Tuesday, November 19, 2013

WINTER OF DISCONTENT: The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

The first three paragraphs of this review are pure supposition, and The Agitation of the Mind accepts no responsibility for having to tell lawyers to Foxtrot Oscar.

The scene: the tersely named Tom Six (who sounds like he ought to be a boy superhero rather than a director with an unhealthy track record in button-pushing) is talking to a potential backer about this little project he wants to make. A horror film.

“Okay, so, it’s called ‘Human Centipede’ and it’s about a mad scientist—” (the potential backer, let’s call him Fred so that I don’t have to keep typing potential backer, nods and smiles: mad scientists, always a crowd pleaser) “—who kidnaps these two beautiful American girls who are travelling through Europe—” (Fred nods and smiles: beautiful girls, always a crowd pleaser; Americans, good for the wider market) “—and uses them in a, ah, how shall we say, Fred, a medical experiment. Can I get you another drink?” (Fred nods and offers his glass, but he seems a little dubious now. Medical experiments? This might be a box office turn-off.) “Fred, no worries, ja? This is experiment is, ah, kind of like in the well-received French film ‘Martyrs’. Controversial, sure – disturbing, sure – but there is a social point to the film, as well as being tense and exciting and, here’s the thing, cheap to make.” (Fred, glass refreshed, sips and nods and asks a question about the title.) “Ah, but there is the genius of the film. The title conjures all sorts of horrible images. The poster will conjure more horrible images. And the film itself, Fred … well, nobody can complain they were sickened or disgusted or they didn’t know what they were getting into. The title will build the buzz, generated the word of mouth, before the film’s even been released. Kind of like what happened with the hugely profitable American film ‘Snakes on a Plane’. This film will have a legion of fanboys while we’re still shooting. Did I mention how cheap it will be to make?”

Waiting for the cheque to clear and having found a cast crazy enough to sign on the dotted line, the Six-meister starts giving some thought to his magnum opus’s central conceit – its main selling point, its self-powering controversy-generator: mad scientist stitches three people together anus-to-mouth to create a … well, the clue’s in the title. There’s a funky idea he’s kicking about that has to do with nutcase scientist bloke trying to train the centipede. He’s got a finale mind involving a couple of cops and some shooting. All of a sudden it dawns on him: he needs an extra hour’s worth of material to drag this mo’fo’ to the hour and a half mark. He doesn’t think that Fred and the other backers are going to be too happy about ponying up for a 30 minute short …

Which is my best guess as to how the world was gifted with Tom Six’s blackly comic and politically insightful satire grubby little B-movie ‘The Human Centipede (First Sequence)’, the parenthetical part of the title thumbing its nose at you with the promise of even more venality come the sequel. The film opens with a German trucker pulling over and hoofing it into the woods to take a dump. He’s followed by Dr Heiter (Dieter Laser), who shoots him with a tranq dart. Later, the dude is killed off and buried (he’s “not the right match”). Next up, we have two helium voiced American girls driving through Germany to a gig (as you do), and getting first of all lost and then stranded after a blow out. Say hello to Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie), who quarrel whilst driving, quarrel whilst sitting helplessly in their car awaiting the arrival of a knight in shining armour, and cease quarreling and sit in uncomfortable silence, doors locked and windows wound up, as they’re approach not by a knight in shining armour but an obese pervert who thinks he recognises them from a porno and whose chat up technique consists of saying “I’ll fuck you good and hard” and making unsubtle movements of the tongue. Finally they decide to walk through the woods in the hope of finding a house where they can use a phone. And thus our heroines arrive at chez Heiter and a twenty minutes of padding segues into … well, another twenty minutes of padding.

It’s impossible to approach ‘The Human Centipede’ and not know what fate lies in store for Lindsay and Jenny. Even when it was first released, the publicity machine had built up enough steam that everyone knew about the bumhole/cakehole surgery business. Hence the next twenty minutes or so, which detail the capture of another subject, Japanese tourist Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura), and Lindsay’s attempts to escape, her flight hampered by a drugged and somnolent Jenny, are leached of tension since it’s a foregone conclusion that said attempts will fail.

Six then proceeds to pull his punches with the surgery, and even the inevitable scenes of Katsuro, Lindsay and Jenny stitched together in an unpleasantly intimate manner aren’t actually as queasy as you’d think. For all that Heiter makes a big deal about the three of them sharing one digestive system, the horrible implications of this are more suggested than shown. Granted, the scene in question is definitely one to fast forward through if you’re eating, but it’s nothing compared to the “circle of shit” sequence in ‘Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom’, or Divine’s caprophagous moment of infamy in ‘Pink Flamingos’.

This isn’t to say that ‘The Human Centipede’ is a total waste of potential: Lindsay stumbling on a memorial in Heiter’s garden to “mein leibe 3-hund” is an effective little scene; Heiter’s prissily self-important diction as he gives a medical lecture to his trio of screaming subjects is funnier than it has any right to be; and the nastily deliberate final shot gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “stuck in the middle”. But such moments are offset by the horrible stereotyping of Katsuro, the last act introduction of a pair of detectives so ploddingly inept that your average giallo copper looks like Inspector Morse by comparison, and the total lack of any form of emotional investment in the characters or the story. Put simply, ‘The Human Centipede (First Sequence)’ exists purely to present the hardcore horror fan with a, well, human centipede. How it gets there is boilerplate, the characters it uses are ciphers and for all its provocation the end result struggles to keep its head above the undertow of banality. 

The sequel, however … well, that’s another story.


Ellen Brody Rocks! said...

So will there be a write up on Full sequence?

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