I watched The Human Centipede several weeks ago, and, truth is, I didn’t really feel like I had a whole helluva lot to say about the flick that hasn’t already been said by dozens of other horror critics, so I never bothered to write up a review. Still, in the period since, it seems everyone I run into wants to know what I thought of the movie, so I finally broke down and decided to write up this review. Not like it’ll matter for most of you. You’re either into this sort of thing or you’re not. You can’t be “sort of” into this kind of movie. That’s like being “sort of terminally ill” or “sort of a serial killer”. For you, this review is meaningless. However, I’m sure there are others itching to see this; the adventurous or curious, who, in the throes of ennui, stumble over to the “dark side” of cinema, hoping that The Human Centipede will shock and scare them, or even *gasp*…make them think! It is for them that I write this, in hopes of providing a little guidance as well as dampen expectations, for The Human Centipede isn’t the salacious thrill ride it’s been marketed as, but, at the same time, it ain’t no Disney flick, either.
Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlyn Yennie) are a pair of bubbly American tourists whose car breaks down en route to a German nightclub. The pair hike through the woods seeking assistance (no cellphone signal, of course), and come upon the isolated manse of one Dr. Leiter (Dieter Laser), a world renowned surgeon who specializes in the art of separating conjoined humans. The girls are immediately creeped out by the good doctor, but he slips them some roofies, and they later wake to find themselves strapped to gurneys in his basement laboratory. After disposing of an unfortunate trucker he no longer considers fit for his experiments, Leiter returns with Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura), a Japanese drifter Leiter feels will make for a much more desirable specimen (despite the fact that he doesn’t speak a lick of English or German). It is then that Leiter reveals his master plan in true mad scientist style; he will connect these three individuals via their gastric systems, thus creating the human centipede!
While so much has been made about how deplorable The Human Centipede is, it’s not really all that shocking at all. Sure, it’s an unpleasant concept, but the bulk of what everyone finds so repulsive about the film is merely implied or obscured by bandages and diapers. Beyond a bit of blood, you never really see much of anything. It’s certainly not a comfortable viewing experience, but I wasn’t exactly squirming in my seat, either, and, for a film that purportedly pushes each and every boundary, I found it all remarkably tame.
Perhaps lost in all of the controversial hub-bub, however, is the fact that The Human Centipede is actually a very competently made (if not entirely one-dimensional) thriller, directed with confident flair by Dutch filmmaker, Tom Six. With its long tracking shots, deliberate pacing, and sparse color palette, the film, at times, possesses a surreal, Kubrickian quality that, at least visually, elevates this one above other entries in the genre.
While The Human Centipede disappoints in terms of shock value, it excels as a pitch black comedy. From Laser’s over-the-top performance (picture Udo Kier as channeled by Tommy Wiseau) and the brain-dead heroines to the impractical concept of a human centipede, itself, Six’s film is a work of dark comic genius, calling to mind the work of Paul Bartel and even Takashi Miike (this would make a fantastic double feature with the latter’s Visitor Q). Whether or not any of this is intentional, I can’t be certain, but it sure as shootin’ feels like it is, and, when viewed as such, The Human Centipede is a triumph of absurdist horror comedy.
Seasoned horror fans and torture porn enthusiasts will be entertained by The Human Centipede, if not left entirely nonplussed by the sheer amount of controversy this film has generated (thanks, in part, to Roger Ebert’s scathing criticism). Neophytes and tourists, however, will likely find the film uncomfortable and unsettling and, therefore, overlook the fact that Six is obviously taking the piss out of them for much of the film’s brief running time. That’s not to say that the entire film is joke, but there’s a lot of subtle humor (as well as some that is not so subtle) that those with weak stomachs and fevered imaginations may miss out on.