OCTOBER 18, 2009
After my friends got back from Frightfest, there was one title that they kept mentioning: The Human Centipede (First Sequence), using pretty much every attractive word one could use to entice a horror fan (i.e. “amazing”, “sick”, “genius”, “horrifying”, etc). Similar sentiment came out of Austin’s FantasticFest last month, so I was pretty happy to see it added to the Screamfest lineup, allowing me (who cannot afford to travel for a festival. Or for anything else.) to see this film with a crowd instead of on some lame-ass screener (p.s. - everyone who opted not to go tonight because they have a screener? You’re a moron. No offense.)
However, one word was missing from all of the raves that I listened to (I was trying to stay in the dark as much as possible) - FUNNY. This movie is f-ing hilarious right from the start, as our deranged doctor (Dieter Laser in the best role Udo Kier never played) lovingly weeps over a photo his “triple-dog”, the (presumed) precursor to what is designed to be his greatest achievement - The Human Centipede.
How does a human centipede work, you might ask? Well, if you haven't already heard, I won’t spoil it (the trailer below mostly does, however - don't watch if you want to be kept in the dark!), though I will say that it involves the gastric system and that Dante Hicks in particular would be livid at its design. But what’s great about the film is how this medical procedure (which is allegedly 100% medically accurate) is not played as torture porn, despite the somewhat Hostel-y setup (once again, traveling Americans have no luck when it comes to finding parties suggested to them by locals) and technically disgusting outcome. The humorous setup helps immensely in this department. How they get to the doctor’s house plays out like a borderline parody of breakdown movies, as our characters do every stupid thing they can possibly do over the course of about 90 seconds. The intentional cheesiness (and terrific performances by Ashlynn Yennie and Ashley C. Williams*) set the exact right tone for the horrors to follow, where you’re usually going “ewwww” as you laugh and applaud.
Also providing a wealth of humor is Dr.Heiter's completely casual nature. The girls have barely sat down before he is telling them how much he hates human beings, and he’s also such a good doctor that he carefully explains how the centipede will “work”, as if he was in his office describing a colonoscopy procedure to a patient. And the production designer deserves a giant kiss for Heiter's artwork, which consists of giant paintings of conjoined fetuses and other abhorrences of nature. And the bedside framed photo of his triple-dog made me laugh every single time it appeared in a shot.
So it’s even more impressive that it’s occasionally suspenseful. Usually if I am laughing then I’m not too worried about the characters on-screen, but damned if I wasn’t anxiously pulling for them to escape (or separate), and watching them attempt to climb a spiral staircase is as nerve-wracking as anything I’ve seen in a “straight” thriller this year. Director Tom Six also gets some mileage out of a pair of cops who show up during the 3rd act, as I was quite sure they would end up in the centipede.
See, Heiter needs similarly bodied people for the centipede to work, and the two cops could pass as brothers. So you get a unique situation where you’re hoping for the cops to save our lovely females (and the hilarious “head” of the centipede, a Japanese guy who proudly points out how strong Japanese men can be when backed into a corner), but the nihilistic side of any horror fan will probably also be hoping to see another centipede, or an extension to the existing one (that the film has the “First Sequence” subtitle sort of instantly suggests further sequences, aka sequels). Good stuff.
As of yet there is no firm American distribution lined up. I PRAY that it doesn’t fall into the “What do we do with this ah fuck it let’s dump it to DVD” hands of Lionsgate, and instead finds a home with Magnolia or one of the major’s indie arms (Sony Pictures Classics, Paramount Vantage, etc), who will actually give off-center films a chance. It’s actually much tamer than I was expecting, so I can’t even see it having any trouble garnering an R rating. And our heroines speak English, so it doesn’t have to worry about the language barrier either (especially with Inglourious Basterds, a film that is about 75% in French or German, still cleaning up at the box office). It’s certainly no multiplex affair, but I honestly think it will play better to a crowd than it will at home, when the intentional goofiness might not come across as well.
What say you?
*Who is not only incredibly hot (and from Boston!), but is that not the best geek-ready awesome name of all time? Only the middle initial is off!