The Human Centipede
Some movies just get hyped too much to ever live up to that hype. In some ways The Human Centipede fits that bill. The film was heavily hyped as the most disturbing film of all time when it opened. The premise of The Human centipede was right out of a bad joke, the cast and director were pretty much unheard of, and it didn’t have a big budget. How could this film be any more than an exploitation film, or most likely a bad joke?
Well after finally getting to view this film, I can say it doesn’t live up to the hype. While it is disturbing and does have some truly cringe worthy moments, it never the less doesn’t have the impact that Martyrs, or Inside has. What it does do is deliver an awesome movie going experience, an experience way beyond the hype.
Director Tom Six resists what had to be a tremendous temptation to make this a blood and gore filled schlock fest. Instead he keeps much of the most disturbing visual footage just out of sight. That in fact is one of the more disturbing aspects. We know what he is doing. He tells us matter of fact exactly what his procedure entails. That works wonders on our brains, letting us imagine far worse than he could accomplish on a limited effects budget.
Likewise he uses the horror cliché of nude girls rather sparingly and effectively. I should point out that even though I say sparingly, the two female leads are topless throughout most of the film. Six however does not use the nudity for titillation but as a device to show that their humanity has been stripped away. The girls remain clothed until after the surgery. Then after the centipede is formed we see them stripped of their clothes their dignity, basically they have become the punch line of a very sick joke. The doctor sees and treats them as a pet and only near the end when they fight back do they regain their humanity and self respect.
Deiter Laser as the mad surgeon is the break out star of the show. He controls the scene whenever he is visible and plays an insane doctor better than anyone since Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein. His “feed her” line is being echoed by fans all over the horror realm.
What really makes Laser stand out though is that as vile, evil and horrifying as he is, he still makes you feel some pity for him near the end. The final scene between Akihiro and Laser stands with the final confrontation in Oldboy as one of the finest moments in modern cinema. Looking in the doctors eyes you see that he doesn’t and never can understand Akihiro’s decision. The good doctor thus manages to pull of a tragic character as well as one of the most heinous villains of all time.
It is somewhat sad that Laser’s aggressive over the top performance tends to overshadow the performance of the rest of the cast. The opening scenes of dialogue has a lot to do with this. I had heard criticism from friends about their acting skills and during the first scenes I had to agree. The dialogue was really forced and trite and the girls were very unlikable. However judging the acting skills of Ashlynn Yennie and Ashley C. Williams on these scenes does them a great injustice.
After the surgery their acting is limited to their eyes and they hands. With their eyes only they give perhaps the best acting performance in horror. The final scene with Ashley’s eyes conveys more terror than the best scream in film. Watch the two women’s hands, especially in that final scene. When they grip then one grip slowly loses strength and falls away. Look at the subtle movements, that convey so much.
I got to meet the three cast members who play the centipede at Horrorfind Weekend recently. I was having a hard time with the dichotomy of the horrible acting at the beginning and the acting I witnessed later. They confirmed that it was intentional. Director Tom Six had given them no dialogue and had instructed them to “act like you are on The Hills.” Their goal was to create two unlikable, vain, “typical” American girls and they succeeded. In fact almost all of the dialogue in the film was written by the cast.
I also chatted with the “head” of the centipede Akihiro Kitamura. The girls had told me that he too had improvised much of his dialogue and that they had no idea what he was saying until the film was finished and they were able to read the captions. During the film it had slightly bothered me that they seemed to be able to follow his direction without being able to understand him. It seemed a minor plot problem but somehow knowing that they didn’t know, even that works in it’s favor.
Talking to Akihiro, or Aki as he asked me to call him, I mentioned that the closing scene remained me of Oldboy in ways. It didn’t surprise me to find out he is a big fan of the South Korean film.
His monologue at the end, which was also written completely by him, seems to be an antithesis to the speech by Oh Dai-Su in Oldboy. “Even though I am less than an animal, do I not yet deserve the right to live?” seems to be Dai-Su pleading that he deserves to live, while Akihiro rejects living if he is nothing more than an animal.
Both men come to the conclusion that they have squandered their lives and families. Oh Dai -Su rebels by fighting back and refusing to die. Aki fights back by realizing he cannot escape. The only way he can defeat the doctor is through death. Adding to the tragedy is the fact that he cannot communicate to the other segments that he is condemning them to death. Thus it is up to each individual viewer to decide if this was a selfish or selfless act of defiance.
Meeting the three actors was the highlight of my vacation. This was their first ever convention appearance and they handled it with aplomb. They were friendly, gracious and appreciate of their fans. Aki is so vivacious and just literally explodes with positive energy. Both of the ladies are beautiful, friendly and well spoken. They deserve a lot of credit for taking a role that very well could have ended their career. They also deserve credit for being able to see beyond the punch line and see a role that would test their abilities as actors. Too many young actors sacrifice their body for gratuitous scenes that haunt them, these young ladies sacrificed their modesty and created a work of art and we can only hope that other filmmakers recognize this.
Director Tom Six deserves a lot of credit for using restraint. One of the most chillingly disturbing scenes is when the doctor explains with the help of a very crude diagram exactly what he is going to do. After that we don’t need to see the surgery on the screen, we have already seen it in our heads. He picked and chose what to show and what to leave to the imagination. The scene on the stairs was stomach clinching and nauseating. The angles he chose to shoot of the “centipede” expressed all the pain, humiliation, and despair in the victims. I don’t remember the last time nudity was used so effectively.
Is there weaknesses in the movie? Yes. Dumb dialogue is dumb dialogue and some people will not accept that it was done purposefully. Aki’s dialogue while tied to the bed was kind of weak but again, most of the dialogue was created by the actors not professional writers. Add that to the fact at that point the was desperate and scared. How many of us can create Shakespearean level speech when scared for our life?
The only other flaw that bothered me was when Ashley William’s character chose to go back for her friend instead of escape and send for help. It is a bit illogical but was needed to move the scene forward and also important for transforming her into a hero. Her desire to help her friend, only adds to the tragedy of her fate.
The Human Centipede is not a film that everyone can enjoy. It is however not just a punch line. It is a work of art that transcends it’s premise and it’s genre. Roger Ebert is right in many ways it cannot be judged with a thumbs up or thumbs down. It is what it is, and what it is, is a masterpiece of filmmaking. It is scheduled to be released October on DVD and Blu ray and should soon reach cult status. It does contain violence and some sexual references. There is some profanity and nudity however the nudity is after the surgery and shot tastefully and not explicitly. If you can stomach it give it a watch without any preconceptions about the concept. I think you will be surprised.