Eric D. Snider

The Human Centipede

Movie Review

The Human Centipede

by Eric D. Snider

Grade: B-

Released: April 30, 2010


Directed by:


You are familiar with the type of horror movie in which attractive young people get lost in a rural area and seek refuge at the only house they can find, where they learn, to their great dismay, that the occupants are homicidal maniacs. That is the template. Only the details -- the crazies' motives and methods; which, if any, of the attractive young people get to survive; etc. -- differ from film to film.

"The Human Centipede" is one of these movies. It has become infamous for its ideas, which are weird and gross, but don't be misled. It's not ultra-violent. It's not "torture porn." There's more pain and suffering in any of the "Saw" or "Hostel" movies than in this. "The Human Centipede" is basically an unremarkable innocents-captured-by-maniac thriller that happens to have one perverse idea as its central gimmick.

That one idea is pretty gross, though. We'll get to that in a minute.

Two impossibly stupid American girls, Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie), are vacationing in Germany. One night, while looking for a trendy dance club they've heard about, their rental car gets a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. Their only option is to walk through the thick forest, in the rain, in search of help. The viewer is reminded of all the horrible things that have happened in German forests, as documented by the Brothers Grimm. But instead of finding a gingerbread house occupied by a witch, Lindsay and Jenny find an ordinary ranch-style home occupied by Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser).

Unlike most of the lunatics in these stories, Dr. Heiter makes no attempt to conceal his creepiness. "I don't like human beings," he says, matter-of-factly. (Speaking in my capacity as a human being, I'd say the feeling is mutual.) Soon enough, the girls are captive, and Dr. Heiter is using an overhead projector and diagrams to explain his plan.

Are you ready?

Alt text

Dr. Heiter wants to turn the two girls and a third victim into a human centipede. Person B's mouth will be surgically attached to Person A's anus, and Person C's mouth will be surgically attached to Person B's anus. You do not want to be Person B. Everyone's knee ligaments will be severed so they can't stand up, only crawl. One of Dr. Heiter's helpful drawings is reproduced here.

Now, why Dr. Heiter wants to do this is beside the point. Is there a reason he could give that would make you say, "Oh, sure, that makes sense"? He's an old-fashioned mad scientist, with a sterile, well-lit operating room in his basement. His methods are precise. He is not a slasher or torturer. When he finds it necessary to reject a centipede candidate, he kills the person via lethal injection. He uses anesthesia during the surgeries. He doesn't wallow in pain, nor does the movie.

Well, except for that one central idea, which is painful, humiliating, and absurd to look at. It's also disgusting, though thankfully the particulars of that are not shown in great detail. (Considering the subject matter, the film is actually pretty restrained.) Once you get used to the image, the movie stops being shocking. In fact, while the film's marketing and word-of-mouth campaigns have touted its gross-out factor -- see this movie if you dare!, that sort of thing -- I don't get the impression that that's what the filmmaker, Dutch writer/director Tom Six, was going for. If that were his intent, he'd have amped up the surgical gore, the scenes of torment, the cruelty.

No, it seems to me that "The Human Centipede" was meant to be a horror story about young people held captive by a lunatic -- and perhaps even a parody of such stories. Lindsay and Ashley are one-dimensionally dim, and the actresses who play them are not, shall we say, gifted in the dramatic arts. (That's one thing that helps the movie go down more smoothly: The acting is so bad that you never really believe they're in danger or pain.) The central idea is ludicrous, like an over-the-top spoof of the crazy things mad scientists used to do in old B-movies (keeping severed heads alive in jars, attaching animal parts to humans, etc.), only portrayed more realistically. When Dr. Heiter carries his third unconscious victim (Akihiro Kitamura) into the house, there's still a tranquilizer dart sticking out of the guy's rear end. And there's the doctor's flat refusal to even pretend not to be insane, even when trying to lure victims. All of that is funny, right? Maybe funny on purpose? Maybe?

I don't know anything about the German actor Dieter Laser, except that he's quite effective as Dr. Heiter. His severe face is composed entirely of sharp angles and treacherous valleys, and his demeanor seems to match. The character's voice -- I hope that's not Laser's normal speaking voice -- is guttural and otherworldly. It could be the voice of Satan himself, if Satan is German. (Who am I kidding? Of course he's German.)

