I have a real problem with shock horror. I’ve been at this a long time and my search for the most shocking, most tasteless movies came to an end years ago. I didn’t find any particular movie that offended me more than any other, as you may imagine, so don’t bother asking. I can name a few but why bother? I just stopped looking. I was no longer interested. Shock horror has a tendency to be unsophisticated crap, interested only in grossing you out and while I like a good gross-out flick as much as the next guy, most shit that’s out to shock you is trying to step so far over the line that once the movie has come to an end, you can’t even see the line from where you are. Garbage like the August Underground movies also tend to thrive on a mean-streak that leaves me wondering who those movies were intended for. Idiots and psychos, that’s who.
In the last few years, though, I’ve seen a few shockers that have not only shaken me to my jaded core, they surprised the hell out of me by not insulting my intelligence while displaying a knack for weaving a capable narrative. Mostly, France is responsible for this stuff. While I thought the poster child for French intensity, Martyrs (Review), was way overrated, I actually loved the living hell out of Inside (Review) even though I never want to see it again. It’s this sort of repulsion and anxiety about shockers that makes half of me want to avoid the latest big-hype shocker like the black plague while the other half is chomping at the bit to ride the latest international thrill ride. I know it’s going to make my skin crawl and I know I’ll probably be thinking about how unpleasant the movie was for days before I can finally put it out of my mind but there’s an adventurous part of me sewn deep into the seam of my being that craves that sort of significant emotional response like a drug and let me tell you something: The Human Centipede was like heroin to me.
A sadistic and misanthropic surgeon, famous for separating conjoined twins, decides that his former sick medical experiment, the joining of three dogs, mouth to anus, must be taken to the next level. He kidnaps a trucker and then finds fortune when a pair of vapid American tourists wander to his doorstep when their car gets a flat. The trucker, it seems, is unsuitable to this current pair of victims and is replaced by a more appropriate man who only speaks Japanese. A successful surgery joins the three and what follows is a circus of contempt for the human race, muffled crying and a man screaming at the top of his lungs in Japanese as our surgeon puts the human centipede through a series of humiliating paces to train them as though they’re his pet. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
The very mission of a horror movie is to evoke a sense of abject terror in its viewers. You are supposed to be taken to the depths of fear, anxiety and hopelessness but very few horror movies ever have the balls to go all the way. Most of them feel like they have to pull back in the third act and bring you out of the muck and back into the sunny world of our consensus reality. Somehow, for some reason, good winds up triumphing over evil and the bad guy winds up getting theirs in the end. This is bullshit, if you ask me. It’s not terribly pleasant and it wouldn’t make a terribly entertaining genre if everyone in these movies was being humiliated and hacked to pieces before the killer sneaks back into the woods and credits roll, presumably to kill again but it’s nice to find a movie that doesn’t live in fear of actually going there. The Human Centipede is one of these movies. It is a relentlessly bleak picture that is going to show you just how far down a movie can go. The Human Centipede is a movie that hates your guts. It wants to make you sick and haunt your dreams. It strives to convince you that behind every door is a potential madman tending to a string of people linked ass to mouth, each sustaining the next with the shit of the person before them in the chain.
I can honestly say that I have never seen anything like The Human Centipede. If you’re reading this then you’re probably at least familiar with the idea. The trailer has been circulating for a while and by now, people outside the horror web are starting to hear about this movie. Allow me to answer the question that everyone has been bringing to me lately. Yes. The Human Centipede is fucked up. If you can believe it, the trailer doesn’t even begin to hint at the true horror contained herein. You get an idea. You get a few glimpses of the titular Human Centipede and you’re left with the sickening feeling that this is a movie that no one should see but you’re spared the morbid details. What lies within its walls is a compelling piece of shock horror that actually delivers the goods. It lives somewhere in the same space as a lot of Japan’s most extreme offerings. The fragility of the human body isn’t something that The Human Centipede concerns itself with. Sure, there’s a bit of grue and some closeups of ass to mouth sutures stretched to the breaking point, but this is a movie that instead focuses on the perversion of its own idea. It thrust you, the viewer, into the sort of situation that makes you certain that death would be preferable to living with your mouth sewn to another person’s ass and in the end, nobody wins.
Tom Six, a director who deserves a thorough psychological evaluation, has delivered a genuinely exotic horror movie. He points to David Cronenberg’s hangup on body horror as a strong inspiration but I’m not sure that that’s an accurate statement since Cronenberg’s body horror often involved the victims losing control of their bodies, which turned against them. This is just your average kidnapping/torture ordeal but with an extreme twist to the sort of crap we’ve been fed for the last ten or so years. There is nothing even approaching the levels that The Human Centipede explores and it’s a wonder that this movie even exists at all. Be warned, it is not for everyone. Scratch that, actually, The Human Centipede is not for anyone.
A valid criticism of the movie, however, is that it’s easy to get caught up in the spectacle of the movie’s central premise and forget that what you’re watching is an agonizing return to the same ideas over and over again. By the halfway mark, our victims are finally sewn together and it doesn’t take long to realize that they’re not going anywhere. What follows is a series of scenes as our mad surgeon, played to malicious perfection by an actor with the greatest name of all time, Dieter Laser, terrorizes his newly conjoined creation. Pacing is hardly an issue here, as the editing is tight and keeps the movie on track, it’s just that what you’re watching is so patently unpleasant that bearing witness to it is an ordeal unto itself. The Human Centipede is a genuinely sickening and overwhelming picture that gives you nothing but the fleeting thrill of seeing a movie in general release that is truly hardcore.