Human Centipede is a film that many probably know by its reputation, rather than having actually seen it. For those who’ve done neither, the film follows two young American tourists who are kidnapped by a deranged doctor (after their car breaks down, no less) and stitched together to create (wait for it…) a human centipede. The film itself benefits from a unique premise, but in its execution The Human Centipede often relies on tired tricks of the trade to move the depraved plot along. Although the film is rife with cliches, it does enough to make the premise unique and to own its twisted nature.
There is no better example in The Human Centipede than the film’s antagonist, an extension of the horror archetypal mad scientist. While Dieter Laser’s performance as Dr. Heiter could easily be read as a tired and recycled play off of the mad scientists that have come before him, he brings a sense of history to the performance. He’s not content to be just another name in a long list of villains, but he does subtly acknowledge the likes of Dr. Frankenstein and Herbert West. What makes Dr. Heiter such a powerful force in the movie, besides the name that sounds strikingly similar to Hitler’s, is the dichotomy of the character. In one instant, he’ll be almost eerily calm, but in the next instant, he’ll let loose a roar that you’d never imagine. This type of tension and Laser’s ability to portray such polar opposites within the same character, make for an impressive villain in a film that is plagued by the poor acting of its two female leads. However, I think the real charm of the performance is its contentment in its depravity. At no point during the film does the film make excuses for Dr. Heiter’s actions. It doesn’t even try to explain them. While this might turn some people off, it suits the film. After all, can anyone really come up with a suitable explanation for why a man would want to sew three people together? Human Centipede doesn’t delve into any pop psychology to try to rationalize this bizarre desire. This only makes Heiter’s villainy more unsettling and more absolute.
Still, Human Centipede has more to offer than Laser’s chilling performance. While the film relies on far too many cliches to set up the story, once Heiter has his victims, the film employs a rare type of subtlety that tends to be lost on most horror films. It sounds like a bizarre thing to say about a film that is notorious for its grotesque content, but the fact of the matter is considering the film’s graphic nature, it could have been handled in an almost exploitative way. Instead, Human Centipede is considerably tame. That’s not to say that its instances of violence aren’t shocking or sickening. if the main appeal of the movie is the gross-out factor, I’m sure most people will not be disappointed, but if violence is the main motivation, some folks are sure to take issue with the film’s execution. The violence is few and far between, but that’s part of what makes it so effective. Furthermore, director Tom Six’s dedication to medical accuracy isn’t limited to the actual human centipede aspect of the film. There are other scenes that demonstrate that same passion for the reality of the violent act. It’s at once horrifying, but simultaneously, powerful in its ability to elicit disgust.
All in all, Human Centipede can best be described as a mix bag of tricks. While its set-up is almost painfully tired, the film’s slow and deliberate pay off makes it well worth the time it takes to establish itself. Deiter Laser’s performance is one of the main motivations for seeing the film, rather than its premise, but a casual interest in either will surely be enough to keep any true horror fan happy.