There is a little doubt that horror films have had to raise their game in recent years. While classic horror has a certain artistic, romantic charm, there is a more insidious sub genre that seeks to twist the audience’s moral limits and test their psychological fortitude: “torture” films.
The Human Centipede is probably the most notorious “torture” horror film to make it in to North American theatres and more importantly, Netflix. This is how many of my friends were first exposed to the film and, lured in by the unique premise, this is how many came to loathe this movie. But despite widespread revulsion and even refusal to watch the film (and its sequel) in their entirety, I am stepping up in defence of The Human Centipede as one of the most successful visceral torture horror films.
Written and directed by Tom Six, The Human Centipede is essentially the story of a mad scientist trying to realize his dream of creating a ‘pet’ by surgically attaching 3 people together. With mouth to ass taking on a dramatic new meaning, the premise alone is enough to make some people cringe; and once the word got out on this movie, most people decided that it had no merit at all – it was just “another torture fetish film.’
However I feel quite differently, about both the first and second Human Centipede films. The first film takes great pains to develop the character of villain Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser), a successful surgeon specializing in the separation of conjoined twins. But his dark passion is to do the opposite; to use his surgical skills to attach three people together and create the ‘Human Centipede’.
While kidnapping and forced confinement are nothing new to contemporary horror films, the graphic depictions in this movie often proves too much for viewers. Dr. Heiter is certainly the star of the film and the only character who we really come to understand at all. Everyone else is merely a victim – part of what makes this movie feel so dramatically bleak and truly horrific.
But the reason most will offer for not seeing the film (or not giving it a fair viewing) is the graphic ‘grossness’ and pure visceral accuracy. The film lavishes long shots on the caged victims, and pays special attention to the physical processes of the centipede creation; but I think what actually unsettles people is the sheer hopelessness of the victims’ situation. That’s not to say there’s no plot arc to the movie, and there are times when the audience will foolishly think there is a chance of escape; but the reality of this horrific scenario really leaves no room for hope. This, along with the conviction of Dr. Heiter, is what I find deliciously disturbing about The Human Centipede – never mind the corporeal horror of having your mouth grafted on to some else’s ass, forced to consume whatever their digestive system expels.
Given the lack of options given at the end of the first film, I absolutely LOVE the way Tom Six treated the sequel; and I find it somewhat endearing that he has created this monstrous franchise entirely on his own. I often hear the fact that studios made The Human Centipede II thrown out as ‘evidence’ of viewers’ unhealthy obsession with superfluous torture. Maybe. But the meta treatment of the original movie given by the second film is completely worth your while.
The Human Centipede II is, in part, a reaction to the world’s reaction to the first film. It stars a loner named Martin, who shares something in common with the audience – he saw The Human Centipede. But Martin really enjoyed it. Driven by his obsession with the film (and realizing the fears of everyone who turned their nose up at the first movie as a dangerous and pornographic depiction of torture that would appeal to sickos) Martin sets out to build a 12-person version of the human centipede.
The only person you’ll recognize from the first film is actress Ashlynne Yennie – who played Jennie, the only potential survivor in The Human Centipede. But she has a special role to play in the sequel… portraying herself (BOLD – considering the film’s thematic content), she is kidnapped by Martin, who simply must have “Jennie” in his tribute centipede creation. Consider this acting choice; Yennie agreed to be in the first film, arguably as the second worst spot in the centipede; then returned to play a fictional version of herself who is kidnapped and inserted in to a 12-person centipede “in real life”. Whether or not you feel the movie is successful in this elaborate meta plot, you have to give it some merit for this original treatment of a notoriously infamous film.
By no means are The Human Centipede films the first to go after our tolerance for human torture. Cannibal Holocaust is probably the first film I remember being viscerally disturbed by, and although that movie seemed designed for shock value I can’t deny that it intrigued me. But this wasn’t a film designed for mainstream release, either. What most people will recognize as ‘torture’ horror likely fall under either the Hostel or Saw franchises – disturbing sure, but definitely more focused on providing entertainment than abomination.
The Human Centipede tries to present both, and was so successful at sickening people that most couldn’t be entertained. What I find funny is that normally, mainstream audiences would never be exposed to a movie like this. However Netflix decided to feature it (??) and curious viewers who were lured in by initial curiosity were quickly embarrassed to find themselves watching such a graphic torture horror film.
So I encourage anyone who considers themselves a horror fan to sit down and give these films a fair viewing; and everyone else should just steer clear. Despite it’s repulsive depiction of suffering at the hands of an inspired intellectual, The Human Centipede is a pretty awesome depiction of suffering at the hands of an inspired intellectual 🙂
Even better? Tom Six is working on a third (and final) instalment to complete the franchise. The Human Centipede III is in preproduction and sees the return of Martin from the second film, likely promising an unhappy conclusion.