In Joe Dante's 1993 film Matinee, a love letter to atomic-age horror films and their filmmakers, there is a scene where a group of men are protesting a monster flick coming to the local bijou. Their intentions are to warn the townsfolk — especially the kids — about the shocking and crassly exploitative violence in the movie. Later in Dante's film, it is revealed that the protesters are, in fact, hired by the film's creator, Lawrence Woolsey.
Like the fictional Woolsey, Tom Six is the latest director to create a film that enters the mainstream clubhouse with an infamous reputation proceeding it. That film is The Human Centipede (First Sequence), and it's making headlines on film-geek sites and in hipster cycles because of its "100 percent medically accurate" approach to body horror, or at least that's what the movie's ads proclaim.
For those who haven't heard of The Human Centipede, its plot is fairly simple, particularly unappetizing, and likely to elicit grimaces and guffaws at the same time: A batshit ex-surgeon sews three people together from rectum to mouth, rectum to mouth, rectum to mouth in order to create a human centipede.
Many critics have praised the film's audacity while others have derided the film's temerity. Many have, and will, see the film just to challenge their own emotional and intestinal fortitude. In short, the movie promises a grindhouse gross-out that is the cinematic equivalent of the I-double-dog-dare-ya viral sensation 2 Girls, 1 Cup.
The plot is pretty basic torture porn stuff. On a dark and stormy night, two American tourists (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie) get a flat tire on an otherwise empty road. They then make the unwise decision to stop by a nearby house for help. The homeowner, Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser), looks like a cross between Jeremy Irons and Christopher Walken, while his mannerisms echo Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. The doc allows them inside. Bad things happen.
Heiter dopes up the gals and ties them and a trucker he captured earlier to beds in a makeshift hospital ward in his cellar. At this point, the film begins to get a little bloodcurdling. Once the doc lethally injects the trucker because he is "not a right tissue match," the promise of a grueling peek-between-the-fingers horror movie builds.
The next day, the girls wake to a new guest, a Japanese tourist, and a power-point presentation by Doc Heiter. As the doc graphically details his diabolical plans, the tourist yells a lot, the girls cry a lot, and the film begins an unpleasant trip down Torture Porn Road. Heiter pulls teeth, slices open skin, and demands that the members of the centipede "feed" each other and fetch his paper. Really?
Much like the freak shows of yore, simply being able to look at this so-called human centipede is reason enough to want to watch the film. When this creation is finally unveiled, you can practically see the red curtain slowly being pulled back — after you've given your dollar, that is. But just like a sideshow act promising an odd, scary, and hideous good time, The Human Centipede ultimately leaves the paying customer with a case of buyer's remorse after he realizes he blew his money to gawk at three people daisy-chained to each other's gastro-intestinal tract and nothing more.
Director Tom Six never gives moviegoers any reason to care about these victims beyond the fact that they are being tortured. As a result, it's impossible for the film to be emotionally engaging once it embraces the cold, clinical aesthetics of David Cronenberg (Videodrome, Dead Ringers, History Of Violence) and the grueling torture moments of a Takashi Miike film (Audition, Ichi the Killer). Unfortunately, Six's over reliance on his stomach-curdling concept results in a film that may be shocking and nauseating, but, ultimately, boring.