Six achieves a fair amount of suspense with the standard trying-to-escape scenes, but the whole enterprise runs out of steam before it's done. I mean, once you've made a human centipede, what else is there to do? Films of this genre tend to have one-note plots -- get captured; try to escape -- and I don't think the, uh, unique elements of this one entirely compensate for the lack of originality elsewhere. Still, there is some measure of skill on display, and I'm not just saying that because I'm afraid Tom Six and Dieter Laser will come to my house and make me into an aberration, although I am somewhat afraid of that.

Grade: B-

Not rated, probably R for a lot of casual nudity, some very strong violence, disturbing images, profanity

1 hr., 32 min.

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This item has 8 comments

  1. LimaBrain says:

    I honestly think that the central premise of this movie qualifies as brain rape for many people - regardless of its execution, it's so much more gross and humiliating than any of the jaw-snapping, spine-shanking, eye-gouging nonsense of most horror movies. I was messed up for a good week after hearing about it.

    But Tom Six is so ridiculously good-natured and audacious and clearly only going for the premise because he could (if you watch the interviews he really doesn't seem to be going for shock value) and the inherent illogic of Laser's plans and Trope-iness of the movie eventually turns it into other horror movies - unpleasant, yes, but fine to exist as long as I don't have to watch them. Still, this is the first movie I have heard of where the mere idea that somebody's mind could go there messed me up for a good length of time. I can't imagine taking it as lightly right after watching it as you have, mainly since the premise comes so thoroughly out of left field and couldn't have been anticipated.

  2. Krystal says:

    I'm happy you finally got your chance to see this movie, I've been hearing the build up for it on Movie B.S for so long. I'm a little disappointed because I also, like you, had heard all the stories of how utterly disgusting this movie was. But now I'm not sure ... do I want to see it or not? I usually don't enjoy horror movies of this sort, but I think I might enjoy the campy-ness that this movie sounds like it has. We'll see, maybe I'll rent it sometime down the road.

  3. Ampersand says:

    Not to add to the already-disturbing imagery, but wouldn't a true human centipede require 50 hapless people sewn together? What we have here is actually a human sextipede.

  4. Alaska-Boy says:

    Sadly, Ampersand, the director is aware of that particular shortcoming and plans to address it [spoiler] in the sequal.


    I'm with LimaBrain. The mere IDEA of this movie is far more disturbing to me than any execution of it could possibly be. Hopefully there will not be enough money/hype to justify too many more entries into this series or the sure-to-follow cheap DTV derivitives.

  5. Ampersand says:

    I had the math wrong on my last comment. It's actually a dodecapede. Moving on...

    I have to admit that I was so horribly fascinated by the possibility of this movie that I found a website that had it available and actually watched a good portion of it (though I skipped over the surgical scene and a few other parts because I don't like viscera). I can attest that thinking about the concept of the movie was far worse than actually watching it.

    And I still can't believe that the actors agreed to be in this movie. There is no amount of money that anyone could pay me to spend weeks on my hands and knees, naked, with my mouth close to another person's ass.

  6. SoozUK says:

    I've seen it. I had to. I heard about it, saw the trailer, was deeply disturbed with what my brain was able to produce as guesses of the movie's contents so I just had to see it. Result? Whatever. It wasn't particularly shocking, seems to be played for subtle laughs and when it's right there in front of you the concept is too ridiculous to be appalling anymore. I actually got a bit bored because like the reviewer says, once he's made the human centipede and you've gone "wow...he actually did it" there isn't much else to be done. The ending wasn't shocking either.....without giving too much away, she'd only be that way for maybe a couple of hours at the most. The End.

  7. Alice Pacino says:

    Not so much a breakthrough as a continuation on themes from movies like "Crawlspace" with Klaus Kinski or "Scream and Scream Again" from 1970.

    This movie is notable (somewhat) in that most of its impact is felt long before seeing it as evidenced by so many people being outraged and offended by just the mere idea of the centipede. While actually seeing the movie is a let down it does draw you in, which proves once again that a gimmick can work very well.

  8. Jordie says:

    I'm entirely with LimaBrain here: the sheer concept of this movie was enough to have me psychologically reeling. This trailer is the first one I've seen in a while that actually has the horrifying effect of a whole movie itself. I would really advise anyone not able to handle the idea to not watch the trailer: it will haunt you for days.

    I don't think I could sit through a movie like this, let alone identify black humour in it. I don't even know what one should rate this. A good psychological horror movie is meant to scare you, mess with your mind and it does that for sure. A good movie is supposed to give you some semblence of satisfaction and that I don't think I will recieve.

    P.S. Try thinking of people sexually after seeing some of THAT imagery. Messed. Up.

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