Thursday, 9 July 2015

From the archive: "The Human Centipede (First Sequence)"

Another example of Internet hype overtaking a mere movie. At a certain stage in its existence, Tom Six's The Human Centipede would have been no more than a lowish-budget horror flick with an especially eye-catching (or stomach-churning) conceit. If you've heard anything about the film online, you'll know all its sickest surprises already - and the images the idea provoked in your head might well have been more disturbing than seeing them enacted in the flesh, which begins to get morbidly silly - like watching a pantomime horse being gradually flogged to death. The set-up - two party girls touring Europe stumble into the lair of an evil genius after their car gets a flat tyre - reminds us we've been somewhere down this road (or, perhaps more appropriately, along this tract) before. Six returns to the horror touchstone of mad scientists (mad Germanic scientists, even, and leading man Dieter Laser is certainly none more Teutonic: part Klaus Kinski, part lizard) preying on babes lost in the woods; with its creepy Eurofucker slicing up vapid Americans, it's possible Eli Roth's Hostel films provided a further influence.

The novelty - the USP - is the extreme perversity of the premise: "100% medically accurate!," the publicity trumpets - and the noise you can hear is William Castle sitting up and applauding in his grave. Yes, this is the one about a specialist in Siamese-twin surgery who, for his next trick, has elected to stitch people together instead: three of them, nose to tail, as it were, just as Laser's Dr. Heiter did to the beloved dogs we see him pawing a photo of in the opening scene - the really yucky notion being that sustenance passes from one to the next by, ahem, the natural methods. (One working title could have been Orlac: Ass to Mouth.) With the (s)cat out of the bag, The Human Centipede becomes as much a technical exercise as the villain's surgical masterplan - just a bit less knotty, that's all. It's not difficult, after all, to get a rise out of an audience by showing knee ligaments being sliced and teeth extracted. For the unlucky central trio, their plight becomes an elaborate team-bonding exercise; for connoisseurs of the taboo, there's some insinuation of faeces-munching, just as Pasolini gave us 35 years ago in Salò, only without the social context - or, indeed, the visceral impact of seeing the brown stuff itself.

Six has nothing to say about consumerism or body image (the Cronenberg comparisons are optimistic); he's looking to make a quick buck is all, which is where the frenzied online nerdbuzz helps, and presumably why the centipede's frontman, so to speak, is Japanese. (As the forthcoming Caterpillar suggests, those guys love that freaky shit.) Moving at a pace appropriate to the doctor's sluggish creation allows Six to linger on his interiors - as carefully appointed as you'd expect a retired surgeon's country retreat to be - but he's entirely indifferent to the sufferings of the doctor's victims. Then again, he was one of the first directors to make it rich off the back of the Big Brother franchise - a phenomenon that similarly felt compelled to cut to exterior shots and birdsong whenever matters got too intense - so maybe we shouldn't be too surprised by any of the above.  

(August 2010)

The Human Centipede (First Sequence) is available on DVD through Bounty Films; the trilogy's concluding segment, The Human Centipede (Final Sequence), wriggles into selected cinemas from tomorrow.

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