Review: The Human Centipede

Directed by: Tom Six
Written by: Tom Six
Starring: Dieter Laser, Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie
Released: 2009 / Genre: Horror / Country: UK/Netherlands/Germany / IMDB
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Discover More: Tom Six’s sequel has been banned in the UK because “harm is likely to be caused to potential viewers”. See our top ten films to have driven people crazy.

The Human Centipede was born out of a conversation about appropriate punishments for convicted paedophiles. The concept is interesting in itself but not wholly cinematic if the drama is singularly based around writer/director Tom Six’s bizarre medical procedure. It is especially uninteresting when the principle characters have the personalities of elongated metameric animals of the Chilapoda class – or in other words a centipede. Apt, and perhaps predictably, their fate lies at the hands of a demented doctor who fancies turning them into…well…a creepy crawly. And that is perhaps the film’s greatest flaw – it is essentially no more than torture, delivered in a supposedly medically accurate, clinical fashion, without the right to appeal. That may be suitable for the sick actions of sexual predators, but not three innocent people.

The film begins with Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser), sitting in his parked car by the roadside, perusing pictures of dogs he has managed to surgically attach together. When a trucker pulls up behind him, gets out and squats in foliage nearby to presumably relieve himself, Heiter takes out a dart gun and shoots the man.

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We are then introduced to two American women – both attractive, both in their early twenties. They are travelling through Germany and decide to go out for the night. When their car gets a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, and they don’t have any signal on their mobile phones to call for help, they set off in search of a phone. Out of the darkness they come across a house. Unfortunately for them, it is Dr. Heiter who answers the door.

He invites them in, pretends to phone the car rental company, and gives them some water lined with the date-rape drug Rohypnol. The girls pass out and find themselves strapped to a bed on awakening. In a laboratory-come-operating theatre, the two girls are joined by a third – a Japanese man who speaks no English. Dr. Heiter then explains his plan. Renowned for his work in Germany on Siamese twins, the crazed doctor has decided that instead of separating conjoined babies he is going to surgically attach human beings together. In a procedure that will connect the three people by their digestive tract, he proposes forming a human centipede. One of the girls briefly escapes but only enrages the doctor further. Unable to free herself of his clutches he tells her that as punishment she will be the middle piece of his creation.

human centipede film, tom six,

The Human Centipede has the distinction of holding your attention simply because the concept of the medical procedure is so fascinating in its total depravity. A little like passing a car accident when the urge to view the carnage overrides compassion. But there’s very little substance to go along with the torture. Perhaps it is fortunate that the two American girls aren’t called on to do too much talking (it isn’t long until both their mouths have been stitched shut to a pair of arseholes) because neither can act. Yet, the lack of character in Tom Six’s victims makes the second half of the film long-winded and directionless. The film is also criminally clichéd – from plot details like the flat tire and the lack of phone signal, to the stereotypical character traits such as the maniacal, crazed surgeon, the inept police, the dumb American scream-queens.

But if Tom Six set out to shock he has no problem achieving just that. Certainly, audiences can’t say they’ve seen anything like this before, and certainly not with this level of detail. Admittedly, the shocking, if predictable, climax leaves the sort of bad taste in the mouth the director was presumably trying to achieve. However, given the context of the original idea, The Human Centipede holds some lasting interest, but since this is never alluded to in the film, it is torture without resolution. The problem I have with torture that is not resolved is I never want to submit myself to it ever again.

Review by Daniel StephensSee all reviews

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    DEZMOND Reply

    it really sounds demented and morbid … although not as morbid as that atrocious THE SERBIAN FILM which all my country is ashamed off 🙁 I have no respect for directors who use art as an excuse to pour morbid ideas out of their sick minds 🙁

  2. Avatar
    CS Reply

    I still cannot believe they have two sequels coming out for the film. While the concept is disturbing it never plays out as chilling on screen as it should. Plus, Laser’s performance is so over the top it is downright comical at times.

