October 20, 2010

Movie Review: The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

Well, I have finally had the experience. I have watched the movie that has grossed out audiences around the world and the first movie I have seen Roger Ebert review where he refused to rank it on his star system. That's right, he did not even dignify it with zero stars. That said, I did enjoy his review. This is, after all, the sort of film that does not exactly inspire cheers of joy or smiles of enjoyment. It is much more likely going to induce grimaces of disgust and glares of contempt. I will say that it is not quite what I expected, although I did quite enjoy what it had to offer. Well, "enjoy" may not be the right word but I am sure you understand what I am getting at.

The Human Centipede does not attempt to disguise what it is or justify its existence. It is in this "F U" that writer/director Tom Six (yes, that is his real name) puts his full audacity on display. This is a movie that sees designed to make you squirm, to make your stomach turn, to play with the act of revulsion of what you see. It is not only what the film is, think about the actors and how they completely commit to their roles. No, they are not Oscar-type performances, but think about what thy must go through for their roles. Do you honestly think this is something they would ever be doing for a camera? Didn't think so.

The concept is not a big secret. If they truly wanted to disguise what the centerpiece of the film was I think they could have come up with a better title than The Human Centipede. When you first heard that title, what came to mind? Probably something similar to what actually appears, perhaps minus the grosser thoughts of how such a thing would work.


The story finds two cliched American girls, Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams, whose only other credit is Willow) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie), on a tour of Europe. While in Germany they head off to a party but not quite know how to get there. In classic horror movie fashion, they get a flat and are left stranded in the woods. They head off to find help (into the woods, not along the road). After some time they stumble across a house where they meet Dr. Heiter. He is a rather severe and humorless fellow who looks like a cross between Bill Hader and Lance Henriksen. This is where the horror begins.

The girls are drugged and along with a Japanese tourist wake up secured to hospital beds in the good Doctor's basement. Heiter is certifiably insane and is intent on creating a human centipede by attaching these three together in a chain, mouth to anus, creating one long gastric/digestive system. Disgusting.

Well, I don't want to tell you much more about what happens after the union, but it does include some disgustingness and some desperation. I have seen more graphic and disturbing films, but this one is still up there. Perhaps it is bit more horrific by implication and the complete lack of humanity in the villain are rather chilling. Then there is the ending. I will leave it at that.

The performances are generally good but it is Dieter Laser who stands out as the evil doctor. There is something in his cold stare, chilly demeanor, complete disdain for humanity, and surgical skill that just gets right to your core. He delivers a fascinating performance with no hint of humor or irony. There is nothing to indicate why he is like this or to what drives him. He just is, like the unstoppable killer in your favorite slasher film. Whatever you think of the movie, you have to respect what Laser brought to the table.

Also worth mentioning is Akihiro Kitamura who plays the front section of the centipede. Early on he just shouts in Japanese (with subtitles), but by the end we see something in his eyes, a transformation of person as he recognizes what his fate is destined to be. It is actually a little moving watching that one particular scene that finds him front and center, so to speak.


I do give Tom Six a lot of credit for making this. It really is an out there film. He came up with an outside the box idea and ran with it to the bitter end. For better or worse he has made a film that will live on as a cult hit. I cannot quite say it lived up to my expectations, but it did have an effect on me. Granted, I was not quite sure what to expect.

In the end I do not see this as a movie made with any thought to speaking on the human condition or picking at the scab of life's underbelly. I suspect he just had this idea and wanted to put it on the screen. Fortunately there is just enough substance to keep you interested and involved even as you are repulsed. So, do not expect any big revelations (try Martyrs instead perhaps), just go in to see the grotesque oddity that has been created and wonder about the mind that it sprang from.

Audio/Video. The film is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and looks pretty darn good. The movie was shot in 720p high definition video and the source has been upconverted for the 1080p Blu-ray. It looks like a lower budget film but has really strong detail level and the bleak color palette comes across strong. You can really see the good detail in close-ups where you can see the odd features of the doctor or the stitches and staples on his handiwork. The audio is also pretty good. It is a 2.0 PCM track, it certainly has been a while since I have see one of those. It does a decent job of conveying the sound (duh), but it is not all that immersive. Surround would have been nice, but it is still crisp and clear.

Extras. The IFC release includes a handful of extras. There is a commentary track with Tom Six as well as a separate interview segment. A brief behind the scenes clip is also included. We get to see inside the foley studio and see some audition footage. A deleted scene and the trailer round out the set.

Bottomline. You know if you are going to like this and probably do not need me to tell you. I will close by saying that it was not as good as I had hoped but is still an interesting entry in the body-horror sub-genre that has been used effectively by the likes of David Cronenberg and Takashi Miike. If you are not into horror or the weird and bizarre, steer clear. On the other hand, if you are and you haven't seen this, what are you waiting for?


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