'The Human Centipede': How gross is it?
To discuss "The Human Centipede (First Sequence)," the shock-horror film that opens this weekend in New York and on demand everywhere before coming to Los Angeles next week, is to describe a movie that might ring the ears of a more sensitive soul. Or almost anyone else.
If you haven't been combing horror websites, which have been enthralled and/or repulsed by the premise for the last few months, here's the basic idea: "Human Centipede" features a retired surgeon in Germany (played with creepy brio by the aptly named Dieter Laser) who captures a Japanese playboy (Akihiro Kitamura) and two American party girls (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie) and then surgically connects them together so they share one gastric system. Visualize the grossest version of what that might look like and you may come close.
The film has been a sensation at horror-centric film festivals, winning two prizes at Austin's influential Fantastic Fest last fall. A sensation of a certain kind, that is. Even when screened for audiences in the mood to be grossed out, director Tom Six's particular breed of body horror causes hardened gore aficionados to squirm and ask, "Did I really need to see that?" (The film's poster boasts the rather outlandish claim that is "100% Medically Accurate!," which is rather hard to, um, swallow.)
So how provocative is it?
"Centipede" is at once arduously rough to sit through and compelling. There's a real film hidden beneath the hooky idea. Although Six certainly includes plenty of viscous discomfort for those who want it, he is also at times disarmingly discreet, such as the way he chooses not to overexpose his female actresses even as they spend most of the movie in little more than tiny swaths of gauze.
The queasy-making aspects of the film's premise make it easy to overlook the fact that Six has also crafted a film that focuses as much on the humanity of the victims as the simple grotesqueness of the centipede, so that each straining suture becomes a small battle of morality and will.
Perhaps the most disturbing moment in the film comes when the surgeon first explains his experiment, his crude diagrams -- destined to wind up on a T-shirt, we imagine -- more unsettling in some ways than anything that follows.
So how did Six, who has made three features in the Netherlands, go about crafting something this stomach-turning?
"The basic idea I always had was, I knew, something that people would talk about," Six says, "but of course it's also a very sick idea and very strange and very absurd. So I really made sure to tell the story the best I can, with some commercial sauce over it, so it would be for a bigger audience as well."
Of course, plenty of people will hear the premise and want absolutely nothing to do with the film. "It's definitely really hard to describe it to people," actress Williams said. "That's been the hardest thing I've had to do, to really convince them to come see it. I'm pretty good now at conveying that it's not exactly what you think it is. ... People who have not seen the film at all are assuming it's like torture porn or it's like '2 Girls, 1 Cup,' but when they actually see it they realize it's a really intelligent film and it's actually beautifully shot."
This summer Six plans to start shooting "The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)," which he promises will feature a 12-person construction. (Oh, joy.)
"Of course there have been women angry with me that I was woman-unfriendly," Six says of the post-screening reactions to the film. "But that is totally not what I meant in the story. At festivals people have so many interpretations of what it's about: the Second World War, other people say it's related to politics or Japanese and American companies or Hollywood filmmaking -- all these crazy ideas. It's really funny."
-- Mark Olsen