The Human Centipede is a 2009 horror film about a mad scientist performing unspeakable Nazi death camp-style experimental operations on unlucky passers-by and kidnappees. So far, this is fairly ordinary genre horror movie stuff.
How many horror movies have featured a mad scientist kidnapping an innocent damsel of stout-hearted youth and subjecting them to unspeakable agonies? It’s a sub-genre that has existed at least since the beginning of horror movies in the sound era. A whole sub-sub-genre of “torture porn” horror movies like the Saw series has blossomed since the turn of the new millennium. So why is The Human Centipede, which isn’t as bloodily graphic as your average Saw sequel, stirring up such a fuss ?
You don’t know what the demented scientist’s experiment is.
Napoleon said, “The moral is to the physical as three is to one,” describing how difficult it is to invade and conquer a people. Like the Confederate States in the American Civil War, people facing impossible odds will fight on against a superior force, convinced of their moral right.
The toying with an violation of an audience’s morality is part of the fun (and horror) of the mad scientist genre. The Human Centipede is controversial as it seemingly cares nothing about the exigencies of capturing the hearts and minds of its audience. In that, it has its own morality of purity: Pure horror.
It’s not so much that The Human Centipede is graphic that makes it a contender for the title MOST DISGUSTING MOVIE EVER MADE: It’s the moral quotient. For what the mad scientist has cooked up for his hapless trio kept captive in his basement operating room really touches on the most basic emotions of the human being and violates the most basic taboos: mutilation, the loss of physical individuality, and — here’s the tricky part — coprophagia.
One of the slug lines used on The Human Centipede poster could have been EAT S–T!!! and it wouldn’t have been a epithet but a description of the horrible fate awaiting two young American girls in a forest in Germany.
Creating a “Human Centipede”
Roger Ebert, the dean of American movie critics and the first to win the Pulitzer Prize 35 years ago, still is as acute an assayer of motion pictures as ever, despite his health issues. It informs us about the unique nature of this film that the great critic has had to struggle with it in his review.
Ebert introduces his observations on the flick by writing, “It’s not death itself that’s so bad. It’s what you might have to go through to get there. No horror film I’ve seen inflicts more terrible things on its victims than The Human Centipede. You would have to be very brave to choose this ordeal over simply being murdered. Maybe you’d need to also be insane.”
Why is The Human Centipede considered by many to be the most disgusting movie ever made? Again, let’s go to Ebert for an explanation:
“[The insane scientist Dr.] Heiter plans to surgically join his [three kidnap] victims by sewing together their mouths and anuses, all in a row, so the food goes in at the front and comes out at the rear. They will move on their hands and knees like an insect.”
Roger Ebert: No Stars
Roger Ebert writes that Dutch director Tom Six has “made a film deliberately intended to inspire incredulity, nausea and hopefully outrage. It’s being booked as a midnight movie, and is it ever. Boozy fanboys will treat it like a thrill ride. And yet within Six, there stirs the soul of a dark artist. He treats his material with utter seriousness….”
He has to issue a mea culpa as he struggles to deal with this most disgusting of horror films, even though the horror generally is in the mind:
“I have long attempted to take a generic approach. In other words, is a film true to its genre and does it deliver what its audiences presumably expect? The Human Centipede scores high on this scale. It is depraved and disgusting enough to satisfy the most demanding midnight movie fan. And it’s not simply an exploitation film.”
In an unprecedented act, Ebert awards the movie no stars on his scale of one to four (with half-star increments):
“I am required to award stars to movies I review. This time, I refuse to do it. The star rating system is unsuited to this film. Is the movie good? Is it bad? Does it matter? It is what it is and occupies a world where the stars don’t shine.”
The Wikipedia entry for the movie is illustrated with a publicity still showing the mad doctor and his human experiment. It informs readers that, “The heavy use of bandages in The Human Centipede allowed the film-makers to imply a much more graphic and disturbing idea than what is actually shown on screen throughout the film.”
Even with the bandages occluding the physical deformities inflicted on the unlucky trio, the psychology of the unspeakable horror inflicted on fictional victims by the fictional doctor has makes this the most controversial film of the year. It is what film does best: Create a visceral experience in an audience, playing on their emotions in a way no other medium can. The Human Centipede takes a jaded midnight-show horror movie audience back to the days when they were children or tweens, being startled by what they saw on a screen even though they knew what they were seeing isn’t real. No movie since The Exorcist (1973) from nearly 40 years back has had this effect.
So, is movie (whose full title is The Human Centipede: The First Sequence — yes, a sequel is already in the works) the most disgusting movie ever made? It’ll cost you approximately $10 to find out. Barf bags are not included.
Chicago Sun-Times, “The Human Centipede” Review by Roger Ebert: