Guilty Pleasure: The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

It’s really not as bad as it sounds.

When this creepy little midnight movie debuted six or seven years ago, I knew nothing about it except the DVD cover and the final image of the trailer—the one with three semi-nude people inexplicably connected to each other—freaked me out. I’m sure I vowed never to explore it.

This year, however, I got on iTunes searching for a review podcast that would share my views on Twilight. (In case you’re wondering about those views, allow me to quickly say that I regard the Twilight series as a franchise whose popularity I cannot stand and whose main character I despise. Listening/contributing to rants on Twilight is another guilty pleasure of mine.) I found an entertaining podcast entitled Yeah, It’s That Bad, which’ll get its own coverage on the blog later this year, and immersed myself in the archive. Soon I came upon an episode that covered The Human Centipede.

I listened tentatively, and though things were described in reasonable detail, I found myself more captivated by the material than grossed out. I’ve been a horror fan since I was about 12, so the horror and torture-porn genres are not unfamiliar to me. They’re a guilty pleasure for me because of my religious roots; I feel bad that I like some dark things, but it’s not like darkness and pessimism aren’t a part of my nature, and I am aware horror movies are just movies. A lot of times I like to see how they’re done, and it’s not like I actually approve of murder or want people to be killed in real life. No, it’s about the execution of story, character and predominantly the acting, as there are many character actors in horror whom I love (like Brad Dourif and Robert Englund), and I couldn’t get the guys’ rave review of the lead actor, Dieter Laser, or the core concept of a “human centipede” out of my head. Nervous to proceed, I desensitized myself by listening to more spoiler reviews of the movie and decided to rent it on iTunes, even eating ice cream before I watched—ooohhh, risky!

Even though it holds a 4.4 on IMDb and a 49% on Rotten Tomatoes and had virtually no story, I enjoyed it. Why?

*MODERATE spoilers abound*

1. Actors Dieter Laser and Akihiro Kitamura. German actor Dieter Laser portrays the antagonist in this film, Dr. Josef Heiter, a retired but renowned surgeon who once separated Siamese twins but now envisions a procedure to produce a “Siamese triplet”—three beings joined together by the gastrointestinal system. A freaky idea, no? No freakier than the actor who sets it all into motion.

From the moment Laser’s craggy, square-jawed profile shows up on screen, I was spellbound. This guy is not playing. From his menacingly attractive face to the way he stands to the way he moves and drawls, he has a truly spooky and imposing presence, one that persists throughout the movie. He also plays an unstable yet duly focused mind so authentically…it’s quite impressive to behold. To unnerve your audience but also to make your crazy character low-key funny , in a strictly black humor sort of way  (at one point he calls Katsuro a “chicken” and proceeds to squawk at him), takes a great deal of talent, in my opinion. I loved him! Loved his voice and his faaaace. I thought he was the optimal choice for such a commanding character. The man must be somewhat of a mad genius himself to be able to play such a sick scientist…O_o

(Or not. Don’t worry. I’ve seen plenty of interviews where he appears to be quite a nice man.)

Akihiro Kitamura bears some similarities to Laser in that he transcends language barriers (he only speaks Japanese in the film) with universal expressions and staunch commitment to his role, which can be summed up in one word: defiance.

Like his fellow captors, the spiky-haired Katsuro is taken early on in the film. He spends most of his waking hours struggling or screaming at Dr. Heiter or both. When that doesn’t work he finds other ways to rebel against the dog-loving surgeon, like refusing to bring him a newspaper and biting him. He bites this crazy dude’s leg! You see it and you’re just like, “YEEESSS!” But it’s just the dirty and dejected looks he gives the doctor that make Katsuro’s resentment so apparent.

The end of the film is really where Kitamura shines. He attacks the doctor with a funny fervor and takes charge to make an escape with the women. He also gives a speech in which he imagines his treatment is punishment for the way he’s conducted himself in life. It’s a moment of self-reflection you don’t normally get in these kinds of movies, and Kitamura portrayed it with the right amount of poignancy.

2. Lindsay and Jenny’s friendship. Sure the characters are kind of annoying and naïve. Yeah, the actresses had some questionable line reads. But they did a good job screaming and crying and whimpering, and they did well to cultivate a believable friendship between their characters.

Lindsay and Jenny are two American women on a European road trip. Between breaking down on a backwoods road and wandering through the woods for help, the duo gets a lot of arguing done. An annoying amount in fact. It’s not until they’re captured that the women’s chemistry takes on a more empathetic slant.

There’s a point in the film where Lindsay has a clear chance to escape. She stands poised in front of a broken window, torn between achieving freedom alone or going back for her best friend. She eventually decides to descend back into the basement to retrieve an unconscious Jenny. I knew it was the wrong choice but respected her for trying. She was thinking of her friend before herself.

Later, when there’s nothing left to say or do, they hold hands for comfort, or Jenny would reach out and grip Lindsay’s shoulder. I liked that, seeing these two friends in an impossibly horrible situation, fighting the despair by soundlessly supporting each other. I find that also rare to get in a horror film—actresses playing friends that come off as actual friends. Lindsay even reached out to check on Katsuro by rubbing his back after a particularly horrific encounter with the doctor. They’re not “dumb bitches.” Just poor decision-makers. (I mean, Dr. Heiter’s first line to them is “Are you alone?” -_-) But other than being naïve, they just didn’t know how to change a flat tire. I don’t either! Doesn’t mean any of us deserve to be in a human centipede. Anyway, I wasn’t rooting for them to meet nasty fates. Quite the opposite. But you’ll have to watch to find what fates they do receive…

I watched the movie, like, two to four times during the 24-hour rental period and ended up purchasing it. The commentary’s not super interesting, but the little nine-minute behind-the-scenes video is neat! You get Dieter Laser’s insight as to why Dr. Heiter creates a pet, secrets to make-up effects and a soul-train centipede at the end. What does that mean? You’ll have to rent the DVD to find out!

But honestly, there’s hardly any blood, no sighting of excrement and obviously fake butts. It’s shot well, there’s an eerily airy soundtrack running throughout and the conclusion may just catch you off guard.

I give The Human Centipede (First Sequence)  a 6/10.

What do you think? Will you give The Human Centipede a chance to scurry into your living room? Why or why not? Let me know in a comment below.

-BP

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