The Human Centipede: First Sequence. 2009. Directed and Written by Tom Six.
Starring Dieter Laser, Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie, Akihiro Kitamura, Andreas Leupold, Peter Blankenstein, and Bernd Kostrau. Six Entertainment.
Rated R. 92 minutes.
To start, I’m a huge horror fan. Maybe a horror buff, if that’s your bag. I don’t know. I just love the genre, and many of its own sub-genres, as well. I’m no stranger to the really gory stuff, whether it be a slasher movie or something else. Most of my favourite horror happens to be the classic stuff – Don’t Look Now, Psycho, and A Bay of Blood. Those are just a few of my top favourite, there are plenty others aside.
So when I first heard about The Human Centipede: First Sequence, I thought it was a disturbing premise from the sounds of the brief synopsis available. Then once the first trailer came out, I knew it was something I’d at least have to see simply for the sake of being a horror completist. I’m not a fan of gratuitously gory horror when it only happens just to have blood and guts in a movie. Though, I do like a good gorefest if there’s some reason and logic behind things.
With The Human Centipede: First Sequence, there isn’t even much gore at all. A bit of blood, nothing serious. So I can’t even try to act like this movie is a big ton of gore thrown in our faces just to have a bit of fun. I genuinely believe writer/director Tom Six does something different and fun (in horror terms – this is by no means a fun watch), especially when you consider how much generic junk horror is flooding the market these days. It’s not like Six’s script is turning the horror genre over on its head. But I don’t think that this film necessarily needs to be lumped in as a bit of “torture porn” (a term I fucking hate and think is stupid) or shock horror. It’s more than that. The shock is there, however, Six allows our own mind to work most of the disgusting and disturbing tricks out. Instead of going all out, Six gives us enough nasty visuals (and they are there – not trying to say they aren’t!) to really work up our inner gross-out, but doesn’t go beyond what some other horrors do simply for a shock effect. Most people can’t get past their own disgust with the idea of the Human Centipede as a concept itself to even treat the rest of the film as a decent horror, in my opinion.
The Human Centipede: First Sequence begins with two American friends, Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie) who are traveling in Germany. They head out in a car and get stranded along a stretch of road. Walking to try and find help, they stumble across a quaint little house in the country. There, they meet Dr. Josef Heiter (Dieter Laser), former Nazi doctor, who graciously accepts them into his home. The doctor claims to have called a car service, saying they will be there within a half an hour. Soon the girls drop unconscious from the drugs Heiter spiked their drinks with, and he injects them with more from a needle.
When Lindsay and Jenny wake up, they are on medical gurneys and cuffed, unable to move. Another man is present, a truck driver, but Heiter kills him because he’s “not a match“. The doctor finds a new victim, Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura). Eventually, he tells the three captives he plans on making them into a Human Centipede: he will connect them surgically mouth to anus.
After this, the horrific events which follow scar everyone, very literally, as well as psychologically, and nobody walks away unscathed.
While Six doesn’t do anything super innovative during the setup to all the chaos and mayhem which follows, at the same time he does not seem to fall into anything too derivative. The initial situation is one we’ve seen so many times before: young people have car trouble, get stranded, get abducted and swept off to a house of horrors. Here, the girls wander out from the road to a nearby house after car troubles; there, they meet Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser). Nothing unfamiliar really. But it’s when the actual plot kicks in that Six avoids being like everything else.
Most of the deterrents concerning The Human Centipede series as a whole is the fundamental and inherent repugnancy of the whole gimmick: (most) people just don’t want to see characters with their mouth sewn onto someone else’s asshole. That’s the bottom line. For all the depraved and twisted and horrific film that’s already in existence out there (I love good gory and fucked up horror but as an example of the terrible stuff I’m going to say… August Underground. Hate that stuff!), the idea behind The Human Centipede movies, that basic concept, is too disgusting for even some big horror fanatics. And you can’t say “You’re a pussy” if someone doesn’t want to see something that’s, not surprisingly, absolutely wretched.
The Human Centipede: First Sequence has become one of those films which truly sets the bar on horror. I don’t mean it’s the most disturbing thing out there. Personally, many Takashi Miike films are what disturb me the most (just a couple are Audition, Visitor Q, his segment “Box” from Three Extremes, & his short contribution to Masters of Horror called “Imprint”).
What I mean to say is that Six has given us a film that has somehow almost become mainstream – an idea so strange has attracted even jokes from late night hosts – and yet it divides horror fans. Some might think it’s just shit horror; pardon the pun-iness. However, I feel like it challenges peoples limits. So many horror fans are fine with the random hack n’ slash of Michael and Jason – I’m certainly one. Then on the other hand, they seem to say this stuff is gross, it’s just for shock value. Maybe the other two films in the trilogy are, but I don’t think this one is, at all. I think this is an awesome part of the sub-genre of Nazi horror films. Dr. Josef Heiter (Laser) is a crazed old member of the S.S (not sure if he says that specifically but he did the Heil Hitler enthusiastically back in the latter days of WWII) who experimented on siamese twins, no doubt others – just like dear ole Dr. Josef Mengele. As an extension of that sub-genre, I think it works ridiculously well. I don’t think the script is perfect – I do think the intentions and the horror Six brings are pretty damn good.
