Expectations have been set for The Human Centipede (First Sequence) to be one of the most disgusting, cringe-worthy pieces of film release this year. Even the film’s log line is enough to send even those with the strongest stomachs running for the nearest toilet desperately trying to hang on to their lunch. It’s been poised to be one of the breakout pieces of horror in this new decade, and been promised as one of the most original stories told in the genre. But frankly, it isn’t. Calling it a disappointment might be an overstatement since there's enough to like in the film for it to be worth a watch, but horror devotees looking for something absolutely unique and disturbing might be in for let down.
Before viewing The Human Centipede, you’ll need to decide whether you can handle watching three people who've been sewn together mouth-to-anus crawl around naked, defecating down each other's throats. That's what the delightfully devilish Dr. Heiter accomplishes with his victims, and that's what you're going to have to look at for the latter 45 minutes of the film. The rest of the story is obvious: crazy doctor acquires victims in standard fashion; said victims make half-hearted escape attempts; lots of screaming and yelling ensues. Forgetting about the human centipede itself, there's nothing about this movie that will stand out in the annals of horror history. You can predict everything that happens, it fits into a formula.
All of the chatter surrounding Dieter Laser's performance as the good Dr. Heiter, however, is true. Rarely do you believe so fully that a bad guy really wants to do such horrific things to his victims as he claims. With Heiter, your skin will crawl as he describes his monstrous procedure to onlooking victims. The joy he emanates when he lays out the details of the surgery is enough to make you feel as if you've fallen through thin ice, and for some reason the fact that he uses the same type of overhead projector used in middle school math classes to explain it makes it even more grotesque. Though some of his actions feel over the top to the point of silliness, his performance is beyond wicked and worth the price of admission alone.
The human centipede itself is led by Akihiro Kitamura, Japanese actor, director and the only other actor in The Human Centipede worth shining a positive light on. Parts two and three of Dr. Heiter's creation are played by Ashley Williams and Ashlynn Yennie who for the first 45 minutes of the film, before the actual surgery takes place, are utterly insufferable as cookie-cutter horror movie victims whose mouths you want to see sewn to someone's ass just so they'll shut up. Their motives are as ridiculous as their actions and it's unbearable to watch. They look for help with their flat tire in the woods instead of on the road, they whimper and whine about a little rain, and they go right into the house of this doctor, who anyone can tell is a god damn psychopath, even when the first thing he asks them is, "Are you alone?" They're unlikable to an immeasurable degree and deserve what's coming to them.
All blame can't be placed on the actresses though as the lines handed to them by Human Centipede writer/director Tom Six were weak and exactly what you'd expect the horror movie version of "two American girls in Germany who are about to find themselves in a precarious situation" would say. It's predictable, cliche, and trite. But it does take a special kind of person to agree to stick their face against someone's backside for a couple weeks of production, so A for effort, but weak execution. They're followed closely by the most horribly trained police officers you'll ever see in a film, making 80% of the acting in The Human Centipede laughable and distracting.
The cinematography is great in places, but not great in others. While you're watching, you'll notice that you're not being slammed through the story by quick cuts, jump scares, and extreme close ups. Instead the camera is smooth and deliberate, which works, adding an extra layer of creepy to the already nightmarish atmosphere. Counter to that though were about a dozen shots that screamed "direct-to-DVD". The majority of the film feels very nice, but these few shots are so much lower in quality they virtually reach out of the screen and slap you across the face, leaving you miles from the story wondering what the hell just happened. Aside from those few flaws though, The Human Centipede is freshly shot and somewhat of an homage to late-70s/early-80s villain pieces like Phantasm.
Too often though, I found myself too busy questioning the character's motives to actually sit back and enjoy the film. The concept is disgusting in the best way possible, but the characters and their aggressive unlikability prevent this film from really spreading its wings. The Human Centipede is by no means a bad movie, but having one idea that will severely gross out an audience of weak-stomached serfs is not enough to sate the appetite of the truly horror obsessed. Surrounding your one unique concept with distracting mediocrity and overused horror movie tropes will never fly with a crowd of moviegoers who have already been oversaturated with the same ol' stuff since the dawn of the genre.
Tom Six showed us he has potential with The Human Centipede (First Sequence), proving that in years to come he could be a force in the industry of scares. When he returns for the sequel, we can realistically hope for not only the growth of the centipede itself, but of the director as well. This first film is a good start, but there's plenty of room for improvement.