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The Human Centipede

Saturday 17 July 2010, by Abla Kandalaft

A doctor connects three people arse to mouth. A doctor connects three people arse to mouth. If I read that somewhere I think my initial reaction would be to laugh. I watched the film and didn’t laugh. One thing’s for sure, it’s not for the faint-hearted. Technically less torture-heavy than, say, the Saw franchise, I found it more stomach churning. It left me unsure whether I liked it or not. Where to begin?

The premise is straightforward: somewhere in Germany, two hapless American girls and one Japanese guy are kidnapped by a slow-speaking German surgeon who attempts to create a human centipede by interlocking their bodies. I’ll come to the intricacies of what that involved later.

First the plot.

After a pretty pointless prologue, the first few sequences and dialogues are more or less copied and pasted from any teen horror you’d care to name. Said two American girls, collegy-types, chat then drive then chat some more and finally break down in the middle of the night, in the middle of the woods, in Europe, with only a creepy, non English-speaker to ask for help. So far, so Hostel.

(I’m assuming whoever’s reading this has either seen it or has no intention of ever seeing it, so on with the details). They obviously decide to rummage around and stumble upon a house. A man lets them in, pretends to call for help, drugs them and next thing they know, they’re lying strapped to a bed in a makeshift hospital in the man’s basement, along with a Japanese man. From then on it’s a (sometimes painfully) slow decent into hell as their captor, a doctor apparently experienced at separating conjoined twins, soldiers through with his plans.

Prior to watching the film, a vague idea of what that entailed crossed my mind: one human is kept alive and intact and the limbs of the butchered others are attached to it haphazardly and I was faintly amused, imagining this person running about, inappropriate limbs flailing in all eight different directions.

But I hadn’t obviously thought this through, like director Tom Six had; if it is to resemble a centipede then the extra arms and legs have to function and help carry the main body forward. Thus the remaining human components have to be alive. And so arses are attached to mouths so that a sort of common digestive tract is maintained and that’s about all the detail I am able to explain, before it gets more technical and frankly disgusting. People on various forums are seriously debating the medical pitfalls, complexities and potential ways to improve this system and make the centipede, what? Foolproof? Anyway, the fill allows for the most surreal of conversations and debates (“the middle girl should grab a blunt instrument and hack the corpses on either side of her”, “he should have gone beyond the kneecaps and broken their hips so the centipede has to crawl on its arms”….).

The main issue to me was: IS IT SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY?

I have seen it and still can’t answer that. First viewing, it isn’t funny. Why? The idea is revolting, it is carried through, the actors portray their characters realistically (whatever you may think of their acting abilities) oscillating between agony, mental anguish and total despair, there are no obvious jokes, the ending is horrendous and depressing. And yet…

Thinking about it later (I lacked the stomach to re-watch it): a doctor connects three people arse to mouth. The tag line is “100% Medically Accurate”. It’s obviously a big fat joke. Hilarious. The cliché dialogue. Japanese man shouting the most random things. The centipede picking up a newspaper. Whilst watching it, these elements were part and parcel of the grim scenario. Reading up on them in film forums and articles a few hours later; I found myself actually laughing out loud. Picked apart, these moments have the potential to be hilarious. I guess the people who laughed throughout did in the same way they would at some guy tripping up in the street or at the public humiliation of a contestant on a talent show. From a certain angle, hilarious, from another, cringe worthy and painful. Or it’s just that the plot involves a doctor connecting three people arse to mouth. You have to laugh.

However, on the whole I personally felt the film was too serious in tone and the performances too toned down for it to be really tongue in cheek. Actually the film certainly puts a new twist in that saying. An extra dose of humour would have been the spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down, so to speak. That and 45 min taken out would have made it more powerful. The last part drags on for no apparent reason. Overall, the acting was good and believable, maybe except the first couple of scenes but that was due to the clunky dialogue. Mmmh still unsure what to conclude otherwise…

Dir: Tom Six, 2009

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