The Human Centipede I: First Sequence (Tom Six, 2009)

“I’ll explain this spectacular operation only once”


Two films which have garnered huge attention in pop-culture are Tom Six’s ever-increasing-in-length TheHuman Centipede series (The Human Centipede III (Final Sequence) is in production). Either you assign yourself to a camp of horrified film-fans; How can a film like this be made? What an offensive and deeply unsettling idea! Etc. The second option is a camp whereby you look to the films as a strange anomaly – equally intrigued and disgusted by the ideas, but interested nevertheless. Or you are in the third camp whereby this type of B-Movie, sub-standard, ‘shock’-Horror film viewing is what is ideal for a night-in with friends. As an interesting aside, my decision to watch the films (I sit in the second camp) had criticisms from one group of film-writers who were shocked at my decision to watch the films in the first place; How can I watch F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise one day and then watch this the next? Then I had a different group of film-writers who, by the same token, were equally shocked – but because it was a niche-genre; one which they pride themselves on their own in-depth knowledge of. In both cases, the decision to watch the film on my part is a strange one – but why not? A film represents the filmmaker and, if successful, it represents an interest on the part of the audience. What is it that has drawn viewers to this film – is it merely the shock value or something more?

The B-Movie ‘Human Centipede’

The trappings of a B-Movie are evident from the very start in The Human Centipede (First Sequence). Small cast, young-and-attractive teenagers lost on a road-trip … they approach a strange house which, we already know, contains a sinister character. So far, so-very “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. The story rolls along with such an obvious narrative, you feel as if the idea of ‘The Human Centipede’ came first and the story later. I can imagine Tom Six sitting at a laptop realising that the ‘shock’ idea of a ‘Human Centipede’ would be fascinating in-and-of itself – the story surrounding it would be more difficult. Indeed, the release in 2010 of the ‘first sequence’ is hot-on-the-heels of Saw and the various films of the torture-porn genre. Unlike many (but not all) of these films, The Human Centipede is set primarily in one house and the clinical implements are highlighted from the outset. The vast majority of the ‘horror’ comes from what we know he has, does and will do. We don’t see anything explicitly. In that regard, the film is intelligent as it hints at the surgeon-like precision that Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser) clearly excels in.

In 2012, it even predates the exceptional skill of Antonio Banderas’ doctor in The Skin I Live In and could be influenced by the twin brothers in Cronenbergs body-horror Dead Ringers. In both cases, we are horrified by the insanity of their genius – Banderas using his skin-grafting skills for evil; Jeremy Irons using their gynaecological knowledge to create ‘gynaecological instruments for mutant women’. We look at the clinical implements in the room with horror as we understand what they do – but do not see them in use. We definitely don’t see their use-of-purpose. In The Human Centipede, we don’t see his skill in merging each human together; we don’t see the attachment between anus and mouth. We do see his exquisite explanation of what he will do – and a child-like drawing to clarify, before they wake up connected. By that point, the camera would have to be in a pretty strange position to clearly show the stitched-up connection.

A Fear of Foreigners

Akin to Hostel, the fear of foreigners may play a part too.  Therefore the characterisation is something to explore further; is the nationality of the characters purposeful? Is Dr. Heiter preying on a deeply-rooted, but archaic, fear of Nazi-Germany, and the experiments within concentration camps? Are the two lead females purely selected for their target-market appeal; the attractive-women running in fear from the monster? Is the Asian character who leads the centipede chosen purely for his lack of communication-skills, as he speaks a different language? These are all possibilities. I could even theorise that it is a representation of a European feeding off, and abusing, the Asian-American combined-power, as the victims initially reached the continent with only token gestures of respect towards European culture and economic stability. It’s a huge step, granted – but interesting to consider nevertheless.

Despite the obvious expectations of the film, it ultimately seems to create a story whereby we are engaged by the mad-doctor and we are equally voyeurs in watching how the film will end: do they survive? How can they survive? An ambiguous ending leaves the film in an enviable position as it could continue. Key-characters fail to survive, but the question remains as to how the character remaining will continue their life. I would be hard-pushed to recommend it – but if you are after a fun night-in with some obvious thrills and shocks, alongside a gross-idea acted out, then by all means; hunt the film out.

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