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Entries in Human Centipede/The [2009] (1)


The Human Centipede: First Sequence (2009)

Sin Graft

Ain’t about how fast I get there,
Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side:
It’s the climb.

—Miley Cyrus

What a baffling, amazing movie!

Let me back up. I hated the first fifteen minutes of The Human Centipede. It opens with a creepy looking German guy (Dieter Laser) stalking and tranquilizing a trucker in the woods—a promising scene.

Then the film cuts to two girls talking in a hotel room, and their vapid dialogue and horrifying Valley-speak made me want to commit mass murder.

The girls, Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie) are on their way to a party; I can’t tell you what they talk about as they finish getting dressed and blow-dry their hair because, watching them, my mind went into shock; imagine a five minute conversation about nothing between pop-star Ke$ha and Audrina Patridge from MTV’s The Hills, and you’ll begin to understand my pain. While driving through the woods in the rain, they get a flat tire. Lindsay and Jenny walk to a nearby house, which happens to be owned by German Tranq Guy.

He invites them in and offers to call for help; he also offers them water that’s been laced with rohypnol. The girls wake up in the basement lair of Dr. Heiter, the world’s foremost expert at separating conjoined twins. It seems the good doctor has grown bored of division and wants to try his hand at fusion. He lays out an elaborate plan to cut key tendons and strategically graft three people together (the girls and the trucker), linking them mouth to anus, to form a human centipede (his vision is so complete that he aims to create a new organism comprised of a head person who eats, a middle person who digests, and an end person who excretes).

It isn’t until the girls show up at the doctor’s house that we hear Dr. Heiter speak. And this, sixteen minutes into the feature, is where the movie switches gears on the audience and announces what kind of movie it’s actually going to be. My biggest gripe with the opening was that I thought I was in for another bland torture porn retread, starring really annoying characters that I wouldn’t care about. With Dr. Heiter’s full introduction, I realized that The Human Centipede is an ingenious black comedy, one that does for horror movies what The Room did for romantic dramas.

As it turns out, The Human Centipede isn’t about Lindsay and Ashley at all—nor is it about Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura), the Japanese man that Heiter uses to replace the trucker (whose considerable weight would throw the centipede off balance). This is Dr. Heiter’s show, and we get to watch a nervous but mostly collected character devolve into full-on screaming madness as his plans come together and then fall apart. His arrogance and overly scientific mind drive him to successfully create his monster, but he doesn’t take into account the resilience of the human spirit—or the fact that he has neighbors who can hear women screaming and glass doors being shattered.

The movie is full of surprises, and it’s hard to tell whether they were born out of incompetence or a master plan to create the most bizarre monster movie ever. I didn’t expect to see the centipede so early in the movie; I thought for sure that it would be the big reveal of the climax. It is shown in as tasteful a manner as is possible: the contact points between the people are mostly covered with bandages and funky looking triangular skin flaps stitched to their cheeks. So, great, we’ve seen the monster—now what?

Let’s teach the monster to fetch a newspaper! Let’s see how long it takes the monster to succumb to its own shame and biological imperatives and take a shit! There’s this terrifically goofy middle section of The Human Centipede where Dr. Heiter tries to domesticate his creation that is made all the more hilarious by Katsuro’s exaggerated Japanese screaming (lucky for us, the girls’ mouths are too full to continue talking). It sounds sadistic, but I couldn’t stop laughing at the best/worst sub-titles since Battle Royale (“The Japanese possess unbelievable strength when backed into a corner!”).

This goofiness helps the film overcome an ultimately predictable story arc. Two cops show up at the house; the members of the centipede futilely try to draw their attention; the cops leave, but return later on, just as all hell breaks loose. 

Writer/director Tom Six plays with these conventions both by magnifying Heiter’s intensity and realistically portraying how a three-person chain might escape from a basement. Heiter plans to drug the cops and add them to the monster; when the sedative needle falls out of the towel he’s using to mop up a broken glass, he tells the police there’s no need for concern—he’s just diabetic. When the centi-people make it out of the lab, they realize their only way to ground level is up a spiral staircase. The madness snowballs to a conclusion that is, I guess, meant to be terrifying and sad, but which had me laughing delightedly.

I admit that I have a completely inappropriate sense of humor and a high tolerance for squeamish material. I also acknowledge that the film will probably turn off people who go in looking for straight-up horror. In the best sense, this is an awful movie.

Much like the titular creature, The Human Centipede probably shouldn’t exist; but since it does, you owe it to yourself to have a look.