The open secret of horror films is this: nothing on the screen can ever hope to match the diseased images of your own fevered imagination. It’s not really the film itself that gets slasher fiends and gorno junkies off, it’s the images in their heads. It’s the build-up, the anticipation, that really makes a film like The Human Centipede pop. (Uh… using the word “pop” in this context actually just made me throw up a little in my mouth.)
Case in point: I heard about this movie when Roger Ebert reviewed it. But you know? Roger Ebert didn’t really review it; he just explained the premise of the movie, picked on the director a little bit, then left it on the table without giving it any stars. And you know? I don’t fault him for it. That’s all this movie really deserves, in the end. It’s un-reviewable. It’s not really a movie, see — it’s just a premise. The whole film is built around a single concept which not only doesn’t go anywhere, but cannot go anywhere. The concept of The Human Centipede — what the film is about — simply doesn’t have any legs. (Ugh… “legs” was no better than “pop”.)
Remember when you were a kid, and you’d sit around with your weird friends talking about weird things? Inevitably one of you would say “wouldn’t it be cool if they made a movie where…”, and the end of that sentence was something no sane person would ever make a movie about. Like, “guy with two heads” or “the All-Star Olympic Roadkill-Poking team” or “lady who is allergic to all types of clothing”. These are goofy ideas, but they can’t sustain themselves for ninety minutes. It’s just playground talk. I’m reminded of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a movie about a guy who ages backwards. Neat idea! And good movie! But when you’re watching it, you realize that it’s not really using its idea. It’s just the story about a man’s life, and the fact that he gets older by getting younger is barely a footnote.
The premise of The Human Centipede is this: a mad scientist kidnaps three people named A, B and C. He surgically attaches A’s anus to B’s mouth, and B’s anus to C’s mouth. Food goes in A, passes through B, and comes out C.
Now that you know the premise, you can be assured of two things: 1) virtually none of the horrific images spiraling through your head are actually in this movie, and 2) there is absolutely nowhere for this premise to really go.
As to the first point: yes you get to see part of the surgery. And yes you get to see some chick get her face hot-glued to some dude’s butt. And yes, there is a scene where that chick is forced to swallow his poo. Pound for pound, though, everything is very tame. The entire surgery is over in about sixty seconds; more screen time is devoted to the surgeon slowly matting sweat off his forehead and collapsing onto his plus Italian sofa in exhaustion.
There is something to be said for playing up the viewer’s imagination, simply because nothing the director shoots could match what’s in the viewer’s head. That’s not why The Human Centipdede pulls its punches though. I got the feeling this film just didn’t have the budget to spare.
And to the second point… okay. You have three people daisy-chained together lips to butthole. Now try to imagine what such a pitiable creature could actually do. It can’t do tricks. Two of the pieces can’t have any dialogue. Heck — it can barely move. There’s not a lot you can do with a human centipede other than stare at it and feel bad for it, and indeed, this is pretty much what the second half of the film is. The absolute most shocking, degrading thing about the situation involves poo-eating, and all that’s good for is some grunting and a disgusted face.
When casting actresses for The Human Centipede, nobody stopped to think that literally half of those actresses’ paycheck could be made out to “frightened sobbing”.
Every review I’ve read makes note of the evil surgeon’s performance. I don’t think it’s particularly noteworthy. Not because it isn’t good, mind you — it is. I’d even call it masterful. You know what, though? Tobin Bell’s performance as Jigsaw is masterful too, equal parts creepy and sympathetic, with a rich backstory a unique skillset, and that devious chuckle you can never quite tell is evil or not. Nobody watches Saw for Tobin Bell; we watch it because we want to see some asshole get lowered testicles-first into a giant garbage disposal.
Most baffling of all, the director who couldn’t stretch his centipede idea across an hour of film wants to turn it into a trilogy. What can he possibly show us that we haven’t already seen!?
The only reason even the most die-hard horror buff would watch The Human Centipede is morbid curiosity. That’s why I watched it, and I’m telling you, I spent 89 minutes bored out of my skull and one minute cringing because of some not-centipede-related gore on the screen. Not that you were considering watching the movie, of course. You’re smarter than I am.