Monday, November 08, 2010

The Human Centipede

Ass to mouth will never be the same. Imagine three people having their kneecap ligaments severed so they can't stand, then being surgically joined so that the front guy's posterior is sown to the mouth of the woman behind him, whose own ass is sown in turn to the mouth of the woman bringing up the rear. (See below images.) The result is the ungodly Human Centipede, created by a doctor more diabolical than Josef Mengele, though the repeated claim that the basis for this operation is "100% medically accurate" is rather laughable. Director Tom Six may have consulted a professional surgeon, but somewhere along the line verisimilitude escalated into a bogus marketing ploy. Still, medical accuracy isn't the barometer by which this piece of cinema should be judged. The question is whether or not it excels as a horror film. It does and it doesn't.

As a European (Dutch) film it does everything Hollywood wouldn't dream of doing, and for that alone earns high marks. It's thoroughly demented -- the most transgressive movie I've seen since Martyrs -- and drastically symbolizes the surrender of individuality, the German reputation for fetishism, and medical god complexes. If Martyrs was about transfiguration through torture, The Human Centipede is about metamorphosis through conjoinment, with the same underlying hints of eroticism. The horror is hard-hitting, but mostly psychological. For all the scatological focus, we never see a single smear of feces -- not even during the notorious "Feed her!" scene, involving Dr. Heiter bellowing encouragement as the man in front uncontrollably unloads his bowels into the mouth of the middle woman stitched to his rear end. Six wisely leaves much to the imagination, and if you're cursed with an imagination like mine, that's worse than being graphic. So far so superb.

Other things are not so impressive. While the German Dr. Heiter is played brilliantly by Dieter Laser, the two American women start out as the phoniest performers I've seen in a long time. Crucial to a horror film's success are victims we care about, but Lindsay and Jenny can hardly utter a sentence of dialogue without sounding artificial. It is thus a grace that they become the middle and end pieces of the centipede -- stifling their ability to talk -- at which point their acting actually becomes thoroughly believable, as they writhe, weep, and gag in agony, enslaved to move around on all fours and feed on the excrement of the member in front. The male Japanese victim (the front piece) gives a decent enough performance, and his suicide at the very end is poignant, but he isn't the most sympathetic character either.

While Martyrs boasted top-notch acting and unpredictable turns in every frame, The Human Centipede stalls in places, and even leans on cliche. Lindsay and Jenny get a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, and can't get a signal on their cell phone -- lazy plotting to get them to the home of Dr. Heiter. The cops come calling, then come back with a search warrant, but stupidly fall prey to the doctor's entrapments. Little things, but enough to bring down what could have been a masterpiece with more intelligence applied. Curiously, Roger Ebert refused to apply the star system to this movie, on grounds that he couldn't decide whether it was too good or too bad -- ultimately, he says, the film "occupies a world where the stars don't shine" -- but that's a cop-out. If there's much to like and find fault with in a film, that usually calls for a middle-of-the-road rating, and that's basically where I fall on The Human Centipede.

Rating: 3 ½ stars out of 5.


Anonymous Pierre said...

Another reviewer compared The Human Centipede to Martyrs, noting themes of torment and sensuality which invoke the philosophy of Georges Bataille. I'm in agreement that Martyrs is the stronger film.

Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Yes, that was a good review, though perhaps ascribing too much of Bataille where unintended. But I'm only vaguely familiar with the philosophy -- I should probably read his book on death & eroticism at some point.


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