For those who have yet to hear about The Human Centipede (First Sequence), let's get right down to business. It's a movie about a mad German scientist who sews three people together in order to create one living organism that shares a single digestive track. If this sounds like it may be too much for you to handle, then it most likely is. Now I typically enjoy horror movies that revel in the sick and perverse so I was very excited to finally see this movie. I built up how disgusting it must be based on the hype it was getting and ultimately, I did what I was afraid I would do. I over-hyped the sickness factor and when the movie was over and I had yet to feel any physical reaction to what was on the screen, I was oddly and sadly disappointed.
That's not to say it's a bad horror movie. In fact, it's a pretty great achievement in original storytelling. But in the excitement to see the movie, I made the subconscious decision to wrongly base the movie on its gross factor instead of the actual storyline. I can see how some people would not be able to sit through a viewing based on the subject matter though. But if you've made it through the Saw or Hostel series, then this is a good step up to something that feels more organic and not a genre gimmick ("torture porn").
The thing that really makes The Human Centipede stand out as a great horror movie is the creation of a new horror icon, Dr. Heiter (played by Dieter Laser). The movie takes place in Dr. Heiter's home country of Germany, and if generations of pop-culture stereotypes have taught us anything, it's that Germans are creepy. While it's easy to roll your eyes at a cliche evil German mad scientist, it's the little things that make the character stand out. I was afraid during the whole movie they would add some Nazi-sympathizing trait to Dr. Heiter but luckily that is never the case. They also don't make him so over-the-top that you start to root for him the way we typically cheer on the evil monster in current horror movies. We are simply dealing with a mentally unstable former surgeon (primarily known for the separation of Siamese twins, how ironic!) who has decided to torment a group of humans in one of the most inhumane ways possible.
The victims themselves were one of the few problems I had with the movie. We are introduced to 2/3 of the Human Centipede early on in the film. Two young women, Lindsay and Jenny (played by Ashley Williams and Ashlynn Yennie), are on a trip through Europe and are planning a night out in Germany. On their way to the party, they hit pretty much every possible horror movie cliche that leads them to Dr. Heiter's house, all the while being a very irritating duo to focus on. They get lost on a fairly deserted road at night and then get a flat tire, only to discover they have no cell signal and the one car that stops is a weird fat German guy who wants to have sex with them. So once he drives away, they decide to just walk through the woods but it becomes very cold and begins to pour. That's when they randomly appear in front of Dr. Heiter's house and ask for help. He then proceeds to help by drugging them and tying them down to hospital beds.
It was fascinating how irritating I found these two characters to be. I would have expected a movie like this to really make the victims sympathetic early on so you felt for them later. Knowing what would become of them, I actually caught myself thinking "Jesus, I can't wait until their mouths are sewn to an ass so I don't have to hear them anymore." I then realized two things: I may need therapy and I think that's the point of this movie. It's almost as if the director set out to make them annoying to the point of you not caring about them and then putting them through something so horrific that you completely switch gears and realize how terrible you are as a person for even wishing them harm in the first place. It's a fairly brutal experiment but it pays off and makes the movie a much more powerful experience.
I also enjoyed the decision of having the 3rd victim be a Japanese male who spoke no English. It makes sense in that the doctor needed victims with little to no connections inside Germany but it was a surprise that they would have it be someone who cannot speak English. It sort of continues the trend of worse case scenarios for these two women. The male, Katsuro (played by Akihiro Kitamura), actually ends up being the voice of the victim later on in the movie as he is the "head" of the centipede. While I'm sure there is much to discuss from a feminist and sociological viewpoint of having the two women simply become the legs and continuation of the digestive system of this new "creature", it mainly worked for me because it continued the horrific victimization of these two women we have been following since the beginning of the movie.
We never learn much about Katsuro. We are first introduced to his character as he is being dragged out of Dr. Heiter's car, unconscious. We never see how he was caught or what he was doing in the area. He is a character that Lindsay and Jenny (and the viewers of the movie) are never given a real connection to until he is literally connected to the them later on in the film. The women have their voice taken away due to the surgical procedure, left to only muffled cries for the rest of the movie (much to Heiter's dismay. He realized too late he should have also removed their vocal cords when he was setting everything up). They are now part of one creature that they cannot even understand, as they do not speak its language. Everything about their humanity has been stripped away, they are truly just the excess pieces needed for the centipede to get around.
As you can see, this movie covers lots of dark territory. It's a movie that can be extremely difficult to get through for some. For me though, it was nowhere near as difficult as something like Antichrist was. Unlike that movie, The Human Centipede is a movie I can actually recommend to any horror fan who is looking for a good original story. It's interesting to note that a sequel is already lined up for 2011. I wonder how they will be able to top the torment of this movie other than adding more victims (which could backfire as the viewers then have to spread their sympathy between more people, causing it to have less of an impact). I have one suggestion that would make it a far worse experience, which can be summed up in one word, "pregnancy." For now, I suggest giving this movie a try. It's not high art (don't expect a Criterion release), but it's still an interesting movie and, due to its originality, is one of the bright spots within the horror genre in the past few years.