It's been almost 24 hours since I found my seat at Cinema 21 to take in Tom Six's The Human Centipede:The First Segment. And, truth be told, I this was a tough review to write. If you take away the plot's McGuffiin, all that's left is a very standard horror film that we've all seen many times before. Yet, some beautiful camera work by Six and a terrific performance transcends the simplistic script and makes this a riveting film.
The plot, for the few of you who haven't heard about this movie, might be a bit of a spoiler. But knowing what's coming isn't an impediment to this movie. In fact, it's what gets you into the theater.
The film starts out with a creepy Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser) kidnapping a trucker. Next, we meet Lindsey and Jenny (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie), two American tourists in Germany looking for a place to party. Instead, they get very lost and stumble into the isolate home of, you guessed it, Dr. Heiter. They are drugged and wake up strapped to hospital beds, with the truck driver briefly beside them.
The trucker is replaced with Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura), a Japanese tourist, who is a tissue match with the girls. At this point, Dr. Heiter explains that he is a world renowned surgeon, who specialized in the separation of conjoined twins. But now, he wants to create a masterpiece, linking the three "patients" via the gastrointestinal tract into one being, the human centipede.
Yep, Heiter is planning to connect the three from anus to mouth. You read that right. And he does. By the midpoint of the movie, the three victims are seen on screen only as the human centipede, with Katsuro screaming at the doctor in subtitled Japanese and the girls only able to grunt. And yep, the film goes there, as Heiter stands above Katsuro screaming "Feed her! Feed her!!!"
(Hey, it's in the trailer, so I feel free to mention it here. If the film makers spoil their own movie, it's open game in my books.)
Of course, a couple of complications arise, involving an infection and the arrival of two policemen looking for the girls. This allows the three victims make a desperate attempt to escape during the confusion. But they can't outrun Heiter on their hands and knees.
To director Tom Six's credit, the subject matter is not presented in a graphic fashion. Six relies on suggestion and his actors to express the horrors they are subjected to, making their plight more horrific than if conveyed through a couple of gross out moment. The horror is not played out as torture porn, but more like the insanity of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with a tone just as bleak.
Adding to the film's effectiveness is Six's decision to play the movie straight, without any trace of humor or parody. He allows the girls to be the most annoying Americans possible, without spilling over into parody, then wrenches your sympathy for their plight from you with a few simple physical gestures from them. And the last scene of the film is one of the most haunting I've seen in a long time. With it, Six sends the audience out of the theater with no reprieve, no happy thoughts or silly jump scares to let them off the hook. It's a bleak film up to the last second.
Casting Laser as Heiter was film maker's biggest coup. Laser's pronounced facial features, his skin etched with a multitude of wrinkles, makes him oddly fascinated to watch. And his over the top performance doesn't sink into campiness, but comes off as an arrogance befitting the character. He tells his victims of his plans, detailing the surgery for them, not to torture them, but to share with them his "genius." After the surgery, he's as gleeful as a child with a new toy that gradually grows tiresome. He's just perfect in the role.
Heiter's house is used like a character, or more likely, an extension of it's owner. Cold and antiseptic in atmosphere, the winding halls leading nowhere, bizarre angles and the artwork hinting at Heiter's surgical specialty make it a sterile madhouse, reflecting the mindset of the occupant. Rarely has such a clean, well lit set come across so dark.
For their limited roles, the three victims play their part well. The police intervention is believably unheroic, just a couple of cops who stumble into a situation beyond their imagination. Although one interaction between Heiter and the police is glaringly false, the conclusion is well timed and rather surprising.
Six has said a second film is on the way. Given the ending, I'm not sure where he'll take the series, but I'm interested in following his mad little journey. I guess that's the best recommendation I can give this movie. I might not want to see The First Segment again, but I can't wait to see what nightmares Six conjures up in the second part.