(MICHAEL ARRUDA wakes up to fine himself tied to a hospital bed. As he struggles with his bonds, LL SOARES stands over him, dressed in a lab coat and preparing a syringe)
MA: The things I do for this column!
LS (wielding syringe): This won’t hurt a bit.
MA: Shouldn’t you be doing something else right about now, like starting our review? I’d start it myself, but I’m a little tied up.
LS: Very well. THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE is a horror film that has been getting a lot of attention lately. Mostly because it’s one of the few movies that actually lives up to its hype (and its title).
MA: Not so fast. I wouldn’t agree that it lives up to its hype. It does live up to its title, though. There IS a human centipede in this flick, after all.
LS: The story is simple enough. Dr. Josef Heiter (Dieter Laser), the world’s foremost surgeon specializing in the separation of conjoined twins, is now retired to a house in the middle of the German countryside, where he continues to operate – but now his patients are random people that he drugs and abducts. When we first see him, he is following a trucker into the woods, carrying a rifle that shoots tranquilizer darts.
MA: Yes, Dr. Heiter is VERY creepy. He’s one weird-looking dude. He looks sort of like— an insect, doesn’t he? And that’s probably done on purpose.
LS: His next “subjects” are two American girls, Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie) who get a flat tire and end up going to Dr. Heiter’s house to ask for help. How many times have we seen this scenario before! It’s been done to death! He then drugs them and ties them up in his basement.
Deciding that the large, hefty truck driver won’t do, Dr. Heiter goes out to get a replacement. He returns with Japanese man, Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura), who does not speak English.
Dr. Heiter then shows the three of them a slideshow, telling them exactly what they are in for.
MA: I think this is one of the scariest scenes in the movie. Hearing him explain his insane plan so matter-of-factly while they look on helplessly was excruciating.
LS: Yes, the slideshow is quite effective. In the past, he separated Siamese twins. But now, he wants to “create instead of destroy.” His goal is to join three humans together into a living conga line. A HUMAN CENTIPEDE!
(Cue OMINIOUS MUSIC)
MA: Did you hear that?
LS: Of course.
MA: What’s that about?
LS: It’s just for dramatic effect. Herr Doctor explains his procedure in excruciating detail. He will be sewing the three of them together into one creature that shares one gastric system. Mouths will be sewn into anuses, and faces will be sliced open to fit snugly. His captives react by screaming their heads off. Of course, this is the only reaction that makes sense.
MA: Actually, at first the girls try to communicate with him, asking him why he’s doing this and to let them go, while Katsuro hurls insults at him in Japanese and tries to escape, but the doctor ignores their pleas. Then, yes, they proceed to scream their heads off.
LS: In this case, the title tells it all. This movie not only delivers the goods, it does the job well. All of the actors do a great job. And it’s not just a series of shocks; there’s actually a good story here. Sure, it’s not the most pleasant of tales, but it will certainly get a reaction out of you. And isn’t that what good horror is supposed to do? Make you feel something! Even if it is revulsion and fear!!
MA: Why are you shouting?
LS: Am I? The actual human centipede itself is quite a disturbing image, made even more so when the pathetic creature tries to escape on its own.
What makes this movie work so well is its deathly serious tone. With this kind of subject matter, this movie could have been silly. But the human centipede is not a joke. It is the culmination of Dr. Heiter’s research and experimentation. How such a creature could benefit mankind, we never really learn. Instead, the doctor seems bent on doing this, simply because he can.
MA: I wasn’t all that excited by THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE, but surprise, surprise, I didn’t hate it, nor was I all that turned off by it. I actually didn’t find it as disturbing as I expected.
You’re right when you say the title says it all. When you see a movie called THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE, you expect to see a human centipede, and to that end, since a human centipede appears in the movie, the movie satisfies. But this in itself doesn’t make a good movie. It’s akin to going to a freak show at a circus. “See the human centipede!” Okay, we see it. Now, what? It’s the “now, what?” where this movie stumbles.
(Jeff Goldblum slithers into the room as BRUNDLE FLY. He crawls up the walls, looking on)
BRUNDLE FLY: Human centipede? What about a good, old-fashioned human FLY? It’s not like anyone’s been banging down my door to give me work.
