Not since the brilliant French film MARTYRS (2008) has a movie come on the scene, grabbed you by the throat, and essentially dared you to watch it without flinching. This is what was promised with THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE: FIRST SEQUENCE, which is gaining quite the cult following and is now in limited release around the country in midnight shows and can be found on MOD/VOD (check with your local cable company). Does it deliver? In a word, not even close. This film is full of bad acting, pacing problems, and it is a victim of being over-hyped so much that it couldn’t possibly deliver what it promises. But who’s fault is this?
As THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE opens we join Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser, resembling the bastard love-child of Lance Henriksen and Udo Kier) who is sitting in his car in the shoulder of the road. He’s staring fondly at a picture of a canine centipede in which he joined three dogs to make one long creature. The opening ends with the good doc drugging and kidnapping a fat trucker. Flash to our heroines, Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie), two American tourists traveling across Germany. They’re getting ready to go to a party that is apparently in the middle of nowhere (judging by the roads they’re traveling on). On the way, their car gets a flat tire on a very remote road and after an encounter with an older, very creepy German guy they decide to walk and find help. Guess which house they end up at?
Is any of this sounding familiar? It should – it’s the set up for about 1,000 flicks. The “strangers lost in a strange land” is nothing new. But those who’ve bought into the hype will remain patient. I did. Unfortunately, this patience will be rewarded far too soon.
In case you haven’t already noticed, it becomes obvious that there’s something very wrong with Heiter. We learn that he’s a world-renowned surgeon who specialized in separating Siamese twins. Now retired, he’s doing “research” in his home lab – that’s never a good sign. He’s obsessed with creating a three-segment human centipede in which three subjects are connected mouth-to-anus, sharing one digestive track. Heiter sees the arrival of Lindsay and Jenny as a windfall opportunity. He already has the fat trucker, so he does what any good host-mad scientist would do: He slips the girls some roofies, chains them up in his basement operating room and preps them for surgery. It turns out the trucker’s tissue samples don’t match the girls, so Heiter kills the trucker and then kidnaps a Japanese tourist. Perfect match.
Now THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE has all his pieces in place, and you can just feel a sick combination of dread and anticipation welling up inside as Heiter explains to his subjects what he’s going to do to them: remove their teeth, remove the ligaments from their knees, and alter their anuses in order to connect them mouth-to-anus. Then just as he starts the procedure the scene fades to black, and bam, the operation is over.
Where’s the horror we were promised – the stuff that was supposed to challenge us to keep our eyes glued on the screen? Presumably, that was left on the cutting room floor in order to rush to reveal the titular abomination about 30-40 minutes into the running time. We see the human centipede, yawn, and then watch as Heiter trains – that’s right, trains – his new pet.
This is a huge problem; after writer-director Tom Six blows his wad in a most anticlimactic way, you quickly find yourself losing interest. There’s just nothing to keep our attention after the human centipede is revealed. The entire film suffers from a very slow and lumbering pace, and let’s be honest here, there’s barely enough material to fill a short film let alone a feature length movie.
And is this material all that original? I seem to recall a novel written by H.G. Wells called THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU – in 1896!! . Yes, there are a lot of differences in the two stories (Dr. Moreau is turning animals into people rather than people into animals), but if Tom Six focused on the story, characters, and social commentary more than trying to make a disturbing and graphic film, he would have had more success.
The only interesting character is Dr. Heiter. There’s no doubt he’s bat-shit crazy, but what makes him so dangerous is that he’s focused, intelligent, and determined. He doesn’t look at his prisoners as people; they’re simply subjects to help him with his research and are no different than a lab mouse. It’s also pretty clear that Heiter doesn’t like people and seems to have grown tired of the human race. People, to him, are subjects to be experimented on.
Laser plays the part beautifully – the one shining performance in this otherwise annoying cast. The girls, at least after being captured, are whiny and annoying. During one of cinema’s most epic-failed escape attempts, Lindsay goes full retard (and everyone knows you don’t go full retard), making so much noise you just root for Heiter to capture her. (At one point she actually tries to hide under water while Heiter stands by the side of the pool.) There’s not one second when you think she’ll succeed – the entire escape feels tagged on in order pad out the running time.
For an allegedly disturbing flick, with a totally twisted premise, THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE is actually rather blood-less. One tag-line for the film is “100% Medically Accurate,” and that’s the main problem. The approach is so clinical that there’s no over-the-top mayhem that could have catapulted it to cult classic status – or at least made it a midnight movie favourite. In fact, all the the “disturbing” imagery is included in the trailer. So if you saw the trailer you’ve essentially already seen the entire film. Besides Dieter Laser’s performance, there’s nothing here to recommend, and on top of everything else, the sound quality is terrible.
Apparently, there’s already a part two in the works with a 12 segment human centipede. Meh. Skip this one and go watch Martyrs again.
THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE: FIRST SEQUENCE (2009; VOD release on April 28, 2010; USA theatrical distribution starting April 30, 2010). Written and directed by Tom Six. Cast: Dieter Laser, Ashley C. Williams, Ashlyn Yennie, Akihiro Kitamura, Andreas Leupold, Peter Blankenstein.