Human Centipede (First Sequence), The (2009)
Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Starring Akihiro Kitamura, Dieter Laser, Andreas Leupold, Ashley C. Williams
Directed by Tom Six
The basic plot of Tom Six’s The Human Centipede (First Sequence) is enough to have any horror fan frothing at the mouth in anticipation at its sheer sickness, but we all know that a twisted plot is not enough to produce something actually worth watching. It’s with great pleasure, then, that I can report this film is indeed something special – a stomach-churning, darkly funny and unique piece of genre cinema that demands to be seen.
The film follows the first stage in the creation of the titular creature, the brain-child of demented retired surgeon Dr. Heiter (played by the magnificent Dieter Laser). Once the number one surgeon dedicated to splitting up conjoined twins, the mad doctor now has a different agenda – he wants to create an all-new animal by sewing people together, ass to mouth, in a row, and severing the tendons of their kneecaps so they must remain on all fours. After the death of his beloved “3-Dog” (three dogs sewn together into one animal), Heiter decides it is now time to move on to humans. His unfortunate subjects come in the form of two young travelers, Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie), who suffer the best of horror plot devices – a flat tire – close to his home on their way to a nightclub.
Seeking assistance, it isn’t long before the girls are drugged and awaken in Heiter’s basement, a makeshift operating theatre. The third member of the centipede soon arrives in the form of a Japanese tourist (played with wonderful attitude by Akihiro Kitamura), and from there Heiter gets to work explaining, and performing, the surgical steps necessary to create his masterpiece.
Saying much more regarding the plot would spoil much of the surprise here, but we do have the requisite tense escape attempts and eventually the arrival of two inquisitive police officers to keep the film moving along. It's an independent flick through and through, and writer/director Six squeezes every available penny out with the use of minimal locations, oppressively clinical set design and allowing almost the whole thing to be carried by the fantastic cast.
Speaking of the cast, the standout here is Dieter Laser as the vile Dr. Heiter. The man, quite simply, is completely insane. He delivers every line with the straight-faced coldness of an extreme sociopath. During his first encounter with the girls (as he methodically prepares to drug them), they ask if he is married. He replies that no, he is not – he lives alone because he despises human beings. The line is said without a hint of actual malice, simply matter-of-fact, and this type of incredulous delivery of some terror-inspiring lines makes Heiter into one of the best mad surgeon characters to grace the screen in a very, very long time.
As the film moves along, Six also plays out entire scenes in two, sometimes three, languages. The switch between spoken English and subtitled German and Japanese doesn’t get in the way whatsoever – even when more than one is occurring at the same time. For example, when Heiter revives the Japanese tourist, he begins screaming wildly in subtitled Japanese (some extremely funny dialogue, too) – this continues while Heiter talks the trio (with the help of illustrations) through the surgical steps they will soon be subjected to. As if this wasn’t torturous enough, the closing scenes are wonderfully tense. Watching people climb a spiral staircase has never been so gripping or painful.
The surgery itself, and the final centipede, is displayed in all its grisly gory – two of the most gut-rattling depictions are the close-up removal of one victim’s anus and the display of just how the second and third people in the centipede get fed (while Heiter shouts in glory at his invention at work). Apparently, the medical side of things here is 100% accurate. What that says about Tom Six I’m not sure, but I’m certainly glad he came up with it. If you aren’t completely positive that you have a strong stomach, I wouldn’t recommend eating before viewing this movie.
So, the rest I’ll leave for you to discover. Who will survive, and what will be left of them? The answer may surprise you, and the ending is as bleak as they come; however, Six has grand plans for the sequel (and a third film, too) if he can manage to secure funding for them. If this ever gets a US release, see it to ensure his full vision can come to life. At a time when the horror genre is crying out for originality, a work such as this cannot go ignored.
4 out of 5
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