MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

What to Make of The Human Centipede?

SPOILER ALERT: This column contains spoilers for the movie The Human Centipede.

This weekend I saw a horror movie and it wasn’t the needless remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Instead, I decided to flip on my movies on demand and watch The Human Centipede. I’d heard a lot about this film, about how controversial it was and how some audience members were sickened and various film writers are getting up in arms and on their high horses about the content of the film. So, I needed to investigate and I made sure I did so on an empty stomach, just in case.

Unfortunately, the anticipation of something scary – or at least, sickening – turned out to be unnecessary. Ultimately, I’m left a little baffled by the film; more accurately, I’m baffled by the reaction to it.

This is what people are going crazy about? It’s just a schlocky B-grade horror flick that blatantly rips off the Hostel concept – a concept, by the way, that I was never a fan of to begin with. I could understand, if the film was high art or if it was truly gratuitous or even if it was mildly effective as a horror film, how people could have had such a strong reaction. But it’s really like watching a campy flick from the ’70s that you happen to catch on cable one night and continue to watch out of morbid curiosity and then fall asleep watching because it was silly.

If you don’t know by now, The Human Centipede (First Sequence) is a film about two American women visiting Germany. There is a brief mention that perhaps the women are porn actresses, which has absolutely no bearing on anything and is never mentioned again. They’re headed to a club, but their car breaks down on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere (this never happens in horror movies!) and eventually find the house of Dr. Heiter.

He is creepy from the first glance, but the girls decide to go into his house anyway even though he doesn’t do anything that resembles normal human behavior. Before long, he has drugged them and they wake up strapped to gurneys and he explains to them – and Katsuro, a man who only speaks Japanese – that he is going to connect all of them through their gastric system. Apparently he used to separate conjoined twins and then became deranged somewhere along the way and decided it would be cool to see people connected ass to mouth. Somehow he terms this a “human centipede,” although I’m not sure that’s what I’d call them. Anyway, our “hero” is the girl in the middle.

And yes, to answer the question on everyone’s mind, there IS a scene where Katsuro (the “lead” part of the centipede) has to empty his bowels and when there’s a woman whose mouth is connected to your ass, you can imagine Katsuro feels pretty badly about that.

Okay, so is any of this scary?

Well, no, not to me. There’s nothing really scary in my view about the Hostel films either. When someone says, “I’m going to torture you” and then they torture that person in the exact way they describe, there’s a marked lack of tension or suspense. It might be gross, but gross doesn’t equal scary. Instead of screaming or haunting my nightmares, I just think, “yuck” and then forget it and move on. When the “centipede” comes together, it’s almost a relief because getting there is so excruciatingly boring. It takes about forty-five minutes to set everything up, including half-hearted escape attempts that lead nowhere.

The other thing that doesn’t work in the film’s favor is the tone director Tom Six has chosen. With a concept like this, the easy way out is to make an exploitation type of B movie. The difficult thing is to make a film like this earnestly. Of course, Six takes the easy way out and the film winds up being exactly what you would expect. Throughout the movie, I kept thinking of Rob Zombie’s “preview” for Werewolf Women of the SS from Grindhouse. The whole film seems to borrow its tone from Zombie’s “preview.”

The acting, especially by Dieter Laser as the deranged surgeon, is so ridiculously over the top that we never find ourselves rooted in anything real. The tagline of the film is “100% medically accurate,” which is all well and good, but when the people in your film don’t approximate real human beings or have any real motivations, being medically accurate doesn’t matter. In other words, what is the point of being accurate and truthful in one aspect of the film if you’re not going to use that same effort on things like building characters.

I have to give credit to the other actors for the “bravery” of starring in a film like this. It takes a big risk for a fledgling actress to make this one of their first big-screen forays and Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie deserve a lot of credit for that. I know a lot of actors in New York City who say they will do anything to get where they are going, but I don’t how many of them would be willing to spend half of their first starring roles without the ability to speak and their head buried in someone else’s ass. I say this with all sincerity that I admire their dedication to their craft. But all that admiration doesn’t help the fact that their characters are cardboard cutouts at best and then they’re unable to speak and do nothing but whimper and cry for the second half of the film.

One of my basic problems with the film is the ending. But I knew I was going to have a problem with the ending before I even started watching the movie. The reason is that when you hear this concept and you find out these people will have their patella tendons removed and their faces surgically grafted to someone else’s buttocks, well, what is the happy ending here? That they defeat their captor?

Even so, I’m reminded of the story William Goldman wrote about in his book Which Lie Did I Tell? about adapting Misery and how attached he was to the original “hobbling” scene from the book where Annie doesn’t just bash Paul’s feet at the ankles (as she does in the film), but instead cuts his feet off using an ax and a propane torch. Goldman then talks about how Warren Beatty, who was interested in the role, said that he had no problem with the “hobbling” scene, but if you do this, then the character would forever be a cripple and a loser. Eventually, they changed it to the scene that currently exists. The point is, even if the people in the “centipede” extract themselves from the situation, what kind of life are they going to lead? What can I realistically hope for? So, halfway into the film, as soon as they are attached to one another, the happy ending is impossible and so the second half of the film is listless.

So then the final question is: did this film offend me?

The answer to that is a firm no. It wasn’t even offensively bad. I didn’t like the film, but it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen. And no, no, a thousand times no, it did not offend my sense of morality. It’s a disgusting concept, to be sure, and it’s not something for everyone (or anyone, maybe) but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying. If the filmmaker was actually creating a human centipede, I’d be offended, but I’m reasonably sure that all the actors are alive and well (and separate). Some people have attacked Tom Six personally, as in “what kind of person could create this?” Well, the worst thing that happens in this film is someone ingests someone else’s feces, which is certainly disgusting. But we don’t see it because they are all attached. By that rationale, if that is what is most offensive, then Passolini was far sicker for the coprophagia scene in Salo.

The point is: it might not be art to you, it might not be art to the filmmaker either, but I’m not about to deny someone the right to say what they want to say. Nobody is forcing me to watch it, I can turn away if I’m uncomfortable, and if it’s not your cup of tea then you can say so. But Tom Six is just another filmmaker – who might be a talent someday – who gave it his best shot. Although the idea of him making a sequel, entitled The Human Centipede (Full Sequence) is not the most appealing to me. I think one centipede was enough for my lifetime.

At the very least, though, I can say that he had a fairly original idea. And that’s more than I can say for the people behind the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Noah Forrest
May 3, 2010

Noah Forrest is a 26-year-old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.

Frenzy On Column

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon