The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009) – By Cary Conley

This film has been creating quite a stir since its initial release a few months ago. Alternately reviled as grossly depraved and hailed as totally original horror, Roger Ebert famously gave this film no stars, which is apparently different than getting zero stars, stating that the film "is what it is and occupies a world where the stars don’t shine." Even test audiences walked out during some of the most controversial scenes. So obviously, I needed to see what this film was all about….

Dr. Heiter is a famous German surgeon whose specialty is separating conjoined twins. But he is also a very strange man, choosing to isolate himself from society by living deep in the woods in a gorgeous house complete with a fully functional operating room in the basement. He hates people and sees no real need for them, instead living alone and happy with his three Rottweilers. At some point, Dr. Heiter’s mind has somehow slipped into insanity–we never learn why or how–and he decides that since he’s spent his life separating things, he would now like to experiment with putting things together. He develops a "centipede" theory whereby he will sew living creatures together mouth-to-anus, allowing the first creature to eat normally and the others to be fed by…well, you probably get the picture. His first experiment is with his own dogs. It is successful and he creates his "sweet 3-dog," which eventually dies, leaving the doctor saddened but with greater determination to continue his experimentation–this time on humans.

Two young American ladies and a Japanese man are on vacation in Germany and fall into Dr. Heiter’s clutches. He performs the surgery and begins to train them as his new "pet," much like you would a dog. He keeps them is a specially elongated cage and takes them out for walks and training each day. Eventually, the police arrive at his door to investigate some missing persons cases that seem to have originated in the area of the doctor’s abode. As the investigation continues, the detectives’ suspicions that Dr. Heiter may have something to do with the disappearances grow.

Can the police solve the puzzle and rescue the "human centipede"? Will the people die before they are discovered? Or will Dr. Heiter’s nefarious plan be successful and will he continue his horrific experiments? I don’t want to ruin all the fun, so I won’t answer these questions for you–you’ll just have to watch the film yourself.

Now horror movies are pretty notorious for asking their audiences to suspend their beliefs, but I have to say the The Human Centipede asks this and much more from the audience. While the way the doctor captures his victims is reasonable–they accidentally stumble into his house and when they ask for help, he slips them a roofie before confining them to his operating theater–anyone with any basic knowledge about biology will be hard-pressed to believe that this otherwise brilliant medical doctor believes he can sustain life by having them ingest others’ waste. Disregarding the hygienic aspects and the obvious introduction of harmful bacteria into the second and third sections of the centipede, no one would be able to live on waste alone–that’s why it’s called "waste." This concept is just flawed from the beginning, therefore it makes it difficult for the viewer to take it seriously. I found myself rolling my eyes on more than one occasion.

That being said, maybe it’s a good thing that the concept is so ridiculous. In a way, that’s what makes the film watchable at all. The concept is so disgusting that if the viewer didn’t realize how crazy it was, it would be exceedingly difficult to watch.

The film itself is well-executed and quite professional. The acting is generally very good. The three people who compose the human centipede all do a realistic job of reacting to what they think must be their personal hell, and Dieter Laser as Dr. Heiter is suitably creepy. The two cops that are investigating the missing persons cases aren’t great, but they are minor characters until the very end, so that can be overlooked. The special effects are also very good and surprisingly tame for a film with such a lurid concept and title. There are some surgical scenes but they are fairly brief. We also see some stabbings and gunshot wounds, so while the film is bloody, it doesn’t go over-the-top in its use of violence. Obviously, the hardest scenes to watch involve the actual movement and training of the human centipede. The close-ups of the girls’ mouths attached to anuses is truly nasty, even if we are spared the graphic details thanks to surgical bandages. The idea is more than enough, thank you. The scenes depicting the doctor training his new "pet" smack of domination and submission and are hard to watch both because of this obvious parallel (the good doctor uses a riding crop to aid his training and feeds the head of the centipede from a dog dish) as well as the idea of how much pain these people must be in as they are forced to move in concert even as their wounds are still healing.

But perhaps the single scene that defines this film–and most likely the scene that has generated the most controversy–is when the Japanese man, who is the head of the centipede, realizes his bowels are about to move. While I must commend the director for showing some restraint and not going for the total gross-out on this one–yes, it could have been much worse–the mere idea of what is happening is enough. But add the fact that the acting is very good and quite realistic in this scene and you have one hysterical, over-the-top set-piece. With the Japanese tourist praying not to "go" and the good doctor standing over his creation in orgasmic ecstasy screaming, "Yes, yes…feed the others, feed the others!" and the girls’ eyes going wide when the "feeding" begins, I found this scene to be both outrageous and oddly (darkly) humorous, almost pushing it into Troma territory.

Unfortunately, the film is played straight and deadly serious. I think it would have been better (and better-received) if it had used Troma’s "bad-taste-is-really-funny" philosophy instead of playing it straight. There really is almost no humor in the film. It also dragged in places and was surprisingly slow in parts, even for a gross-out film such as this.

Ultimately, I can’t recommend the film except for fans of extreme cinema (and most will be disappointed as the concept is sicker than the actual depiction) and possibly those who are just interested in the buzz the film has generated. The film itself must have made enough money to be successful as the director is in post-production of the sequel, The Human Centipede: Full Sequence, to be released sometime in 2011. I also find it interesting that this film is readily available at both Wal-Mart as well as many RedBox locations, although I hear that the RedBox version is a cut version, having removed the "feeding" sequence. I assume the Wal-Mart version is uncut, but I am unsure as I viewed this from Netflix streaming in the apparently uncut form.