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rochefort [Film Festival 10.07.09] Netherlands movie review horror comedy

Year: 2009
Directors: Tom Six
Writers: Tom Six
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: rochefort
Rating: 7 out of 10

[Editor's note: Another positive review of Tom Six's weirdness, our first being from Frightfest. I've also seen the film and would agree it's good, even though full of plot holes.]

One of the most crowded horror sub-genres is that of the Mad Scientist Movie. It's probably fair to say that at least half of all the scary movies I used to watch on late-night WTBS (yeah, I know that dates me quite a bit) after my parents had gone to bed were full of wayward men of medicine with superiority complexes. And while most of them were tons of fun at the time, the years haven't been particularly kind to any but the best. For every "Metropolis" or "Cabinet of Dr. Caligari", there are a hundred variations where the only real acting requirement seems to be wide, bulging eyes and a white lab coat. "The Human Centipede", directed by Tom Six, is the latest entry in this very crowded category, and was the Fantastic Fest winner for Best Horror Film. The fanboy general consensus was that, of all of this year's FF films, this was the one during which you should maybe think twice about ordering any solid food.

Doctor Heiter (Dieter Laser), an anti-social surgeon who specializes in separating Siamese twins, is still in mourning that his latest "hobby" experiment, the "Three Dog", was unsuccessful. Undeterred, he embarks on an even more ambitious project, a "human centipede" in which three human beings will be conjoined posterior end-to-mouth and share a single digestive system. Just so we're clear, here: one person in front, a second in the middle attached at the first person's butt, and a third at the end, likewise attached to the second person's butt. Dr. Heiter acquires three eligible subjects of identical blood type that include a wandering Japanese man (Akihiro Kitamura) and two lost (and rather annoying) American tourist girls (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie). After they've been properly restrained and given a thorough, detailed explanation of the gruesome procedure to come, he surgically removes a few key muscles and tissue connections so they can't escape and turns them into his six-kneed masterpiece.

The first thing to know about "The Human Centipede" is that this, if you're a serious weirdo, is the perfect date movie. Play this one for a prospective mate, and if they haven't deleted your number from their phone and walked out by the midway point, you've got a keeper on your hands. Feel free afterwards to show them your collection of surgical photos or mummified baby heads, because there's no damage left to do. The titular centipede is a sometimes funny, often disturbing, and genuinely unique oddity of cinema, but the majority of people will probably have to admit that director Six has filled a void that most of them didn't have a burning need to see filled in the first place. But if seeing three unwilling humans surgically connected butt-to-mouth is on your checklist, consider it sorted. Next up, let's try it with twelve people. But that will have to wait for the sequel. And I'm not kidding. That's exactly what Six wants to do with "Second Sequence".

There's not much story here, but what we get is a lot more restrained than the buzz would suggest. Neither a gore fest nor a freak parade, "Centipede" lacks any real third act, but the scenes in which Dr. Heiter attempts to house-train his creation are darkly funny, and hint at the greater heights of psychological horror/drama Six might have reached with a higher budget or the desire to press into deeper uncharted territory. As is, it mostly seems like a setup that's cut short by a truncated third act in which two policemen arrive, after which the climax settles into a typical, if not necessarily unsatisfying, showdown and aftermath. The script also staunchly refuses to overplay any real affinity for its characters. The victims of the experiment are portrayed as somewhat unpleasant people, and deserve our sympathy only for the most basically humane reasons. Doctor Heiter is definitely a psychopath, but it's strongly hinted at that his most unpleasant traits are less a result of his insidious take on the practice of medicine than they are simply an inevitable side effect of being a German old enough to remember identifying with the Nazis. He's a monster, of course, but we're meant to laugh at his obsessiveness as much as cringe.

Lest anyone get the wrong impression, I was neither shocked nor repulsed by the film, and while I have my suspicions that mainstream audiences probably won't feel the same way (at least not for a few years), it's not hard to imagine that "Centipede" will achieve easy notoriety once the midnight screenings kick in. Play this back to back with "Meet the Feebles" or "Eraserhead" on any college campus and you will have quickly secured your cult cred. For the discerning horror viewer, I can easily recommend this for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that there aren't many other movies out there with a concept this bizarre and an execution this polished. But if that date goes sour, don't say I didn't warn you.

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Anonymous (12 years ago) Reply

Great review, and I'm pretty much in agreement with you. It promised a lot more, but still managed to be messed up enough to work!


Ben Austwick (12 years ago) Reply

I agree, great review. It's a cult curiosity and fun enough but a bit underwhelming when it comes down to it. I thought the Japanese guy was excellent though.

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