The Human Centipede: First Sequence: Full Review

So far for my entries in this blog I have stuck to top 5 lists. I prefer this style of writing because I can cover more films in a shorter amount of time. I figure that whomever stumbles upon my ramblings would most likely only have the attention span that I do. Therefore, less is more. However, I have noticed that the vast majority of the visitors to my site have been through searches for the Human Centipede. I covered it briefly in my Body Horror list in October, and since then my “viewership” has grown by leaps and bounds. I figured, why not give the people what they want– and apparently they want “torture porn”. With that said, I present my first attempt at a proper review with the Human Centipede: First Sequence.

When I first heard about the premise of this film I was more than just a little intrigued. Most of my favorite horror movies contain scenarios involving a group of protagonists trapped in almost unimaginably stressful situations. Whether it be a townhouse surrounded by the undead, an inescapable cave full of humanoids, or being enslaved by a sadistic killer, I enjoy the challenge of trying to envision what that experience would be like.  It is hard to conceive a more horrific place to be in than the middle section of a “human centipede”.  Even without knowing the details of what exactly that entails, simply the name alone is enough to make your skin crawl and your mind begin to wander through the different amalgamations that could include. I wasn’t sure if it was a surgical horror film, or if it would fall into some sort of mutant genre, but either way I was on board. Then the trailer came out and I was even more titillated.  Images of an insane German doctor who looks like a malnourished Udo Kier (or as the director, Tom Six, has said, “a dehydrated Christopher Walken or an evil turtle”) and pale girls pleading for their lives with a brief glimpse of the final product at the end was a near perfect teaser trailer. I admit I actually got a little sick to my stomach at the thought of sitting through a movie with this plot line. 

Two twentysomething American tourists are traveling through Germany when their car breaks down in the middle of a forest. They wander off looking for help and are befriended by an infamous surgeon who specializes in separating Siamese twins. Apparently his life’s work hasn’t been satisfying him because he drugs the girls, along with a Japanese transient, and succeeds in creating a three segment human centipede with one connected digestive system. This all happens early on and the majority of the film actually revolves around the doctor trying to evade the police as the human centipede tries to adjust to “its” new life.

This film is mostly a success, but falls short on a few key notes. First off, what works. On the technical side, this is one of the better produced independent horror films that I have seen in a long time. The camera work and the color grating on the film are wonderful.  It just looks fantastic.  A large percentage of the shots in the film are tracking. Unlike too many horror films produced recently, it does not rely on shaky hand held footage, but instead has smooth lingering shots that let you drink in the whole of the scene. From the orange warmth of the doctor’s house when we are first introduced, to the cold blues of the surgical room, the colorist does a almost perfect job. The editing is also well done.  Again, many modern day horror films hide behind quick edits and jump cuts, whereas this film has refreshingly long takes.  It is Dutch produced and it feels like a proper European horror film.

Even if the casting director had scraped every nook and cranny of the bowels of the Germany theater community, I don’t think they could have found a better actor to play the maniacal Dr. Hieter than Dieter Laser. He is almost reptilian in his expressions and at points is so taut and stressed with tension that it appears as if his skin is about to split. Laser and Six claim that they based the character of Joseph Hieter on the most notorious Nazi doctors including Dr. Joseph Mengele, who actually attempted to surgically connect prisoners at concentration camps. Laser claims that the outfit he is wearing in the picture above is an authentic surgical uniform from WWII.  He is completely believable during ever scene in this movie. He taps into our inherited fear of sadistic oppression and runs with it at full speed. The other stand out performance in the movie comes from Akihiro Kitamura who plays the ill-fated head of the centipede.

The final aspect I wanted to touch on that works in the film is the director’s use of the viewer’s fears in the film. As I mentioned above, Six plays with our fears of Nazis to his benefit. But more so than just Nazi doctors, he elaborates on our fears of doctors in general. I’d bet that at least a fair majority of the population has some sort of phobia or anxiety of doctors and hospitals. When we know that we have to go in for a test or a check up, let alone a medical procedure, our blood pressure rises and our hearts begin to race. The director and art director are clearly aware of this with their choices of imagery and scenarios. One of the most memorable and frightening scenes in the film is when the doctor has his pre-operation “consultation” with his “patients”. He painstakingly plots out exactly what and how he is going to preform the surgery to the horrified onlookers. This isn’t too far off from how these type of meetings actually feel.

The biggest factors working against this movie are the two main actresses. If this was a movie of a lesser caliber, then their horrific acting (not a compliment) might just blend into the weeds. The fact that the rest of the movie is so well done makes their performances stand out even more. It is not surprising, given the subject matter, that the producers (Six and his sister) had a difficult time finding a pair of actresses that were up for the challenge. After watching this movie a few times, I think they should have held their breath a little longer. Once the two girls become part of the centipede and are rendered mute their acting improves dramatically. However, up to that point the lines that they deliver tend to be the most stomach turning moments of the film.

The other thing that this film is lacking is that sense of claustrophobia and helplessness that I mentioned before. I never once was able to put myself in the place of these three victims. Maybe you could chalk it up to the poor acting, but during the duration of the film I remained simply a viewer. My heart never raced, I never broke a sweat, I never had a vested interest in the characters that I was watching on screen. You end up feeling more for the internal agony of the doctor more than the victims because we have more time to get to know him. The director plays a lot with horror cliches throughout the film, but I think he falls short of adding anything to the characters of the two girls because they were just that, cliches.

All in all this is a film worth seeing for horror fans. No doubt the majority of people that watch this will be grossed out, and that is probably why most people would watch this. I found that it fell short on the gore and the suspense, but it gets a solid A for effort. I like to see movies that attempt to push boundaries, even if they don’t go far enough. I am interested in seeing what Six comes up with in the sequel that he is working on. He claims that this first film was just to introduce the audience to the concept of the human centipede, and that the next one will take things to new levels. Until then, here is the teaser trailer for that…

2 Responses to “The Human Centipede: First Sequence: Full Review”

  1. Nice review. Keep it up.

  2. I definitely agree with you, especially the two main actresses bit. I was cringing whenever they spoke, and I was kind of happy when they stopped talking. Dieter Laser was the perfect actor, he’s what kept the movie progressing. Otherwise, great review. I’m absolutely seeing the second!

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