Starring: Dieter Laser, Ashley Williams, Ashlynn Yennie, Akihiro Kitamura
“Do you already regret your little escape? In fact, I’m thankful for it, because now I know you are definitely the middle piece.” (Dr Heiter, The Human Centipede)
(Short note: this is a particularly nasty movie, and while there are no overly offensive screens in this review there’s a little colourful language explaining some of the more controversial scenes. If you get queasy just reading about bodily fluids and medical experiments, let alone seeing them, it might be best to give this one your own zero-star rating and move on.)
There are plenty of positions in life that it would be best to avoid. Being in goals for San Marino when you’re playing Brazil at football would be one of them. Being the man in charge of cleaning up after an orgy would be another. There’s one position however that’s probably worst of all, and that’s being the middle piece in a human centipede. The reason for this will become obvious later.
The Human Centpiede opens with two attractive young American women getting lost on the way to a party in Germany when suddenly their car breaks down. They wander through the woods until they finally reach a huge house and when they ring the doorbell an odd chap answers and lets them in. So far so shamelessly stolen from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but what follows makes Rocky Horror‘s transvestite shenanigans seem about as shocking as someone blowing their nose.
The man, a stony-faced German chap called Dr Heiter (Laser), offers the girls some water. They accept and realise it’s been spiked, but it’s too late and when they wake up they find themselves strapped to hospital beds.
In fairly graphic detail, the doc explains to the girls along with a third prisoner (a Japanese man) that he wants to create a human centipede – a single organism made up of three people. He’ll do this by joining up one person’s mouth to the anus of another, and then joining the other’s mouth to a third person’s anus. In that way, all going well, the three will work together as one functioning body.
Surprisingly, despite that previous paragraph, The Human Centipede isn’t very disturbing to watch, at least not with regards to what actually appears on screen. Much like Psycho and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Human Centipede plays on the notion that the viewer’s imagination is much more powerful than anything film can show. In actual fact, the film shows nothing graphic relating to the experiment other than around 20 seconds of operation footage where the doc cuts a slice out of someone’s bum. Movies like Saw and Hostel, which explicitly show body parts being sliced, stabbed and crushed, are a million times more visceral and graphic.
Indeed, mercifully (or more likely simply thanks to budget constraints), each person in the centipede wears a sort of nappy so as to block the view of the actual mouth-to-rump connection, leaving what it looks like entirely within the confines of your own mind. This extends to the most grotesque scene in the film where the Japanese chap, having eaten some food laced with laxatives earlier, realises he suddenly has to (to put it politely as possible) dispose of his waste. Though you never see anything, the thought of what’s going on in that poor middle woman’s mouth is enough to put a bad taste in your own. Simply put, this film is more likely to shock you if you have a vivid imagination.
Dodgy content aside, The Human Centipede is actually a fantastically shot film. The lighting is moody, the outdoor shots are atmospheric and Dr Heiter’s house is so geometrically unusual it’s almost a character in its own right. Had it not been for the small matter of people with their gums wrapped round each other’s arses it could even be considered beautiful. While it seems the soon-to-be-released-unless-you’re-British Human Centipede 2 may not be quite so artistic (we’ll see in a future review… if I can get hold of it), there’s no denying it would be unfair to pass this first film off as low-budget trash simply because of its tasteless subject matter.
Also stunning is Dieter Laser’s performance as the insane doctor. He’s like Christopher Walken with the intensity turned up so far the dial has broken off, and is simply terrifying to both see and hear.
If the mere thought of what happens in The Human Centipede makes you feel physically ill then this film clearly isn’t for you. Many of the scenes, while not graphic, will still give enough information to get your mind working and make for very uncomfortable viewing.
If, however, you’re intrigued by the concept but are simply worried about what you may see than by all means watch it. It is nowhere near as visually horrifying as you may have heard and if the only thing holding you back is the fear of what is shown rather than what is simply implied then there’s very little to be concerned about. Either way, this is a far more accomplished, professional film than some of its critics would have you believe.