The Human Centipede: First Sequence (2009)

12 Oct

 

You should really believe me when I tell you that in this movie, the mad scientist is much scarier than his monster.

 

You may think you don’t want to see “The Human Centipede: First Sequence” because of its absolutely horrific concept, all the other various horrific functions which arise from said concept, or merely because you don’t enjoy the sub-genre of horror commonly monikered “torture porn.” In reality, you don’t want to see it because it’s a shoddily-made film that undermines its horrific concept with gaping plot holes and severe logic issues. If for some reason you don’t already know what the central concept is, you should stop reading now. Spoilers will be necessary to talk about this film in any reasonable fashion.

Eminent surgeon Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser) has become irreversibly obsessed with the idea of chaining living bodies togther. After a semi-successful first go with a trio of Rottweilers, he deems his surgery fit for human testing. Enter our dumb heroines, American tourists Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie). On the advice of a cute waiter, our hapless beauties leave their hotel late one night in search of a killer party. What they find is a killer pothole. Yes, if only Germany could maintain its highways, all this unplesantness could have been avoided. The pair wander through the woods (in the rain, naturally) for a bit before stumbling across Heiter’s house. He lets them in, promises to call for help, and drugs them instead.

The girls wake strapped to hospital beds in a dungeon/operating theater. A young Japanese man soon joins their luckless ranks. Dr. Heiter then, in one of the film’s truly horrifying moments, describes in stoic detail his plan to modify his victims’ bodies so they can be joined end-to-end-to-end, creating a — you guessed it — Human Centipede. As part of his scheme, Heiter also plans to sever the ligaments around the knees, forcing the centipede to crawl (and thwarting any means of escape should any of the segments prove able to detach itself).

Let me say right now that once you wrap your head around this concept — and let’s make no mistake, this is a crackerjack concept for a horror film — what you imagine this movie will be is much, much worse than just about everything that actually happens. “The Human Centipede” is exactly the sort of movie a serious horror buff has no choice but to see: It’s controversial and disgusting, it’s said to be an endurance test, it’s made people faint in theater showings — all the usual horror huckster nonsense. The bad news for horror fans? It’s 15 minutes of great concept wrapped in an hour and 15 minutes of boring repetitive nonsense.

I'm pretty sure you can buy these sorts of surgical staple make-up kits at Spirit Halloween stores.

Understand me here: I’m not saying this was ever going to be a film for the masses or a film that wasn’t horrific, base and mind-numbingly wrong. But it could’ve been a great deal more effective and terrifying than it ultimately is. This is a movie that contains giant, gaping logic holes. You can’t expect it to all tie together nicely, but some of the more obvious problems should have been avoided. To wit: How does the frail doctor manage to wrangle his creation (which tops 300 pounds and is at least six feet long) up and down the spiral staircase that leads to the basement? How does he manage such a complicated surgical procedure with no help? Why doesn’t Lindsay call for help herself when she escapes and is trapped in a room with a phone? And, the biggest one for me, why is this “eminent surgeon” so surprised when his segments die off? Did he miss the nutrition lecture during med school? How about the harmful bacteria portion of the curriculum? There’s suspending disbelief, and then there’s suspending disbelief. At some point, your brain just refuses to let you buy into the stupid.

Next big issue: Pacing. The surgical procedure takes place roughly about midway through the film. That leaves you with about 45 minutes of watching the Centipede — there is really no word for what it does … sitting around? Standing around? Being in place in a scene? Now, some of this is really unsettling. The way Heiter talks to it is revolting and utterly chilling. There is a sequence where he has it outside on his lawn that is just nausea-inducing. But mostly the segments just cry and scream, and, it has to be said, 45 minutes of that is tough to take. I don’t think the filmmakers were shooting for a hyper-aware type of experience here; I believe they just simply didn’t think about how tiring and irritating it would be. The finale has its moments, but even it drags signifcantly. This is a film that’s barely 90 minutes and still manages to feel about a half hour too long.

Last big problem: Special effects. As in, there are none. Several times you can clearly see the segments’ lips and light showing where there should be none. Of course I *know* that these people have not actually been surgically connected, but, again, it’s a suspension of disbelief issue. Also, I’m of the camp that if a film is going to be so out of the box with its concept, it has to pay off. The audience (probably, hopefully) doesn’t actually want to see the completed Human Centipede, but we sort of need to for the conceit to work. Instead what we get is some awful acting, some fake blood and amateurish makeup. That great, jaw-dropping idea loses every bit of power in its shoddy, fly-by-night execution.

I wish some explanation had been given for why Heiter is driven to create such a horrible thing. It'd be nice to know what made him snap so I can AVOID IT LIKE WHOA.

Still, there are some great moments of true horror in “The Human Centipede,” all of which are born via the honestly chilling performance of Dieter Laser. His Heiter is so completely detached from reality, yet so calm, still intelligent, able to plan for nearly every eventuality. His utter disregard for humanity, the way human life holds no sanctity for him — these are commonly explored character traits in horror, but Laser pulls them off without benefit of backstory or explanation. He’s just insane, he has this insane idea, he acts on it, he sort of enjoys it. That’s it. Laser is able to create a shudder-inducing villain out of nothing more than a few lines of dialogue and his impassive face.

The bits that work in this movie really work. And there’s no denying the strength of its utterly bizarre and horrifying concept, so it does get some points for originality. Still, when all’s said and done, what may be most shocking about “The Human Centipede” is how slow, dull and stupid it turns out to be. One-and-a-half stars out of four.

The Human Centipede“: Unrated (common sense rating OK for 17 and up). Starring Dieter Laser, Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie, Akihiro Kitamura, Andreas Leupold, Peter Blankenstein and Bernd Kostrau. Written and directed by Tom Six. Cinematography by Goof de Koning. Original music by Patrick Savage and Holeg Spies.

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One Response to “The Human Centipede: First Sequence (2009)”

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  1. 31 Nights of Horror: Final thoughts (2010) « Rhanda watches - November 23, 2010

    […] and below films were real stinkers, but I honestly expected to be genuinely scared by “The Human Centipede: First Sequence” and I just […]

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