Sunday, August 08, 2010

Review - The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

The posters for The Human Centipede (First Sequence) carry the tagline 100% medically accurate. That's a bold claim to make, and I must admit I'm more than a little sceptical about its validity, but I'm not sure I'm really willing to spend enough time thinking about the logistics and feasibility of this premise to disprove it. Director Tom Six clearly has spent a lot of time mulling over the possibility of stitching together multiple people to create a single entity though, and that's the basis of this bizarre feature. The Human Centipede is the story of a madman who dreams of taking three people and sewing them together, mouth to anus, so food that is ingested by the first person will be digested and passed through the unfortunate soul in the middle before being excreted by the third party. Why? Don't ask me, I'm not the nutcase around here.

The nutcase is actually Dr Heiter (Dieter Laser), a German surgeon who has already experimented on dogs (a gravestone in his garden reads 'My Beloved 3-Dog') and is now on the hunt for human prey. Luckily for the crazy doctor, his prey is about to come to him, as two irritating American tourists (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie) have broken down in the woods nearby, and are nervously making their way through the darkness to knock on his door. They're going to form the middle and back end of the doctor's creature, with the front part being taken by a Japanese man (Akihiro Kitamura) who speaks no English but spends the whole movie screaming at the top of his lungs anyway. If you're wondering what happens when our Japanese friend needs to defecate...well, don't worry, the director has got that covered.

To be honest, The Human Centipede is actually a lot more repulsive to talk about and to think about than it is to watch. Aside from a few short scenes of surgery, Six spares us from seeing the gory details of the victims' predicament. When stitched together, they are heavily bandaged and all we can see are the scars on the cheeks of the women, with their terrified eyes being visible just above the rear end of the person in front. The fact that The Human Centipede pulls off its central idea without looking entirely ridiculous is testament to the direction of Tom Six, who draws both tension and darkly amusing moments from his setup. The film frequently betrays its low budget and Six embraces many clichés of the horror genre, but his direction skilfully maintains an atmosphere of creeping dread throughout.

He is also aided enormously from the performance of Dieter Laser as the Frankenstein-like figure who orchestrates this sick experiment. He looks every inch the mad scientist, with his pale skin and the insane stare in his eyes, and the effectiveness of his display makes up for the lack of characterisation of his victims, who exist only to suffer and wail in an annoying fashion (it comes as something of a relief when the female characters lose the ability to speak). Ultimately, The Human Centipede is not the watch-through-your-fingers shocker you might be bracing yourself for before viewing (in the coprophilia and humiliation stakes, it certainly falls far short of something like Salò) but it works as a weirdly engrossing little B-movie with some imaginative touches. I can't quite see how Six plans to develop this idea further, but there is a second instalment in this story already in the works, with The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) set for release in 2011. And the tagline for that one? 100% medically INaccurate. The mind boggles.