According to Merriam-Webster, horror movies are "calculated to inspire feelings of dread or horror." Considered under that definition, Dutch schlock filmmaker Tom Six's The Human Centipede (First Sequence) earns its seat at the table. Peddling itself as "100% medically accurate," the film depicts a twisted surgeon's move to create a Siamese triplet: three humans connected mouth to anus. Gather the family and grab the popcorn for movie night.
The backwoods of Germany always seem to get a bad rap in movies. Here, two American tourists (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie) get a flat tire on their way to a nightclub and find themselves on the doorstep of Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser), a surgeon renowned for separating conjoined twins. Any Hippocratic tendencies have evaporated from the good doctor, and he promptly drugs the two women. When they awaken in hospital beds alongside a Japanese man (Akihiro Kitamura), Dr. Heiter performs a consultation of sorts about the operation they are about to experience. After some begging for mercy and a near escape, the operation commences.
The Human Centipede was inspired by a nasty punishment its director imagined for child molesters. On one of the disc's supplements, Six says a film is only worth making if it inspires strong reactions and pushes boundaries. The Human Centipede jumps through hoops to earn viewers' contempt, content that the pitiful abomination at its core is enough to shock the most hardened horror fan. Despite the disgusting stitching-together of its victims, The Human Centipede is little more than an extension of the torture-porn genre reignited with films like Hostel and Saw.
In terms of realized gore, The Human Centipede is fairly restrained, using the power of suggestion instead of outright ultraviolence. And although the human centipede itself is something new, the characters themselves are not. The sadistic doctor who exploits young women has been done before and better. At least Laser is fun to watch. The German actor is unnerving on screen and in glimpses behind the scenes. Director Six also deserves credit for stretching what little budget he had to make the film appear more independent than amateur.
The Human Centipede is tough to recommend. It provides a sordid gimmick that many horror fans will appreciate, but it lacks the suspense, gore or vicious spark to make it compelling. The film aims to disgust, but will likely harvest more yawns than screams. Because it plays almost exclusively for shock value, the film a disappointment. Maybe Six's sequel, which he promises will make The Human Centipede (First Sequence) look like My Little Pony, will be more shocking.
IFC presents The Human Centipede (First Sequence) on DVD with an unimpressive 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. Chief among its flaws are noise and pixilation, giving many shots a low-resolution appearance. I also noticed shimmering and some edge enhancement, and all details were lost in some of the film's darker shots. On the up side, some close-ups exhibit a nice amount of detail, and skin tones are natural. The low-budget source material may be partly to blame for the lackluster appearance, but this transfer does the film no favors.
Also disappointing is the film's soundtrack, which is only presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. While dialogue is clear, the track lacks punch, and effects are relegated to the front speakers. The audio is not terrible, but it could have been much better. English and English SDH subtitles are available. The package indicates that German and Japanese 2.0 tracks are included, but they are not on the disc.
A fair number of extras appear on the disc. The first is a director's commentary in which writer/director Six discusses the film from genesis through production. The guy is pretty straightforward about the material, even a bit flippant, but his passion for the film is obvious. Also included are a deleted scene (1:32), a behind the scenes featurette (9:03) and casting sessions (2:04) for the lead actresses. The Foley session (4:54) shows the meat used to create some of the film's sound effects, and a director's interview (5:18) reveals that the film's sequel will be much more explicit. Rounding out the package are the film's theatrical trailer and images of alternate posters.
The image of three people connected via their gastric systems is the last thing many viewers want to see. Others will watch The Human Centipede (First Sequence) for this image alone. Horror fans may appreciate this prickly extension of the genre for daring to push the boundaries of acceptable entertainment, but may find the film less perverse than advertised. The curious should Rent It at most; others steer clear.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.