The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

The Human Centipede (First Sequence)


Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

It cannot be denied that The Human Centipede has enjoyed a successful marketing campaign. Ahead of its UK release, the film is preceded by buzz about how this is the sickest film ever, a milestone in the 'torture porn' genre, showcasing a form of surgical experiment so horrifying audiences have been vomiting in the auditorium. But The Human Centipede is a somewhat milder experience, though it is in terms of its technical and acting facets quite solid, and its frontier-pushing concept makes it weirdly captivating to watch (in the car-crash voyueuristic sense).

Director Tom Six's plan appears to be to take the most basic horror concept of all - two pretty tourists get lost in the woods and end up in the clutches of a madman - and then deliberately try to generate as much amazement and nausea as possible from his amped up version of this scenario.

Copy picture

Dr Heiter is the madman in question. A respected surgeon, he has now retreated to his cold postmodern villa in the German forest, where he can better indulge his off-duty perversions. He obsesses over the fusing together of mammals to create a unified digestive system via sewing together mouths and anuses. Having already killed his dogs trying this out, the time has come, he feels, to move on to human subjects. Along with the aforementioned unlucky pair of American girls, whose car broke down near his house, he has also acquired a young Japanese tourist to be the 'head' of the centipede. All these surgical plans Dr Heiter precisely explains, in probably the film's most effective scene, to his subdued victims as they lie helplessly in their operating theatre beds. There is no escape.

The film's advertised premise means no audience member about to enter a theatre should be surprised by what lies in store. What is promised is delivered in terms of concept. Actor Dieter Laser impresses as he lurches around in a suitably severe demented way, in a role that seems to be channelling Dr Mengele, Hannibal Lecter and any number of insane film scientists. His maze-like, anodyne house is a suitably menacing construct, as is his antiseptic operating theatre which he, of course, has built in his basement.

Yet the film, surprisingly, pulls back from extreme gore and specific scenes of insane surgery. The actual surgical procedure is barely shown, and bandages cover the cast in a mostly tasteful way throughout. In terms of blood spurts, wounds and mutilations, there are far more detailed, blood-drenched torture films out there. Six instead lets the mere surgical concept, our sense of the degradation of the victims and the grotesque absurdity of their tormentor's ambitions, deliver the shocks rather than visual extremes. But it therefore feels as though the film, having had its "extreme" nature hyped so much, isn't delivering. It feels as if its pulling its punches in some odd way.

The film also fails to truly exploit the concept in another way - fusing a series of victims together surely offers many intriguing set pieces of escape and chase. How can you flee or fight when stuck to two other people? But the director doesn't seem to know how to best showcase his human centipide victims to create a more dynamic narrative, we just seem urged to feel sorry for them. Maybe that's the point- maybe Six wants to take us to a very dark place where there is no escape - and then leave us there.

Reviewed on: 19 Jul 2010
Share this with others on...
The Human Centipede (First Sequence) packshot
A mad doctor plans to graft people together so that they form a crawling monstrosity, and two unfortunate American girls fall into his clutches.
Amazon link

Director: Tom Six

Writer: Tom Six

Starring: Dieter Laser, Ashley C. Williams, Ashlyn Yennie, Akihiro Kitamura

Year: 2009

Runtime: 92 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Netherlands, UK


Frightfest 2009

Search database:

If you like this, try: