So I watched much-hyped Human Centipede a couple of nights ago. See how I set that up for the lulz? Ha ha ha ha ha ha. Anyway…
The premise is simple. Two young women, Lindsey (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie) are getting ready for a night out partying. I immediately wondered if the upcoming events were a punishment for planning to go to a club in Germany named The Bunker. Yes, The Bunker.
You start to really hate these women as they start bickering the night away. Their car gets a flat tire and they very quickly become Ugly Americans. They argue loudly and make no attempt to speak the language and are generally as shrill as possible. Finally, deciding that doing something is better than doing nothing, they get lost in the woods.
Alas, they find salvation at Dr. Heiter’s (Dieter Laser) house. What harm could befall anyone inside those spotless white walls? The audience and even the victims know that something’s not right when Herr Doktor’s first words are “Are you alone? Are you relatives?”
They wake up from their drugging to find themselves in the cleanest, most well-lit torture chamber. Dr. Heiter quickly dispatches the <s>truck</s> lorry driver that he had initially kidnapped because he isn’t a match. It’s not clear whether this is tissue-wise or aesthetically.
We learn the most about Dr. Heiter chooses his third and final victim, a Japanese tourist named Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura). Heiter is a surgeon who specializes in the removal of conjoined twins. I’ll spare 1,000 words describing his plan with one picture.
For a movie with such a violent premise, there’s surprisingly little gore. Despite the violence and horror of the initial surgery, the psychological treatment of the victims is far worse as the doctor tries to train his creation. Except for Katsuro, who is the lead segment, you never see the character’s full faces underneath the white bandages after the surgery. The whimpers coming from the women tell enough of the horror that they’re experiencing. There are some surprising moments of beauty when the women strain to hold hands.
Other surprising moments of beauty lie in the gentle score by Patrick savage and Holeg Spies. No thrash metal, thank-you-very-much. The shots outside of Dr. Heiter’s house were surprisingly beautiful. Something in the scenes where the women were running through the woods is reminiscent of <i>Suspiria</i> when the taxi is driving through the woods and the lights are hitting the trees.
What really makes the movie, though, is the performance by Dieter Laser. He’s alternately terrifying and absurd. What keeps him from descending into campiness is the earnestness with which he plays his scenes. What supports this strength is how absolutely little we know of his character. There are no flashbacks to a bad home life or failed sexual encounters. If there is no background then there are no buttons to push, no weaknesses to probe. He out-James Jame Gumb as a mutilator of the flesh and this time there is no Precious to humanize him. Unfortunately, the movie is at its weakest when it tries to find an explanation for the doctor’s motives.
What shocked me the most about this movie is how much I hated the victims at the beginning and how much I cared about them at the end. I guess being sewn from mouth to anus will do that to you. There is a final girl, but what’s the point of surviving something like that? Even if you undergo years of reconstructive surgery and therapy, you know you’ll never be the same ever again. As Lindsey says at one point, “Please, just kill me!” There can be so many things worse than death. And I think that that is my favorite point of the movie. So many horror movies today rely on survival at any cost. But what’s the point if you’re always going to be haunted by what you’ve survived? Sometimes maybe death is preferable.