THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (FIRST SEQUENCE) (Tom Six, 2009)
Ladies and gentlemen, step right this way! Come inside and cast your eyes on the twisted creation of a surgical mastermind, if you dare! But first, I should warn you that what you will see is not for the faint of heart or those with moral objections to the marvel of this ultramodern medical procedure! However, for those with iron constitutions and open minds, prepare to gasp at the horrific ingenuity that is THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (FIRST SEQUENCE)!
The lure of danger, of watching something too intense for most viewers, is the irresistible melody of THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE'S siren song. I confess that it snagged my curiosity, and I'm not especially fond of gorehound movies. The notoriety of writer-director Tom Six's film is such that when I received the offer of a screener for review, I decided I had to see for myself.
The wisp of a story finds American friends Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie) on vacation in Germany. When their car breaks down while driving through a forest at night, they venture out to find help. The young women stumble upon the secluded home of Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser), who invites them inside and agrees to call for assistance.
Of course, the creepy doctor has no intention of letting them out of his lair. He drops roofies in their drinks, and when Lindsay and Jenny come to, they find themselves strapped to gurneys and hooked up to IVs. Their waking nightmare has just begun.
Dr. Heiter explains why he has these women and a man restrained in his basement operating room. Having worked as a preeminent surgeon in separating conjoined twins, he now wishes to fulfill his dream of making the human centipede. (He's already succeeded at doing this with his dogs.)
In the most disturbing use of an overhead projector presentation outside of get-rich-quick seminars, Dr. Heiter lays out what is entailed in bringing the human centipede into existence. Essentially, the plan is to sever each person's knee ligaments and connect the gastric systems of his test subjects by sewing them mouth to anus.
The operation is delayed when the abducted man is found not to be a tissue match with Lindsay and Jenny, but it isn't long before Dr. Heiter captures a Japanese man whose genetic qualities make him ideal for this evil scheme.
THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE is sufficiently disgusting, although I'll wager that what one imagines based on the description is far worse than what is actually depicted. The HOSTEL films, two of many potential examples, are certainly more graphic. The doctor is briefly witnessed at work with his scalpel, but Six avoids showing the extent of the surgery.
How thankful you are for the lack of explicitness depends on your appetite for gore, although surely the target audience wants more than Six serves. Therein lies the problem. Like a carnival barker, THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE entices the adventurous with the promise of a repulsive display that begs to be seen but fails in its delivery of gory one-upmanship.
Without a doubt this is an unpleasant film, but the most shocking thing about THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE is how boring it is. The scenario is inherently immune to surprises. Once Dr. Heiter has made his fantasy a reality, what's left? There's barely any text, let alone the semblance of subtext. Six asks us to consider how terrible it might be in the victim's situation. Yeah, it would be pretty terrible. And the point is...?
The clinically detached tone and static style attempt to elicit psychological horror, but the one-dimensional performances shatter the illusion. Rather than being frightened, I felt bad for the actors and the humiliation they must have endured during production.
THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE is a repellent film, but that's exactly the condemnation it needs to advance its reputation as a transgressive work. Being disreputable is the film's only distinguishing characteristic, even if in this case its offenses have been overhyped to Barnum-esque proportions.