Making Sense of The Human Centipede (2010)

by JoHarrington

If you've never seen this movie, then don't! Some things are best not being inside your head. Everyone else, come on in.

I arrived late at this party. I'd managed to remain in blissful ignorance for two whole years. Then my teenage nephew mentioned the primary notion around which the whole of The Human Centipede is formed.

Some things do not easily eject themselves from your head. That which is heard cannot be unheard. That which is seen will surely never be unseen.

His elder brother warned me not to go near the movie. He was right. But it was all said in the same manner in which people are told not to press the big, red button. I became curious. The more I learned, the more I had to see this for myself.

Apart from the fact that a hundred memes and parodies will suddenly be placed in context, I see no reason why anyone should subject themselves to this story. The Human Centipede is worse than sick. It's insidious.

The Human Centipede: The Unrated Director's Cut DVD

The Human Centipede

What is the Human Centipede About?

A deranged ex-surgeon abducts people and uses them in medical experiments.

In many ways, asking what this horror movie is about is the wrong question.

The sentence above would cover it adequately, without touching upon why the film is quickly achieving cult status.

Sensible people would leave it there.

Dieter Laser plays Dr Josef Heiter with compelling menace. He's not quite at the standard of Hannibal Lecter, but runs at a decent enough second place. His chilling aspect is what makes him so believable in the role. His absolute certainty that what he is doing is genius and quite right renders him completely without mercy.

He doesn't like people. It shows. Nor has he any compassion at all. Neither tears nor pleas are going to divert him from his intentions, because he merely believes that the victim doesn't quite appreciate his greatness.

That said, Laser does have an occasional tendency to over-act. That's fine in the role. Dr Heiter allows for some manic moments.

His expertise is surgical. While director Tom Six has cited Dr Josef Mengele as an inspiration (hence the shared first name), the mode of experimentation differs. Dr Heiter is a retired master surgeon in the art of separating Siamese twins.

Now he wants to do that in reverse and that is the hook here.  It's not the storyline itself, but the way in which his kidnapped victims become co-joined, which has caught the imagination of so many viewers.

The Human Centipede Official Trailer

This preview actually tells you EVERYTHING about the film. All the rest is detail. Consider this your last opportunity not to have this in your mind.

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The Human CentipedeThe Human Centipede (Unrated Director...Human Centipede

The Ewww Factor of the Siamese Triplets

Those looking for gore will ultimately be disappointed, but the psychology and mental torture behind the human centipede goes on.

The shallow level horror is mostly derived by triggering a 'that's gross!' reaction.  A natural aversion to excrement means that many will watch this movie in disgust. 

No feces are seen, but we all know what's happening.

The mechanics are spelled out in a speech delivered by Dr Heiter. The implication is there in the acting, especially in a scene where the action surrounds a defecation.  Our imaginations provide the rest.

That's unpleasant, but worst of all is the notion of the surgery itself.  Not to mention the hopelessness of the positions in which the co-joined people are forced to subsist.

It was the whole psychology of it which rendered me wide-eyed and wondering. It's this factor that has kept the film in my mind ever since. I keep trying to imagine what it would be like for the individuals involved; and how the human mind could survive in such circumstances.

The Human Centipede does encourage such flights of thought. Much of the gore and physical horror takes place away from the camera's eye. The surgery focuses on the doctor. The wounds and joins are hidden behind bandages. Even a beating with a riding crop takes place behind a wall, so only the sounds are heard.

But it's well known that what we can picture in our minds is always much worse than anything that could be shown on the big screen.

The Siamese Triplets is a great horror construct and it's the thing that all of the parodies focus upon. Unfortunately, it's the only truly original thing about this movie.

Unique Idea Let Down by a Weak Storyline

If it wasn't for the Siamese triplets, then this film would have sunk without trace.

It's undoubtedly the case that Tom Six came up with a really shocking, fearsome image in the actual human centipede. 

But that's like finding a nugget of gold in an otherwise barren landscape.

There is nothing else original about this movie. It's a cliche-ridden, terribly scripted narrative. The recycled horror genre tropes are so blindingly obvious, that many commentators thought it was a dark comedy.

Two girls break down in a car, go wandering off and end up seeking help in the first isolated house that they see. It's been done since the first person sought revenge in Count Dracula's castle. It's old, tired and frankly boring.

This path is so well worn, that it's hardly worth rolling our eyes that horror movie women seem universally devoid of common sense.  Lindsay and Jenny, in The Human Centipede, are so banal and stupid that it's difficult to empathize with them.

I spent the first half of the film wryly pointing out, 'Oh look, there's a telephone that you've totally failed to pick up to summon help' (three times), or 'You know, those stiletto heels that you were complaining about in the forest would make wonderful weapons right around now'. 

They annoyed me. Moreover the director and writer annoyed me, as it was obvious that the viewers were being fed any old crap. The point wasn't to tell a story, but to deliver us in the swiftest, laziest way possible to the grand unveiling.

Then, once Dr Heiter had actually done the unspeakable, there was nowhere else for the movie to go. No thought had been put into what could happen next, so it slid once more into predictable, worn-out cliche.

There were plot-holes that made a nonsense of the whole story. For example, a desperate struggle up a set of stairs was ruined by a simple contemplation of how the group usually ascended them. They patently did, as most of the middle part of the film showed them upstairs.

I could go on and on here. I won't. But it is easy to see how the sloppiness of the writing resulted in some unintentional comedic moments. Just because the inconsistencies, stupidity of the characters or blatant lack of common sense was too obvious to maintain the suspense.

Only the very last scene gave any further pause for thought, but only then because he'd returned again to the powerfully disturbing psychological element.

Humorous Human Centipede T-shirts

Buy these shirts if you see the dark comedy in this horror movie.

