Two disposable sorority girls (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie) abroad in Europe find themselves with a flat tire somewhere in the Black Forest of Germany–on their way to a party. What sort of German troll party they’re going to in the woods is never explained. With no cell service, they hump it to the nearest austerely appointed country estate inhabited by a lunatic with medical training (I‘ve been to Germany and there are at least three per square mile).
Unfortunately for our sorority girls, and the Asian man (Akihiro Kitamura) who comes along later, they have stumbled into the clutches of the mad Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser), a shifty-eyed Josef Mengele impersonator and gifted surgeon who has said “fuck it” to a career of separating conjoined twins in favor of creating the ultimate ass-to-mouth creation of the title (you know, like you do). After the obligatory running around and screaming, things pretty much happen as you’d expect.
“It’s no baking soda volcano, but I’m still confident it’ll win the science fair.”
Pour one out for Dieter Laser as Dr. Heiter. The man combines the diabolical twitchiness of Caligari with the sort of mad cap delivery of Joel Grey in Cabaret without ever looking like he’s not taking his character absolutely seriously. It’s a difficult role to pull off, but he somehow makes speeches about knocking people’s teeth out to facilitate coprophagia seem at least a little like art. He elevates the material in a way that would be difficult for most actors.
Also toast-worthy is the production design team. Dr. Heiter’s mansion is no Castle Frankenstein, rather it’s a chilly suburban labyrinth, filled with whites and creams, and some truly creepy modern art, reflecting the banal and bourgeois nature of Heiter’s existence when he’s not, you know, sewing people together in his basement. I find it strange that anyone would stay in this house with this man for more than five minutes without saying, “screw the tow-truck, we’ll walk.” Finally, whoever’s idea the “Human Centipede Training Sequence” was deserves our love and appreciation.
“Do you like my painting? It’s a real Hitler. You should see what I have in the basement.”
The premise aisde, this is a fairly conventional horror film, with almost none of the gore offered by similar titles like Hostel. Director Tom Six has constructed a pretty standard mad scientist/vacation gone wrong narrative that often feels like it’s pulling punches. By the time we actually meet the human centipede, we find that it looks more like something Cirque De Soleil came up with on an off day. If you watch horror for the viscera, you won’t find much here. It’s definitely not the assault cinema many, myself included, were expecting. Six has grounded his beats firmly in German expressionism here, playing by the familiar storytelling rules of films like Nosferatu.
With such a deranged premise, The Human Centipede could have afforded to be a lot loopier. The best scenes are those which force the frustrated Heiter to have conversations with people he clearly views as beneath him. Laser paints Heiter as a man trying desperately not to seem creepy, and mostly failing. These moments are tense and funny, and the film could have used more of them. Dr. Heiter is kept just shy of being an iconic villain because the script seems to assume that the human arts and crafts project he is attempting is enough to flesh the character out, leaving him without much of a motive or a truly compelling arc–What I’m saying is that Laser’s performance does a lot with very little.
By the time the cops show up, the film devolves into a confined cat and mouse game with people running up and down stairs, into and out of rooms. It’s all a bit too neat and the film squanders what would have been a perfect set up for a sequel–hint: maybe Dr. Heiter has a formerly conjoined twin out there? Still, the ending itself is appropriately nihilistic, leaving one of our sorority girls stuck between a rock and a hard place. There probably isn’t a right way to drop the curtain on a story about a madman sewing people together into one long intestinal tract, but Six at least didn’t choose the wrong way.
Also, Six has claimed that The Human Centipede is an allegory for the horrors of the Holocaust. So there’s that. I ran this theory by my Jewish ex-girlfriend and she reminded me that I’m not supposed to call her anymore.
Tom Six has had it up to here with classy movies about the Holocaust
You might as well watch The Human Centipede for no other reason than Laser’s performance and to say that you’ve watched it. As far as horror goes it’s absolutely middle of the road, but that’s saying something for a genre that is more often than not drowning in mediocrity.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: when you spot the picture of the “3-dog” in Heiter’s house
Take a Drink: whenever the Asian guy apologizes for pooping
Take a Shot (with friends): every time someone speculates about which link in the centipede would suck worst, or whenever one of you muses about which celebrity’s ass you wouldn’t necessarily mind being sewn to
Drink a Bottle of Whiskey: before deciding that you can watch this back to back with Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist.