I’ll admit my horror-geekdom up front: I took my friends to see IFC’s other graphic gorefest Antichrist, (the movie with Willem Dafoe penis-bashing), on my birthday. It wasn’t the best decision I’ve ever made, but it did lead to some interesting post-film conversations. The Human Centipede: First Sequence is much tamer than you would expect and makes for less interesting dinner conversations afterward.
With so many horror films being remade in hopes that moviegoers are too young to remember the originals, Human Centipede is certainly refreshing. Not only is the plot uncharted material, the villain has a completely new method. Instead of attempting to dismember his victims, Dr. Heiter is more interested in how he can assemble them into his own Frankensteinian thing — a “human centipede.” Heiter was a well-known surgeon who made a career separating conjoined twins; upon retirement, he became obsessed with the idea of sewing three people together — anus to mouth, anus to mouth. This of course leads us all to ask the question, is that medically possible? To which Dutch director Tom Six and a consulted surgeon will answer “yes.” Oh, goody.
Lucky for Heiter, he doesn’t have to go far to find victims, as two partying American tourists, lost in the forest, wander onto his doorstep.
Despite the über-hyped premise, the film is at best mediocre. The first half builds tension — or maybe just anticipation. The camera explores Heiter’s stark white house with curiosity. Each modernly dressed room is punctuated by a brightly colored painting of conjoined twins in various stages of surgery. Every hard-cornered doorway waits for Heiter to slide softly into the frame. But it’s not all creeps and shadows; there are a few moments of pitch-black humor — repeated references to Heiter’s “beloved three-dog,” for example (three rottweilers the doctor centipeded), which the taxidermist sitting next to me thought was knee-slappingly funny. In fact, Dieter Laser’s performance as Dr. Heiter is fantastic. He’s enigmatic with a face made for a Peckinpah film, and oscillates easily between scary and funny. The supporting actresses look pretty lame in comparison, which may be why they end up at the backside of the centipede. The head — Japanese actor Akihiro Kitamura — does a better job
The the film’s troubles begin once the deed is done. The tension immediately drops off after Dr. Heiter has created his creature because what is the worst that can happen once your mouth is stitched to someone else’s asshole? As a horror film, Human Centipede is less graphic than the Saw franchise, but also less thought-provoking than Cronenberg’s oeuvre. The horror is in the film’s premise; the enactment is a three-dog walk.
The film is widely available on video, but if you’re going to watch three people sewn together, anus to mouth, anus to mouth, you’ll want to see it on the big screen. If this doesn’t really sound like your sort of film, no worries, this is just a warm-up for director Six so that audiences can “get used to the idea of a human centipede.” He is currently working on a sequel that is promising a 12-person centipede — although, IMHO, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Take your birthday party somewhere else.
Human Centipede is available to digital cable subscribers via IFC’s video-on-demand service.