How Do You React to The Human Centipede?

Part of the popularity of this movie could be down to the fact that there's not yet a consensus on that answer.

It's hard to think of any film that can be satisfactorily compared to The Human Centipede.

Some have lumped it in with the 'torture porn' of Saw and Hostel.  That's a fair comment, but that will disappoint those who watch it expecting the full gore and special effects.

Most of what you see is implied. Even the psychological terror can only be perceived in our own heads, prompted by tearful expressions on the screen.

I've read rants about only sick individuals coming up with this concept; and only warped viewers watching it. There are the usual fears of a real life copy-cat attempting the surgery. Also the fact that Tom Six declared that Mengele was an inspiration for Heiter has given rise to accusations that this movie is disrespectful to Holocaust victims.

The Human Centipede doesn't make pleasant viewing, but it's difficult to align this with reality.  As someone who wrote her dissertation on the Holocaust (and organized the Memorial Day, with its speakers including one of Mengele's actual victims), I saw no hint of that in there. Mengele and Heiter were both immoral and unethical doctors, not coincidentally sharing the same first name, and that's where the similarity ends.

Even the tag-line claim that the surgery is '100% medically accurate' is dubious. No doubt the grafting could be done, but it would certainly be followed by death through shock and dehydration. Or we can take our pick from choking/asphyxiation, malnutrition and so on. 

Could the human centipede survive for years? No, it couldn't.  A doctor has confirmed this (video), pointing out the likelihood that even the tissues would be rejected before the individuals died.

I don't accept that films should not be made because they are too 'gross'.  I find it more disturbing that the movie has been banned in some countries, than anything depicted in the fictional scenes.

Censorship always gives me pause; and I've encountered some commentators poised to turn this movie into a cause célèbre.

Pushing the boundaries of what is shocking keeps not only the horror genre alive, but comedy too. This is why the two are often interchangeable.  Some are convinced that The Human Centipede was meant to be a comedy horror, but I think that's just in the bad writing.

Then there are those who reject the film outright, because it's a great idea surrounded by a truly dismal narrative. And those who call it genius for the same.

The point is that in an age when conformity of opinion appears so popular, there is no collective reaction to the movie. Is it a good film or a bad film?  It's hard to say. But it's causing a lot of debate and maybe therein lies the clue.

If only Tom Six had employed a great screen-writer to run with his idea, it might have been perfection within the horror genre.

Which best describes your opinion of The Human Centipede movie?

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The Human Centipede has Three Sections

Is it too soon to tell the Fate of this film? This is only part one of a trilogy.

The Human Centipede (First Sequence) has been the movie under discussion here, but it is only the lead piece in a story stretching over three parts.

This is the film with all the information. It introduces a new concept to theater goers, but leaves out the blood and gore.  Its sequel has that in abundance, but depicts a mute protagonist. Until 2013, we will not know what's in store for the rear.

There is an obvious allegory between the nature of the films and the three sections of the first human centipede. Maybe no firm opinions could be formed until we've put them all together.

But would you wish to sit through two more after seeing this one?

Buy T-Shirts Inspired by The Human Centipede

Dr Heiter's first experiment was on his three Rottweilers. They died.

The Human Centipede Does Pass the Bechdel Test

I wouldn't know where to begin on a Feminist critique of this movie.  Bizarrely though, it does pass the Bechdel Test.  Which just proves how low the bar has been set on that one!

That test is designed to evaluate the representation of women in any movie.  The first criteria is met as there are two named women.  Lindsay and Jenny are pretty much the stars of the show.

They also have a conversation, which ticks the second box.  Then comes the moment where most films fail - is that dialogue about something other than a man?

Yes!  They discuss a party; and breaking down in a car; and the weather.  There's also non-verbal communication, when they're no longer in a position to vocalize, about Jenny's health.  There's sympathy and reassurance in the same.

So yes, unbelievably, The Human Centipede passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors.

Three questions are asked of each movie. They are so simple that it would be harder to fail than pass. They examine the role of females in that film. Nearly half fail.

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Updated: 05/29/2014, JoHarrington
 
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JoHarrington on 12/16/2012

Yes, me too!

Guest on 12/16/2012

yeah..pretty nasty stuff. I feel sorry for actors who do have to put up with this kind of S**T!.....lolol

JoHarrington on 07/19/2012

I can totally understand that position! These images are STILL in my head.

FatFreddysCat on 07/19/2012

I like to consider myself a horror film fan but this one is a little too "out there" for me. Yikes.

JoHarrington on 05/31/2012

I really know that feeling! I haven't been brave enough to watch the sequel yet!

I've seen the South Park HumancentIPAD now and it's a brilliant antidote to the actual film. :)

Jerrico_Usher on 05/30/2012

When we first saw this video we were freaking out all the way through the "scenes" I mean jumping off the couch in convulsions screaming OMG they went there, and I'm not squeemish but this really shocked the hell out of me! I still can't get those images out of my head- then South Park made an episode about it lol, although it was a great version of a scary movie!

JoHarrington on 05/29/2012

I shall add that in just for you. :)

Ember on 05/29/2012

Also, hilarious needs to be an option on your poll for opinion on the movie.

JoHarrington on 05/29/2012

You are not filling me with confidence about wanting to see it...

Though it might serve to dissipate the mental images that you've just put there!

Ember on 05/29/2012

It is if you want to see the same film again, but 10x as GROSS.

Every scene in the sequel is gross in one sense of the word or another. The 'maniac' in this one is pretty gross, in and of himself...like a sticky, uncomfortable ewness about him...even his breathing begins to feel gross. Ideas presented, things that happen, things that are discussed, scenes, and the movie itself...gross. There. That's a review XD

Oh yeah, and explosive diarrhea that poor erm "stitching" fails to keep contained. That too.


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