Movie Review: The Human Centipede

Psychologically indelible nastiness

Controversial from the word go, Tom Six’ film about a retired doctor specialising in the separating of conjoined twins (with a penchant for bizarre medical experiments that make Harold Shipman look positively avuncular) has been widely publicised as the most horrific film ever made. After two viewings, I’m still trying to work out whether the contents of this film are a work of twisted genius or a pile of bizarre, non-frightening, utterly putrid filth. And for the existence of the question alone, this is a film worth seeing.

Dieter Laser is Dr Heiter, the doctor in question who, in the opening scene, sits gazing upon a photograph of three dogs, joined mouth to anus, with an expression of sadness and longing on his unusually sour looking, sunken face, perfect for character acting. In an extremely lucky turn, two American girls with car trouble and no cell phone signal arrive, soaked to the bone, at his house. Two rohypnol laced glasses of water and another hapless Japanese tourist later, and the fun and games can begin.

Six’s imagination may be perverse – the plot is the result of too many hours working on Big Brother in the Netherlands, which has a subtext all its own – but his rendering of it is actually fairly tame, considering the rich pickings for the grotesque. Yes, he does conjoin three people, mouth to anus, and yes, you do see some surgery close-ups that aren’t for the weak-stomached, and yes, there is a scatological moment that, while subtle, is highly suggestive but after that, it’s far more psychologically torturous than it is graphic. As the titular human centipede makes its painful, clunking, degrading way around Heiter’s lair, unable to make the victim’s traditional escape on account of its unfortunate attachment to the sum of its parts, the film focuses on the distressing and inescapably sadistic relationship between a potentially iconic modern mad scientist with no redeeming qualities and his creation.

That there is any noticeable acting is a triumph, as two out of the four actors have their faces buried inside the buttocks of another human being, but the two girls ( Ashlynn Yennie and Ashley C. Williams) manage magnificently with their eyes and strangled screams – probably a blessing, as the dialogue delivered by Later isn’t up to much, and the plot is virtually nonexistent. But clearly, this is not the point – it’s the stomach churning existence of the film itself, rather than the story it tells, an assault on the senses that is not scary, and – depending on your sensibilities – often memorably disturbing.

This is not a great film, but unforgettable it certainly is, and Tom Six, for all his glaring faults as a storyteller, would almost definitely make for a fascinating dinner guest. And, not for the narrative, but for the restrained, yet mentally unfettered nastiness, you should see his weird little film.

Andrea Hubert