  3. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    Dude, I can’t believe you even bothered to watch it! I’m going nowhere near this thing. Thanks for taking one for the team!

  4. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Dezmond: I quick look at the pretentious trailer for part 2 shows just how egotistical and morbidly obscure the writer-director Tom Six is.

    @CS: Interestingly, the first sequel has been banned here in the UK. Laser performance is made worse playing opposite such bland co-stars – he’s like a caricature villain.

    @Rodney: It was one of those films I had to see to find out what all the fuss was about.

  5. Avatar
    Custard Reply

    See i really am NOT ever going to watch this film. Disgusting and pointless.

    Thanks for reviewing it for me Dan

  6. Avatar
    Jaccstev Reply

    The concept alone already sounded really disgusting. I can only read your review cause I don’t think that I can get anywhere near this movie 😀

  7. Avatar
    Scott Reply

    The film isn’t really disturbing, I have to say I thought it was just weird and the story had no real place to go after the initial curiosity!
    Poor film, SAW was better, but again became comical after the first one!

  8. Avatar
    Castor Reply

    Ahahah I guess the appeal of this movie beats all the horrendous reviews it’s been getting. I might just check it out because everyone is talking about how terrible it is.

  9. Avatar
    Colleeng Reply

    I will never watch this. I’m glad it exists only for the hilarious review comedian Daniel Tosh gave it. His review is like 20 minutes long and covers the entire film so I get the whole plot and I get to laugh my ass of at the same time.

  10. Avatar
    Anna Reply

    I’m so intrigued but I don’t know. I know it won’t be ‘worth the plunge’ … I still kind of want to see it. Should I?

    I kind agree with Castor, that there’s a certain allure when everyone is hating on something a lot.

  11. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Anna: It was the intrigue born from everyone talking about this film that made me go out and watch it. As I found out – it is a very bad film with some truly awful acting, a poor script that has every cliche in the book. In that sense it isn’t worth paying to see. I’m glad I borrowed the DVD from a friend.

    …but for pure curiosity I think it is a film worth seeing and that may well be Tom Six’s point. He’s made a film (and a sequel that has been banned in the UK) that is so crazy it has everyone talking about it and wanting to see it. The fact he is a poor filmmaker isn’t much of a consequence.

  12. Avatar
    hoganbcmj Reply

    I have to admit my morbid curiosity had me wondering whether to check this film out. I thought it might be the kind of fun gross-out you watch with a friend and squeal in joyful disgust the whole time. But having read this article and the helpful comments I will save myself the 10 or 20 bucks. I have a pile of unwatched horror DVDs to enjoy instead. Thanks, guys.

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    Mike P Williams (@littlestpicshow) Reply

    I actually gave this 2 stars on reflection. Still a pointlessly disgusting torture film. I was actually surprised by the production value and aesthetic of it (as a creative process, edit, etc),which is what I gave it any credit for. But the acting and premise is just a mess.

    Empire gave this 4 stars in their review, too!

  14. Avatar
    Sir Phobos Reply

    Gotta disagree with you on this one. It’s odd, though, because I can’t defend the cliches. Yea, teenagers stuck out in the middle of nowhere with a broken-down car and no phone reception just happen upon the craziest bastard in the country, etc. I can, however, defend Dieter Laser and the premise of the film.

    Laser stole the show. I don’t think he came off as comical in the way you’re looking at it. For a role like this one, he was pitch-perfect. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near this guy, ever. He was crazy, but he wasn’t frothing at the mouth insane. He was calculating but also unhinged. Great performance.

    As far as “torture,” in the scope of torture porn movies, this isn’t even on the radar. You don’t really get a whole lot of visual detail. It’s all about the idea. I suppose your car accident analogy is pretty accurate, but I don’t look at it as a negative. If you want a substantive horror movie that makes you think about anything, this isn’t going to cut it. But it doesn’t set out to do that, and Markus and I had a great time watching it and being relieved we’re not attached by the anus to another human being. Thank God for small favors and all that.

