admit that the concept is fantastic. It’s also vomit-inducing, and I’d never want my mother seeing it, but it’s only got enough legs to last as a five-minute short. Unfortunately, director Tom Six thought that he had a winner and drags it out 1800% longer than it needs to be.

The first failure of the film is the writing which is about as flat as it gets. The characters have zero personality. We don’t know anything about them, and it makes it hard to care about them beyond the simple response to seeing anyone succumb to that gruesome fate. The two girls generally say exactly what’s happening on the screen to them, and it’s clear that neither can improvise while walking through a dank forest – repeating things over and over until it’s obvious that the most of the scenes are filler. They might as well have been called Girl A and Girl B. The Japanese character Katsuro is introduced while he’s passed out, and we’re offered nothing of who he is until an impassioned speech (more on that later) that comes out of left field near the end.

The one exception here is Diter Laser channeling Udo Kier who stands out as the only not completely awful actor in the movie. His German scientist is understandably creepy mostly by virtue of what he’s trying to achieve, but Laser does offer an unsettling personality when he’s not pretending he’s in a soap opera.

Beyond the dialog, the story is completely lacking because the concept doesn’t dictate anything plotwise. It’s high concept, but there are a ton of scenes that could have been cut from the beginning, middle and end without the movie losing anything. In fact, it could use a keen editing session. There’s nothing that makes this fact more obvious than the many opportunities that the girls have to escape. Imagine it. The worst fate imaginable – that your mouth will be grafted to someone else’s asshole and you’ll have to eat shit until the scientist lets you go or you die – and the girls sort of still run around like morons. Off the top of my head: there’s the time Lindsay is in a bedroom alone with a telephone, the time when she makes it out into the yard and could easily run away and return with help, the fact that they have full use of their hands and could rip the staples from their mouths, the time Katsuro (the front of the ‘pede) stabs Dr. Heiter in the leg and fails to stab in right in the face to ensure his demise, and the time Katsuro drops a perfectly good lamp in favor of a tiny sliver of glass to go up against a hobbled Dr. Heiter.

The ultimate winner in that category is right after Katsuro drops the blunt object and gives a speech not about how they are inches away from breaking through a window and escaping but about how he’s been a bad person all his life (new information for the audience) and how he deserved to have his asshole sewn to a mildly hot girl’s mouth. He then, spoilerifically, proceeds to cut his own throat. For no reason. At all. He’s endured at least three days of hell and on the cusp of escaping and living out his days untethered by mildly hot girls, he kills himself out of nowhere. Suicide has never been so random.

Director Tom Six clearly had nowhere to go and sacrifices common sense (and the fight or flight nature of human beings) in order to arbitrarily keep the victims in harm’s way.

The last problem with the writing is that it displays a fundamental ignorance of police work, human nature, and biology. Two police officers enter into the picture to find the missing girls, but they are written and acted as if the director were basing them off of B-grade detective movies instead of actual police officers. Neither of them know procedure or rules about probable cause, and they leave and come back in twenty minutes (with the world’s fastest warrant) simply because the scene demanded they leave for a while. Tonally, it’s not bad because it mirrors a moment earlier in the film where the dear Dr. Heiter leaves for a while simply because the story needed one of the girls to almost escape. Seriously. She is cornered in a pool (where she holds her breath for a few minutes and comes back up to be…exactly in the same dilemma as a few minutes before) and the power cuts out while the electronic pool cover slides across threatening death by drowning. It’s a scene that has some promise to it, and then it’s interrupted by a plot device to get Dr. Heiter busy for a long, long time (instead of, you know, knocking her out before he worries about going to fix the fuse box).

If I’m beginning to sound bitter, it’s because there are scenes all over the place in this movie that will frustrate, especially those who hate common horror tropes where people choose the non-existent third option between fighting, flighting, or wandering around because the movie still has 70 more minutes to fill contractually. Oh, and the idea of a human centipede as it stands is a great idea for a horror flick, but it’s not anywhere near biologically accurate. This wouldn’t be a problem, and the film itself shouldn’t be faulted for it, but the director brags that he worked with a doctor to make it medically sound. That doctor should have his or her license taken away. Either that statement means that human skin can be grafted to human skin (true!) or that a human can live on feces for a while (false!).

So what about when the centipede is finally made? Isn’t there a great fulfillment in seeing something that atrocious end up on screen? Well, there would be, but the director chooses that moment to hold back. It’s like listening to a sleepy carnival barker blather on for several hours before opening the freak show curtain to reveal an old shoe.

Instead of creating a disgusting surgery scene, he creates one that’s pretty tame. Even the end result of the centipede isn’t all that gore-celebrating. There’s a hint of disgust when Katsuro finally has to go Number Two, but there’s no visual to go along with it, and the sounds and motions that the girl in the Number Two spot makes are the same ones she’s made almost the entire movie. Basically, the audience has to do all the imaginary work – the movie doesn’t help out even a little. Ultimately, it’s an uninspired, a wasted effort on a vile concept. For anyone who reads the logline and gets excited, I’d imagine they’d want something far grosser and sans underwear. After all, if the doctor is creating a pet, why would he allow them to wear underwear? Come to think of it, how could they wear underwear when they are grafted via asshole? The list of confusing questions goes on.

There is one solitary scene that works well. When Dr. Leiter tells the victims what he plans on doing, the psychological impact is huge and its played for the height of disturbance.

And kudos go out to the good doctor for achieving a complex surgery on three people without an anesthesiologist. Usually even the simplest of surgeries requires someone to constantly monitor the anesthesia levels so the patient doesn’t die. But not Dr. Leiter! He’s incredible. He even lifts up the three people onto an exam table without tearing their stitches. All by himself. Incredible.

Plus, he’s pretty phenomenal when he kills a cop (off camera of course) despite only having a scalpel. It’s not often that a movie has scalpel emerge as the winner of gun vs. scalpel, but it was a brave choice, and the movie should be lauded for it.

The massive bulk of Human Centipede is heavy, anti-fun dreck that ends up with a lame pay off. It should be noted that it won the Best Horror Feature award at Fantastic Fest, but I have to assume it was the concept more than the execution. Reading the summary is enough to get a gist of the depths that the human mind can go to without needing to sit through a terribly written, terribly acted, terribly directed, terribly shot excuse for a gross out film that’s not even all that disgusting.

The Upside: The concept.

The Downside: Everything else.

On the Side: Director Tom Six is promising a sequel to the film called The Human Centipede (Complete Sequence) that will have 12 human beings sewn together.

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