Flix Picks is a semi-regular feature that explores the depths of my Netflix queue and allows me the chance to catch up with some older films that I’ve not yet seen.
When you hear of a film like The Human Centipede, you know immediately whether you’ll watch it or attempt to rid the concept out of your head. Just read that title. Either you’ll be overcome with titters of laughter or shudders of disgust. There’s not much middle-ground. I, for one, became instantly curious about the disturbing premise and eventually sat down to give the film a watch.
For those not in the know, The Human Centipede centers on a mad doctor who kidnaps victims for a sadistic experiment. You see, he wants a new pet – only not an ordinary one. Being a doctor and a man who loves a good challenge, he opts to create a pet; something new, something no one has ever seen before. He thinks that connecting three people mouth to anus will do the trick. Still interested? Then read on…
For those adventurous enough to sit through the film, the opening 15 minutes might tempt you to turn it off as much as anything else. Not that there’s any gore exactly, but the performances of the female leads could easily be labeled grotesque. These performances belong to Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie who play two American tourists traveling through Europe. We follow these ladies as they constantly yak on their phones or to each other, generally coming off as overly-privileged bimbos. By the time they get lost in the woods attempting to get to a party, it’s a welcome relief because we know what fate awaits them. When they arrive at Dr. Heiter’s (Dieter Laser) door for help, the fun begins. These wooden performances may have been by design, playing off the conventions of genre, although perhaps that’s giving the film too much credit. Whatever the case, it doesn’t make the acting any easier to stomach.
While I may have reservations about the ladies’ abilities, Dieter Laser completely delivers as Dr. Heiter. I’m unfamiliar with the actor, but he seems born to play this type of role. One look at the man and you sense an intense creepiness oozing from every fiber of his being. After successfully capturing his victims, including a young Asian man as the third member, the doctor excitedly details the steps of his procedure using simple overhead diagrams. One of The Human Centipede’s chief strengths is its use of dark humor and Laser expertly serves as its key purveyor. Some viewers may not pick up on the humor because it’s played so straight. But beneath the film’s surface, an ongoing wave of comedy lingers, occasionally surfacing in moments like the doctor’s drugging of his victims or the proclamation of “You are the middle piece.” Even the film’s tagline, “100% medically accurate,” should clue audiences into the humor involved. These elements, combined with the absurdity of the situation, allow for plenty of uneasy laughs.
For a film that features people’s mouths being sewn to other people’s anuses, the level of gore isn’t as high as you might think. Sure, some gory moments occur, but the actual assembling of the centipede is left mostly to our imaginations. And once the centipede is revealed, bandages cover the most offensive bits. In this way, The Human Centipede acts much less like torture-porn than the Saw franchise, which relishes in every last gruesome detail its characters experience. The film concerns itself much more with the master-pet relationship which, while amusing in a completely twisted way, grew a little stale after awhile. I mean, there are only so many failed games of fetch I can watch before wanting to move on to something else. Thankfully, the movie runs a brisk 92 minutes, so it never really overstays its welcome.
One of the ways you can determine whether a horror film succeeds or not is in how it handles the conventions of the genre. In The Human Centipede, sometimes the conventions are handled in creative ways, while other at times they come off as routine. When the three human centipede members work together to perform certain tasks, the film works just fine; putting twists on horror conventions. Take the victims’ escape attempt, for example. Their path to freedom, a spiral staircase, suddenly becomes much more of a challenge to maneuver. However, other aspects of the film, like the police investigation, play as more run-of-the-mill. Ultimately, it works more often than not, but there are some bumps along the way.
As a movie built around a gimmick, The Human Centipede does a decent job, but the gimmick itself ultimately brings the movie down somewhat. I feel like the filmmakers were simply willing to rest on their attention-grabbing concept to some degree, skating by on shock value or novelty. There may be some interest built up in asking “How far will they go with this?” or “How will the victims escape?” and there are a few twists involved that keep things interesting. In the end, though, the movie doesn’t add up to much. That isn’t intended as a slam, necessarily. I just think of The Human Centipede as a movie that aims low and, for the most part, achieves its goal.
I’d say the best way to watch this movie is to gather some like-minded friends together, sit back with a few drinks, and let the fun times begin. Is anyone looking for a New Year’s Eve activity? Well, look no further. Really, what better way to ring in the New Year than with a half-drunken viewing of The Human Centipede?
As always, let us know what you thought of the film in the comments.