Yet for all the fanfare over how visually disturbing the film is or isn’t, I’m on the side that thinks Tom Six actually could’ve been a whole hell of a lot more fierce, honestly. Not saying he’s a slouch; no sir. Six has, with these films, cemented himself as one of the big game names of shock horror. What I’m saying is that, for all the rotten nastiness he gets up to in this movie, I truly believe Six restrained himself. What he does so well is that he uses the idea of the Human Centipede, gives us a few visuals, and lets our mind do most of the work.
Because let’s face it, as far as horror movie gore goes, I don’t think there’s anything ridiculously over-the-top or super disgusting. Honestly. Maybe that’s just because I’ve seen 1,000 horror movies, who knows. Like I said earlier, August Underground, all those (however many there are – 3 maybe?), they are just trash. There’s a premise all right, it’s just trash. Six goes for a bit of a trashy premise, he just doesn’t let the film itself become pure trash.
There are genuine moments of suspense. When Lindsay first escapes, there is a point you wonder how far she’ll get, but soon it becomes clear Dr. Heiter has the place virtually locked down. I truly felt terror for her, especially when Heiter would taunt her: “You will be the middle piece!” Those bits were truly horrific. I always try and put myself in the place of the characters, right in their shoes; works best for horror, in that sense. While watching these characters, Lindsay specifically, I found my own stomach lurching with anxiety over the thought of being sewn mouth to ass, ass to mouth with two other unwilling victims (like anybody would ever be willing to get this as cosmetic surgery). When Dr. Heiter shoots Lindsay with the dart as she tries to drag Jenny away from the house, I felt downright awful for the girls; then he just steps on her face with this look in his eyes, looking over at the Three Dog grave. Chilling.
It’s once Dr. Heiter starts to prepare and then gets the Centipede in motion that terror really set into me, personally. First, we see him marking away in blue felt tip over the skin of his victims, as if he were a plastic surgeon. Of course, then he starts to remove teeth, and things get sloppy.
When he has them in the yard and he’s trying to get them to be able to “walk”, or crawl, I guess… that whole scene is absolute torture for me psychologically. It’s darkly comic because Heiter is just SO GOD DAMN INSANE, but at the same time I can’t help watching it and being completely gripped with horror.
Even just little moments, like the brief shots/montage of the victims on a surgical table, Dr. Heiter making various creepy faces, then we cut to him in a nice suit and tie, watching as two men put in a new piece of glass in the window he’d previously broken (while chasing Lindsay down). I just imagine how these men have no idea what this crazy fuck has been up to/is still up to, and they’re going about their day, replacing windows, la-tee-dah. Creepshow. Then he surveys his new Centipede as they come to briefly, drugged up and dozy. It is just spectacularly wretched.
I think that’s one of my favourite moments of the whole film – as Dr. Heiter gets the Centipede to “stand up”, it is scary. I mean, it’s really creepy. The way he yells “I DID IT!“, fists clenched in front of him. Then he parades the mirror in front of them, each of the three victims weeping while Dr. Heiter weeps with them; except he does so in joy. God damn. A full-on horrorshow.
Most of what’s wrong about The Human Centipede: First Sequence does have to do with Six’s script. It isn’t a terrible piece of writing, not by a long shot. Certainly not when you look at how many small, independent horror films are out there which truly have terribly written scripts. All the same, there are a few moments in the film where I can’t deny the writing is a bit poor, or more so that it’s not thought out properly.
One example being the part where the two detectives, Kranz (Andreas Leupold) and Voller (Peter Blankenstein), show up at Dr. Heiter’s place. Now, I understand Heiter was able to deflect their sudden questions when he drops the dish towel and it has a syringe inside. I just don’t think it was sensible. I mean, the police were already suspicious obviously, they were at his house. Why would he be creeping around with a dish towel hiding his syringe? If he were diabetic, he’d have no problem whipping out the insulin and shooting up; most diabetics don’t take issue with that, especially if they’re in their own home. I feel like Six grasped at straws here and it was just a cop-out. He could’ve found a better way to go about that piece of the plot, and he went the lazy route. That was one moment I felt came off badly and it affected the rest of the plot. They do show up again, the detectives, I just don’t believe any detective in their right mind would have left that place considering the situation. Alas, such is the case. Doesn’t blow the movie, but it doesn’t help an already mediocre script.
I think that I can easily say The Human Centipede: First Sequence is actually a 3.5 out of 5 star horror film.
Plenty will disagree and try to pass it off as “torture porn”, shock horror, whatever. But it is not just a film relegated to the realm of gore for the sake of shock value, or anything near that. Because while there is definitely a good deal of gross imagery, a bit of blood, there are so many other, lesser horrors out there which go far beyond what Tom Six did here in terms of visuals. He could’ve easily made this into a Dead Alive-level gorefest, but instead there is at least some restraint on his part; not in premise, in execution.
What impresses me most is the horror itself, the blood and the effects. The Human Centipede itself is a good show of make-up effects. The close-up shots (like the one above) on the three links of the Centipede are something else; really disturbing and gruesome. Yet, as I said, there’s nothing that goes far beyond what other horrors are doing. It’s merely the fact of the premise: people are totally repulsed by it.
Give it a go if you haven’t, and maybe you’ll see it how I do, or maybe you will be far too disgusted by it to even care about having an opinion. Either way, I think Six hits the mark. Though I’m not a fan of the sequel, I’m watching these all back-to-back right now, and I’ve yet to see the third – so, onward and upward!
P.S the last shots of this movie are beyond terrifying to me and they really put the nail in the coffin; great disturbing stuff.