Thursday, October 7, 2010

Medically Accurate: THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE

Once you know the sick details of The Human Centipede, you can’t totally forget them. Like it or not it gets stuck in your brain. (I won’t get too specific here.) Its basic concept is a work of some kind of depraved ingenuity; it might even be some kind of twisted horror genius. All I know is that I don’t want to see it again to find out.

Dutch filmmaker Tom Six wrote and directed this horror movie that exists only to disgust and provoke. Dieter Laser plays Dr. Heiter, a German surgeon who gets a swell idea for a science project to take up in his spare time. He wants to sew three people together. You read that right. In his day job, he specializes in separating conjoined twins. Now he wants to see if he can reverse the process and create, you guessed it, a human centipede. (I’ll leave out the details in order to allow your lunch to remain in your stomach.)

Plot is virtually nonexistent. Dimensional characters? Forget about it. Is it stylish? It’s only at a level of basic competency. But, I have to admit, this movie wants to shock and it gets there. It’s a gimmick-driven horror movie, like something a more grotesque William Castle would have dreamed up. Though, to be fair to Mr. Castle, he would have placed in the lobby a large rattling cage covered with a sheet to dare people into the theater to witness the madness.

Madness is another apt description for the film. When the earnestly wooden Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie, playing young Americans vacationing in Germany, get trapped in Dr. Heiter’s house, we know how this is going to end. Even if you were watching unaware of the forthcoming centipede, you would know immediately these girls will not meet a pleasant end. Heiter moves stiffly and speaks ominously. He’s like a subdued Klaus Kinski mixed with a gaunt Christopher Walken. At one point he bulges out his eyes and intones, “I don’t like humans.” I could tell.

Soon enough, Akihiro Kitamura shows up to be the third part of the centipede and the movie can get down to its repulsive business. Heiter stands before his captives and delivers his explanation for the procedure in graphic detail. (The overhead projector is a nice touch.) It’s funny in a giggly gross kind of way. Then we see squirm-inducing glimpses of the surgery. And then, well, I’ll let the braver among us see for themselves rather than allowing myself to relive (spoiling?) any further uncomfortableness.

This is the kind of movie that pushes limits of audience endurance just for the sake of pushing limits though, to my relief, it uses suggestion a bit more than showing. Every time I thought it had reached a new low, it sank further. To a certain kind of horror fan, that will be enough. It’s certainly an original concept – this isn’t yet another slasher picture – and it sometimes manipulates medical phobias quite effectively, even though it’s never scary or moody. It’s just preposterously disgusting.

If you really want to go see a movie about an unbelievably gross medical procedure, you’ll get what you want. I kind of have to admire it on some level. It’s one-of-a-kind. But at the same time, I have to wonder why we need even one of this kind. The film comes with the subtitle “The First Sequence,” carrying the threat of a sequel. Tom Six is working on that very film which he promises will combine 12 people into an even larger more unbearable grotesquerie. I think I’ll skip that one.

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