Retro Review: THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (2009){0}

It begins in standard enough fashion: Two young, pretty, obnoxious women get lost on their way to a party, only to stumble upon an isolated house belonging to a certifiable lunatic. That sums up the first 20-some minutes of Tom Six’s The Human Centipede, but once we get that familiar fare out of the way … we’re treated to one of the strangest, creepiest, and most adamantly disturbing ideas in many a moon. Where most horror films would be content to dole out simple scares or gross dollops of gore, The Human Centipede wants to give you about an hour of sustained discomfort. Perhaps “unease” would be a better description, because despite its rather off-putting premise, The Human Centipede is a shockingly confident mixture of David Cronenberg and Peter Greenaway. And while I doubt I’ll be seeing it again any time soon, it also stands as one of the most uniquely memorable horror films in quite some time.

The lunatic, you see, is no mere madman. He is, in fact, a highly-regarded surgeon – who is also a madman. And this is his plan: Take the two girls he just kidnapped and “glue” them to the back of a third captive — thereby creating a “human centipede.” Let’s just say the surgical procedures involve a few “mouth to anus” skin grafts and all sorts of depraved lunacy. Oh, and then the three victims must waddle around the house, acting as the surgeon’s faithful lapdog. Grafted together like, well yeah, a human centipede of sorts. 

“But why?” is what you’re asking, no doubt. As if the motivations of a horror film’s antagonist need to be spelled out (They don’t.) But while the surgeon’s motivations seem mysterious and more than a little arcane, it seems pretty clear that director Tom Six knows what he’s doing. For many, the very concept of The Human Centipede would be too off-putting to “enjoy,” but those who like a little brains and dark humor mixed with their biological horrors will find much to like here. Essentially, this is a film about tomophobia (fear of surgery) and our normal (often unpleasant) reaction to physical deformity. I don’t think the film, for all its quiet moments and artistic flourishes, is a whole lot deeper than that – but if we can support 100 horror flicks that prey on our “fear of death,” then I think it’s refreshing to find a horror flick that focuses on our fear of physical deconstruction.

In many ways a true “art flick” horror show – the film is masterfully shot, ironically pretty to look at, and framed in rather meticulous fashion – The Human Centipede also works as a “shock value” side-show curiosity. The actors portraying the “centipede” (Akihiro Kitamura, Ashley Williams and Ashlynn Yennie) are (very) brave and (surprisingly) worthy of empathy, but it’s Dieter Laser (as the nefarious Dr. Heiter) who steals the film. Running rampant through The Human Centipede like an unholy mixture of Christopher Walken and Jeremy Irons, the veteran German actor is, quite simply, a whole lot of fun to watch.

Certainly not for all tastes (and that’s an understatement), The Human Centipede is a sick, beautiful, twisted, and borderline brilliant piece of biologically-focused horror. Some will see a base and disgusting concept that has little to no artistic value whatsoever. Others will applaud a horror import that actually has the confidence and audacity to deliver something disturbingly different. Guess which group I’m in?

Scott Weinberg (@scottEweinberg)

In the UK? You can stream THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE here.