Saturday, October 16, 2010


 Review by Mark Pezzula

Directed by Tom Six 

Starring Dieter Laser, Ashley Williams, Ashlynn Yennie

Every few years a film comes around that immediately grabs both scorn and accolades from movie critics and fans alike simply based on the film's concept alone. These films usually come out of the horror genre, and those that condemn the film are apt to chastise the filmmakers for pushing the medium to a new low, while those that support the film claim that any work that pushes boundaries and buttons is reason for celebration. One particular film that has been smashing peoples buttons for the past year and a half is The Human Centipede, which tells the story of a German doctor whose goal is to fuse three human beings together - by the digestive tract (to get the picture click here) - to create one miserable, grotesque monstrosity. The film has both won awards and received scathing criticism. As a film, The Human Centipede certainly has one of the most nightmarish concepts I have ever seen in a film. It's slightly disappointing, then, that the movie really doesn't have anything going for it, other than its stomach-churning premise.

All Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie) want to do is hang out in Europe, go clubbing, and meet hot German men. They also want to argue incessantly with each other when their rental car catches a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. After hours of walking through the woods (and minutes of me stuffing cotton into my ears to try to ward off the sound of their obnoxious voices), the two best friends stumble upon the abode of Dr. Heitzer who, despite being immediately creepy and off-putting, they decide to seek respite from the cold and rain. The fact that Jenny and Lindsay decide to accept help from this immensely odd human being, what with his box-shaped head and stand-offish demeanor, is an event that's incredibly unbelievable, even for a genre that is built upon towers of  suspending disbelief.

After being drugged by the bad doctor, Jenny and Lindsay wake up to find themselves cuffed to hospital beds in his basement, where Heitzer goes into an overhead-projector presentation on his demented experiment in disgusting and vomit-inducing detail. Jenny and Lindsay are, unsurprisingly, very upset.

Of course, you would be too if you found out that you were about to have your mouth sewed onto the anus of either your best friend or a pissed off Japanese man (Akihiro Kitamura), who eventually becomes the head of the "centipede." In what is one of the dumbest victim escapes I've ever seen in a horror film, Lindsay frees herself from the clutches of Gonzo-Einstein and then goes on to do everything in her power to not get out of the house. For a movie with a one-of-a-kind concept, The Human Centipede wades mouth deep in dumb horror movie cliches.

What The Human Centipede doesn't wade in, to its benefit, is an overabundance of gore and blood. Sure, there's a good amount of the red stuff flowing, but the film is surprisingly restrained when it comes to wet splatter. The operation scene is disturbing and nauseating, but because we know what's going to happen when the experiment is complete, not because the effects are particularly bloody or gross. Director Tom Six at least has some idea on how to craft tension and dread.

When Heitzer finally completes his masterpiece, The Human Centipede lives up to its reputation as one disturbing piece of work. To hear about 3 people fused together front to back breeds nightmarish thoughts, but to actually see this newly formed creature creates a sense of sympathy and repulsion that almost splits the mind. Jenny and Lindsay are annoying characters, but do not deserve the disgusting and bothersome fate Heitzer has given them. If nothing else, this film will replace your fear of going to hell when you die with your fear of becoming the middle member of the centipede.

It's a good thing Dieter Laser is magnificent as Dr. Heitzer, or The Human Centipede wouldn't have a reason to be viewed after its first hour. Whatever thin plot was in place before this point completely disappears and is replaced with scenes of the doctor having fun with his new pet - which the centipede actually functions as, as the head cannot speak English and the abdomen and tail cannot speak at all. Laser is fascinating in the role, and is probably the best reason to see the film. Dr. Heitzer is truly a disturbing and scary character.

The last act of the film introduces a pair of bumbling, Keystone cops into the film, and the movie falls right back into the "Dumb Horror Movie Stuff" rhythm it began with. The nightmarish atmosphere still lingers (as do the faint-inducing moments, such as when the centipede attempts to crawl up a flight of stairs and its members practically separate), but whatever thick aura of dread Six had built up is broken by silly contrivances dumb character moments. As much as the director wants to emulate the style of 80's era David Cronenberg, he simply can't match that master's ability to marry the grotesque and smart.

The ending of The Human Centipede actually goes on to make up for much of the disappointing final 30 minutes of the film. It's an ending that's horrific almost to the point of paralyzation, and should leave any normal, rational audience member somewhat shaken.

For all the accolades, smears, cheers, jeers, criticism, love, and hate the film has received, at the end of the day The Human Centipede is a competently made film with a truly disturbing central conceit, a great central performance, some nice photography, with a disappointing knack for going the dumbest places that a horror movie can go. It's worth a look, if only for curious eyes and for those who can stomach the sick nature of it. Apparently Tom Six already has the sequel (The Second Sequence, in which the centipede will have an astonishingly disgusting TWELVE parts) in the can. Once again there will be controversy. Once again the director will be demonized by some and held up as a boundary pushing artist by others. And I have a feeling that once again we'll be left with a film that has many moments to be talked about, but leaves a lot to be desired as a whole.

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