CAPSULE: THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (FIRST SEQUENCE) (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Tom Six

FEATURING: Dieter Laser, Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie, Akihiro Kitamura

PLOT: A mad doctor turns three people into a human centipede.

Still from Human Centipede (First Sequence)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Not weird, just gross.

COMMENTS:  There’s something in Hollywood that’s called a “high concept.”  It doesn’t mean what you probably think it means.  It refers to a plot hook that is so simple it can be compellingly summarized in a single sentence, like “a mad doctor turns three people into a human centipede.”  People will buy tickets to see the picture based on that easily digestible premise, so filmmakers can fill the remainder of the movie with whatever supporting crap they need to, just so long as it pads the film out to feature length.  The Human Centipede is a perfect example of a high concept horror film.  People are seduced into buying a ticket by the idea of seeing a human centipede, never minding the fact that they won’t see anything in the movie they didn’t already imagine when they heard the one sentence summary.  After watching the two minute trailer, it seemed like I knew everything that was going to happen in the film, so I was curious to see how director Tom Six would fill up the remaining 88 minutes.   The results of my study follow.  (Note: there aren’t really any spoilers in the following description, as there’s not enough plot to spoil).

  • HORROR MOVIE SETUP WE’VE SEEN 1,000 TIMES BEFORE:  Two hot, ditzy American tourists in Holland put on too much eye makeup, sensing that it will make them look cool, sexy and vulnerable when it smears in the rain after they’re caught in a downpour when their car breaks down late at night in a spooky woods and they have to walk to an isolated ranch-style home where a doctor who looks like a Dutch Christopher Walken with acne scars serves them a drugged drink.  There is actually one valuable lesson to be learned in this segment: if you’re on a deserted road and find you have to rush into the woods to use the bathroom, don’t do your business right in front of the parked car of the only homicidal maniac to be found in a twenty five kilometer radius. 20 minutes.
  • RECOGNITION OF THE HORROR THAT’S ABOUT TO BEFALL THEM:  The dastardly villain proves he’s willing to go to any lengths in his villainy.  Recapitulating the trailer in case the girls didn’t see it on YouTube, he then shows his helpless victims a helpful slideshow of the horrors he’s about to inflict upon them.  15 minutes.
  • FALSE HOPE 1: THE HEROINE ESCAPES!:  Realizing that there’s still a lot of time to fill up, the villain turns his back for a split second to allow the heroine to escape.  The villain gets more character development when he proves his dastardliness by refusing to let the girl go, even though she pleads with him.  Realizing there’s still a lot of time to fill up, the heroine relies on her ditziness and refuses to do the one sane thing anyone in her situation would do: run away as fast as possible and come back later with help for her friends.  10 minutes.
  • THE HORROR ABOUT TO BEFALL THEM BEFALLS THEM: Surgical tooth removal and buttock-flap creation, not as grisly as you might imagine.  Spooky music.  The human centipede is revealed!  5 minutes.
  • THE ACTUAL HORROR OF THE HORROR THAT BEFELL THEM DAWNS ON THEM: The implications of life as a human centipede are fully explored.  The evil doctor trains the human centipede to walk, fetch the morning paper, and eat from a dog bowl.  The story briefly and distastefully touches upon the elimination issue that was probably the first thing that came to your mind when you heard the premise.  The two girls who make up the second and third segments never fully adjust to life as a human centipede; just as they never stopped babbling in their pre-human centipede days, they never stop sobbing for the rest of the movie.  Ladies, I’m sure that daily life as a human centipede is hard, but at some point you just have to suck it up and stop whining.  The fact that their sobs are muffled by the buttocks of the segment ahead of them really doesn’t make it any less annoying.  15 minutes.

The movie has now achieved its purpose, but there’s still 25 minutes to fill.  So we get:

  • FALSE HOPE 2: THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE ESCAPES!:  The authorities start sniffing around to investigate all the mysterious disappearances.  This sets up a hope that everything will turn out alright.  This is intended to create suspense.  The human centipede takes advantage of the situation and escapes, sobbing all the while!  The human centipede briefly gets the upper hand but chivalrously decides not to take the doctor’s life or keep the precious weapon it found.  15 minutes.
  • CLIMAX:  The detectives forget their detective training, thus risking their lives, at crucial moments.  The saga of the human centipede takes an unexpected turn.  Dumb, but unexpected.  The ending is supposed to be a downer, but really, the authorities will arrive in a few hours, and how hard can human centipede reversal surgery actually be? 10 minutes.

So, the answer to the question of how director Tom Six would pad the film to fill up the extra 88 minutes of screentime turns out to be an ingenious and efficient one: he relies on tried and true horror movie clichés, trusting that we’ll never catch on because this time, it’s a human centipede playing out the predictable formula.  So it’s different, see?

The full movie is no improvement on the trailer, but it is 45 times longer.  Now that I think back on it, the 2 minute trailer may have been padded, too.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…the bastard child of Takashi Miike and David Cronenberg – a deeply disturbing and shockingly original piece of work… things get weird.  Really weird.”–Todd Brown, Twitch (contemporaneous)

7 thoughts on “CAPSULE: THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (FIRST SEQUENCE) (2009)”

  1. Thanks for the review!! I was actually REALLY wanting someone else to watch this so they could tell me about it because I knew I would NEVER see it….I hope he at least gave them knee pads!

  2. Jenni: yes, as you can see in the still, he gave them knee pads (or at least bandages). I never understood the need for the mad doctor to specifically operate on the proto-centipedes knees. I suspect it’s because the actors demanded padding and they needed an explanation for why their knees were wrapped up.

  3. This movie was BRILLIANT!!
    Shame on you guys for being so “Hollywood”.
    I found it refreshing to too an NEW take on horror.
    Most of the movies you deemed “great” in the horror genre, SUCK and are predictable as well as boring.
    I hope people stop becoming sheeple one day.
    Or maybe that should be the next movie.

  4. This movie was BRILLIANT!!

    Sometimes I get the impression that torture porn aficionados aren’t the most intelligent demographic out there.

  5. the very fact you claim the human centipede is gross shows you either didn’t watch it or you’re 5 years old. I was disappointed by how not-at-all-gross it was. There’s more gore in a Disney film.
    It was not bad though.

    1. Very perceptive, alex. I was indeed 5 years old when I reviewed Human Centipede. In that immature state, I thought the idea of sewing one person’s mouth onto another person’s anus was gross. Now that I’m 6, I realize the only things that are truly gross are girls… and, of course, the McRib sandwich.

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