LS: Wrong movie.
MA: Yeah, but he’s from a movie that didn’t have trouble with the “now, what?”
LS (to BRUNDLE FLY): You have to go now.
BRUNDLE FLY: Are you kidding me? I go wherever I want. And right now, I wanna…
(LS takes out a gigantic fly swatter and squashes BRUNDLE FLY against the wall. Bug guts splatter LS and MA)
LS (tastes goo): Mmmm, not bad. Lemon meringue! Want some?
LS: You miss out on all of life’s delicacies. Mmm. A crunchy part.
MA: I’m going to continue with the review now.
LS (chews): Please do.
MA: If you’re going to tell a story about a brilliant mad scientist hell-bent on creating a human centipede, you could at least be a creative storyteller and offer us a reason why. Why do it? The answer to this question is never really given, and as a result, we’re never really allowed inside the doctor’s head.
There are hints. It certainly appears as if Dr. Heiter gets off sexually on his medical experiments. He exhibits orgasmic pleasure at times over his creation and over controlling it. Also, early on in the film he says “I hate human beings.” So, maybe he’s out to screw the human race. It’s possible, but the truth is, we just don’t know.
Ultimately, THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE is a variation of the FRANKENSTEIN story. Now, in the best Frankenstein movies, we’re offered either a compelling interpretation of the monster (Boris Karloff) or of the doctor (Peter Cushing). We bought into these characters because we were allowed inside their minds and hearts. We knew what made them tick.
In Karloff’s case, we felt his monster’s loneliness and how awful it was for him to be hated and feared by every human being he came across. With Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein, we saw how dedicated he was to his work. He was so determined to succeed in creating life that he even committed murder to steal the brain of a genius in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957). We knew why he was doing this. He was obsessed with creating life, and there was nothing more important in his life than this quest.
LS: Hmmm, very interesting you should bring up Dr. Frankenstein. I actually thought Dr. Heiter and Cushing’s Dr. Frankenstein had much in common. They’re both rather sadistic gentlemen who do not have much respect for human life. People are only important as guinea pigs. So I thought you could appreciate Dr. Heiter’s experiments.
MA: One of Cushing’s strengths as an actor was he could play both sides of the fence, good and evil, even with the same character. His Victor Frankenstein in the Hammer Films could be villainous, but he instilled a passion into the character that was so strong you actually bought into what he was doing, and as a result, you liked him for it. Cushing made you root for a murderer. That’s impressive.
LS: Root for a murderer? Hmm. Perhaps you’re not such a nice guy after all.
MA: Dr. Heiter has as much passion as a lab rat. And I wouldn’t describe Cushing’s Baron as sadistic. He never got off on other people’s misery.
LS: How can you be sure? He certainly didn’t hesitate to make people suffer.
MA: I’m so sure because of Cushing’s performances in these films. He left little doubt about where his Baron’s motivations lay. Here, in THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE, we don’t know why Dr. Heiter is doing what he’s doing. This lack of information weakens his character and makes him one dimensional and not all that exciting.
LS: I don’t agree. We do know why he is doing this. Because he has an insane dream and is sure he can make it a reality.
MA: Really? Well, what is it? What’s his dream? To create a human centipede?
LS: YES, DAMMIT!
MA: What the hell is the point of that? To improve the human condition? I don’t think so!
LS: Why would he want to improve the human condition if he “hates people?”
MA: Give me a reason why this operation is necessary, and I’ll buy into it more.
I had the same problem with the three characters who share the misfortune of becoming the human centipede. We never really find out what it’s like to be them, other than it’s horrible. And it’s horrible because we can see with our own eyes that it’s horrible. But what are these characters really thinking, what are they really feeling, connected the way they are? As disturbing as this movie is, writer/director Tom Six never gets down and dirty and up close as to what it’s like to be a human centipede. I wanted to know. Ultimately, they exist only to be victims.
LS: They may be victims, but you care about them. The horrors they endure are disturbing because you really feel for these people. In the brief time we get to know them, we know exactly what they’re thinking.
MA: What are they thinking? Other than “This is friggin awful!” I didn’t get anything else. Now, there may not be anything else, but that’s my point. They’re just victims, and that didn’t do much for me.