  15. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Sir Phobos: Haha – yes, the film also made me thankful of small mercies such as not been attached to my best friend’s…ahem.

    But I suppose I couldn’t forgive the cliches because the film was built on the director’s very twisted premise that, although not being overtly graphic, fails to illuminate the Doctor’s perverseness, preferring to drift along to its predictable climax.

    There are some things I found genuinely fascinating about the film but they weren’t necessarily positives, and I do have a problem with torture-based films that offer no hope. I suppose the same production values and cliches and predictable endings on show here transferred to my more favoured revenge genre would see me offer a slightly higher mark.

    I predicted Tom Six likes things extreme – ie. people either love it or hate this film. Therefore I went for my most extreme score possible (I have not as yet got a zero star image!).

    Thanks for the comment Sir Phobos and your interesting thoughts on this film. I do love a bit of film discussion (and at times a fully blown argument!) 🙂

  16. Avatar
    Sir Phobos Reply

    I’m not exactly sure what else would be needed to show the doctor’s perverseness. I mean, he attached people together by their digestive tracts. That’s…pretty perverse. It’s obvious he’s not, uh, normal.

    Sometimes I have the same problems with movies that offer no hope. I think what makes it alright in this instance is the one thing you hate most. The fact that there isn’t any good character development or a believable set-up, for me, allows the movie to wallow in its own morbid curiosities without depressing me. I’m sure there are some well-crafted movies with a dark end that I love, but that’s still my general sense.

    Yea…Tom Six is a strange one. Everything I’ve read about Human Centipede 2 has turned me off completely. The stuff I said about this one making the idea haunt you instead of the gross visuals seems to have been thrown out the window in favor of making you puke in your mouth every five seconds. I’ll pass. OK, maybe I’ll Blockbuster it so I can at least be well-informed, but I won’t be looking forward to it.

    Hey, I love arguments as long as they’re honest!

  17. Avatar
    Sir Phobos Reply

    I just thought of an exception to my well-crafted movies should have hope premise. Darkness with Anna Paquin has a totally depressing ending, but I still love the hell out of the film.

  18. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Sir Phobos: Yeah, it was perverse in nature but seemed more like an extension of the director’s twisted premise than anything with depth. I was hooked by the attraction of seeing what becomes a sort of circus freak show but felt it was being guided by a comical mad scientist that detracted from the true horrors the three people in the centipede were going through. There was therefore no emotional attachment to it and the true perverseness of the doctor’s actions was sullied.

  19. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Sir Phobos: Re: movies with no hope. There is one that stands out for me too – the original Dutch/French version of The Vanishing. But I think that film’s ending works as a great twist, and the build up to it is fascinating.

    Contrary to this, the no hope thing is one reason I really can’t get into the likes of Funny Games or Eden Lake. Funny Games I thought was a terrible film anyway (although I’ve only seen the American remake) while Eden Lake had a lot of quality about it, I just wish it didn’t end with such a downbeat ending. The film is very affecting because of it but I can’t physically put myself through that again knowing what it leads up to.

  20. Avatar
    mark Reply

    Tom Six’s observation that this is kind of an allegorical comment on punishment for pedophiles is like Eli Roth saying Hostel was a comment on the US’ involvement in Iraq.

    Even arguing that it is a statement on the new craze of oral-anal gaping pornography is stretching it a wee bit (no pun intended).

    Wanna see cinematic violence used as a statement on contemporary political issues? Watch The Wild Bunch or Soldier Blue. Hell, even Salo had some merit when compared to this nonsense.

    The only thing torture porn truly reflects is the extent people will go to destroy what Gertude Stein said all art aspired to (cinema).

    Pushing the envelope does not necessarily equate to making an artistic statement. If it did, the next generation of film school doctorates would be churning out 120 page theses on the cultural merits of Porkies (when maybe only 4-5 page documents would suffice).

    Besides, if you are going to do an arse to mouth movie, why have the characters wear underpants?

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