A few weeks ago, I got an email from a co-worker who had set me up for a press screening of this film, The Human Centipede (The First Sequence), and I didn't really think much about it one way or the other. I'm always happy to watch films before they're released, but I just really wasn't sure what I could expect from this thing. It featured a cast full of names I didn't even remotely recognize and the premise just sounded so ludicrous that I wasn't sure how well this could be pulled off. Cut to a few weeks later and the haunting, brilliant maniacal images of Tom Six's film are still pertinently embedded in my head... for better or worse. It's one of those films where I almost feel like a genuinely bad person for enjoying such depravity on the silver screen... but it's just so well-made that I really can't help it.
I suppose I should warn you all first, before I go any further. Me saying that this film is not for the faint of heart is probably the biggest understatement I can make. This film makes movies like Hostel seem like a Britney Spears music video, not because they're so horrifically graphic, with blood and appendages flying everywhere, but because we've never seen someone even attempt something so bat-sh*t crazy in a film before... and because it is absolutely 100% medically accurate (Seriously. He consulted with surgeons before filming). What we get instead of on-screen carnage and corpses is a truly terrifying portrayal of human suffering that will haunt you to your core.
The film takes place in Germany and starts off with two beautiful young New York girls, Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie), who are traveling through Europe and are getting ready to go to this nightclub they've heard about. Naturally, they get lost and naturally they find an isolated home and naturally they knock on the door expecting someone to help them. An ominous man named Dr. Heiter (the truly phenomenal Dieter Laser) answers the door and pretends to help them, saying he's calling the rental car service (oh yeah, naturally, their cell phones have no service), but he's really drugging their waters. They both wake up gagged and bound to hospital beds alongside a young Japanese man, Katsuro (the wonderful Akihiro Kitamura) and, when Dr. Heiter arrives in his lab coat, he finds out what he really wants. See, Dr. Heiter was a renowned surgeon back in the day, whose intricate specialty was separating Siamese twins. Now, though, he doesn't want to separate people any longer: he wants to join them, and Lindsay, Jenny and Katsuro realize they are going to become a Human Centipede. He explains that he will cut ligaments in their knees so they won't be able to stand up and will be forced onto their hands and knees and he will also make incisions in their cheeks... and also in their other cheeks... and will sew these three people together - ass-to-mouth - to make them one, all connected through the gastric system - the Human Centipede. So, the "head" of the centipede, Katsuro, will eat and then that will... well, you know... pass through Lindsay in the middle and Jenny at the end. Disturbed yet?
While the film is a little lean on the "why" of this whole lunatic's plan, you really can't help but be both compelled and truly horrified at the same time, even with some surprisingly effective humor thrown in as well. Granted, this is not a perfect film, as they try to throw in too much humor at times and some of it is not that effective. Lines like Katsuro saying "The Japanese possess amazing strength when backed into a corner" provide some wonderful instances of levity, but there are parts that display Dr. Heiter's bizarre sense of humor that fall flat. Still, a lot of the humor does work, and I'm not sure if that's just my own semi-sick sense of humor that feels it works, but it worked for me all the same. Writer-director Tom Six has crafted a tale that, yes, is based off of arguably the most outlandishly insane premise perhaps ever told on screen, but is also a tale that is so wonderfully told and one that takes the phrase "shock value" to a whole other level. The genius of the film is that Six truly humanizes the level of terror here, replacing slashed throats, hacked-off appendages, or any other garden-variety horror situation with a practically bloodless scenario that is more horrifying than watching anything else you've seen in a horror film. While you might get a few decent "shock value" moments in any horror film, The Human Centipede prolongs the shock throughout the entire film and watching these characters try to endure throughout this chilling ordeal connects you with these characters and the pain they're going through.
The performances by Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie and Akhiro Kitamura are undoubtedly some of the most bravest performances you'll ever see on film because they literally have to crawl around in this terrifying way throughout the entire film. Aside from maybe the first half hour of the film, we never hear Williams or Yennie speak, obviously, but you get so much from just their eyes alone as you see them reacting to the things this wretched doctor is putting them through. I also really enjoyed Kitamura as Katsuro, and Six adds an interesting dynamic with that character since, even though he's the head of the centipede and can speak, he only speaks Japanese and can't interact with the girls or the doctor, although we see what he's saying via subtitles. Dieter Laser, however, delivers a performance so intense, raw, unnerving and stupefying that he will likely ensure the legendary stature of Dr. Heiter in the annals of horror lore with his phenomenal performance. The man is truly terrifying as this doctor who makes any crazed doctor or mad scientist before him look like the Energizer bunny in comparison. I truly can't wait to see what Dieter Laser (which is just an awesome name in itself) brings to the screen next after such a stunning performance.
The Human Centipede is surely a film that is not for everybody. It tells the tale of a doctor and his experiment that is so vile and morally reprehensible that this film will surely be called out to be banned in many places all around the world. However, if you're able to stomach the gruesome images on the screen, you'll be treated to a film that not only takes horror to a new level on the screen, but in doing so, captures such a true essence of human suffering that it intrinsically connects you with the characters on a level that most films can't even dream of. You know how when you see a car accident on the side of the road and even though it looks absolutely terrible, you still can't look away? The Human Centipede is the very essence of that human trait captured on film. No matter how sick and disgusting I tell you this film is... you'll still want to see it...
The Human Centipede (First Sequence) is out April 26, 2009.