LS: Isn’t that motivation enough? These people aren’t very complex because they’re only thinking about one thing in the time we see them– STAYING ALIVE. They communicate their fear and desperation mostly in their faces and their groans. Why do you need it spelled out any more than that?
And their suffering affects us. Even, Katsuro , who doesn’t speak their language and has no idea what is happening to him – is completely sympathetic, because you can feel the complete terror he’s going through, trying to understand what the hell is going on here.
MA: I thought these feelings were obvious. I would have felt the same way had I seen a still picture of them.
While there were a few suspenseful scenes, with my favorite being when Lindsay escapes and ends up in the swimming pool, for the most part, I thought the scares in this film fell flat. Unlike you, I didn’t think the story was so hot. I found it all rather cold and uninspiring, like a medical lab. I also thought the pacing in the second half was dreadfully slow.
LS: I didn’t think this movie was slow at all. It grips you from start to end. Not once did I look at a clock. I was completely absorbed in these people and their plight.
MA: Take the scene when the police detectives come to the house, for example, and our friendly neighborhood human centipede is in the cellar screaming for help. That should have been an exciting sequence, but it generates very little suspense. I mean, the police even leave the house to get a search warrant— talk about ruining the pacing—, and when they do, we’re not privy to any of their chatter. Are they calling for back-up? Are they afraid for their lives? And Dr. Heiter’s reaction is completely unbelievable. He’s thinking he’s going to use these police officers as part of his next experiment. Right. Kill a couple of police officers. Nice one. Hey, doc, don’t you think that might put a damper on your reclusive lifestyle, bring you a little heat at the end of the day?
LS: Of course he isn’t rational. That’s because he’s a friggin NUT. And, as a famous surgeon, he’s probably been catered to most of his adult life and thinks he can do anything he wants.
MA: There are some other weaknesses in the story as well. You already mentioned the flat tire bit. I also had a problem with the women discovering the doctor’s home in the woods by chance. I didn’t think that was very believable. I’m not a big fan of things happening in stories by accident. I thought this was a weak plot device.
LS: I agree with you there. Why can’t these mad scientists find a new way to get victims? People whose cars break down in rain storms are just tiresome at this point. At least in the very beginning, when Dr. Heiter pursues his first victim with the tranquilizer gun, I thought this might be a nice change of pace.
MA: As a drama and a horror story, this movie just doesn’t deliver. I found it weak. It reminded me of reading a newspaper article. Like “Did you read that story about the doctor who created a human centipede? Wasn’t that awful?” You bet. And that’s what the film is saying too, but the trouble is, it’s not saying anything else.
While I found the movie intense at times, disturbing at others, and even downright scary in parts, as a whole, I just didn’t find it all that compelling. I thought it lacked a creative spark, and as a result, wasn’t a complete package. I liked the first half better than the second half, and by the end of the movie, I found myself just not caring all that much.
I give THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE two Knives. If you’re into horrid curiosities, you might find this one worth your time, but if you prefer strong tales of horror and suspense, this one doesn’t cut it.
(LS lifts a scalpel from a tray and holds it above MA.)
LS: Doesn’t cut it? What unfortunate choices of words.
MA: Aren’t I clever?
LS: I heartily recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys extreme horror films. The movie we reviewed last week, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, didn’t live up to its title at all. THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE does not have this problem. It is not a masterpiece, but it is a very effective horror film. I give it three and a half knives.
MA: You’re just knife-happy!
LS: That’s not so good for you!
MA: We’re done with the review now. You can put the scalpel down and untie me.
LS: Not so fast! I’m feeling creative. And we’ve still got those donkeys in the other room.
MA: A room full of asses. Sounds like a political convention.
(A loud bell fills the air)
LS: THE ICE CREAM MAN IS HERE! Woo-hoo! See you later.
(LS drops the scalpel and rushes out of the room. MA struggles to untie himself.)
MA: Well, I guess that’s it for this week, folks. See you next time here at Cinema Knife Fight.
(MA continues to struggle)
MA (shouting): You better get me an Italian Ice!
Michael Arruda gives THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE two knives
LL Soares gives THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE three and a half knives:
© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares