“Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, it’s forgivable to go ass to mouth.”- Becky (Rosario Dawson) in “Clerks 2″
Tom Six’s “The Human Centipede” is a very troubling film and not just because of it’s disgusting subject matter. In case you haven’t heard, the film is about crazed Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser) who kidnaps some hapless tourists in Germany in order to conduct a horrible medical experiment. Dr. Heiter’s plan is to take three people he’s kidnapped and surgically attach them ass to mouth to ass to mouth to create a Siamese triplet or human centipede, connected by one long gastrointestinal tract. Let’s just say if you aren’t the head on this thing, you’re hating life a little more than your fellow torture victims, especially at mealtime. As troubling and (let’s face it, gross) as that all is, the subject matter isn’t what’s bugging me so much. What’s eating at me is that the film got to me when it really had no business doing so.
For starters, “The Human Centipede” is a dumb movie. There wasn’t a single moment in the film where I wasn’t keenly aware I was watching a film and a fairly bad B-film at that. Dieter Laser as Heiter seemed to me like he was trying too hard to be weird and creepy and as a result, his performance is way over the top and all the strings of bad acting glared on the screen. When the two unfortunate female American tourists (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie) are captured and the nefarious plan is set into action, all I kept thinking was how rough it must have been for these women to get acting roles if “The Human Centipede” seemed desirable to them. Still, films like Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” and Gaspar Noé’s “Irreversible” are difficult films that through the use of point of view, highly stylized editing and breaking the fourth wall let the audience know they’re watching a movie. “The Human Centipede” uses gross ideas and bad acting to let us know that and, as a result, it makes the film seem really dumb. But I would be lying if I said the film didn’t freak me out well after it had ended.
Horror films are like porn in that you pretty much know what you’re going to get so you set yourself up for that visceral thrill. In “The Human Centipede” you know these girls are going to end up finger-cuffed, ass to mouth and thus the foreplay becomes all about who the number three segment will be, how the procedure will go, what happens next and then, catharsis. Much like the aforementioned Haneke film, it’s always up to the audience how much you want to see and he knew this which is why I love “Funny Games” so much. You can leave at any time but you don’t want to leave, do you? Well, I sure did during “The Human Centipede” and yet the combination of cheap thrill and laughably bad acting kind of kept me pinned to my seat. Plus, for all its chincy, cheap subject matter, the film is beautifully shot. As the plot played out and pretty much got grosser, weirder and more idiotic still, there I sat. Movies like this are as much about the viewer as they are what’s happening on-screen. In fact, those two things are keys to shockers like “The Human Centipede.” But again, I hearken back to better-made shock fare to show why, at the end of the day, this film kind of sucks.
Even in a sleazy film like “Hostel,” there’s hope of escape and then, payback. Sure, it’s a sad and scary comment on the viewer who wants to participate in the bloodlust, but it’s an undeniable truth to the best in shock horror. In “The Human Centipede,” I never felt these people could escape and thus Heiter would never pay. I didn’t really care either which is where the film falls flat. Still, the film is in my conscience on a daily basis and I guess that’s effective filmmaking. I just feel like I was kind of ripped off because it’s the cinematic equivalent of pulling the wings off of a fly and watching it squirm until dead.
Another, better example of a similar film is Wes Craven’s “The Last House on the Left.” When the beautiful daughter in the film is raped and killed, I wanted to see the bad guys get it. I stuck through that extremely uncomfortable film because the catharsis needed was to see these people pay dearly for what they did to an innocent. While we most certainly want to see Dr. Heiter pay for what he’s done, there’s really no way retribution would pay off enough.
Plus the girls in this film are mere props and are given zero background and as actors, they perform really, really poorly in the film. That is until they aren’t able to use their mouths anymore then they truly are plot pieces and scarcely human at all. But for the complete lack of character development and bad acting, the closing scene of the film has had a lasting effect on me that lingers days later, much like the effect “Last House on the Left” had on me years ago. But with “The Human Centipede” it feels bad to be so affected by such a lousy movie and as a result I feel ripped off and kind of… used.