Wandering into Cinema Nova shortly after 11pm, alone, is an odd enough sensation without the knowledge that you are going to be viewing a film considered one of the sickest ever made for public consumption. The shops are shut, there is a still, strangely quiet feel to Lygon Street. Inside, a small crowd is gathering, all either expecting to be grossed out or expecting to be tough enough to find the film lame.
Yes, the tattooed, pierced and iron-stomached gathered along with young men and their reluctant dates to see what director Tom Six was going to serve up. There was even a small group of young women. Virtually the entire audience was aged under 35, with a fairly even split on gender lines. The cinema was not full, but there would have been 30-40 of us thinking this was a fun way to spend a Saturday night and Sunday morning. One man joked that he should be taking bets on how many people would puke. Quite a lot of laughter was in the air, even before it started.
Most films at least try to get the audience to suspend their disbelief. The Human Centipede plays with it. And, frankly, you want to remind yourself that what you are seeing is ridiculous and extreme, because you would rather not think too hard about the possibility this will happen in real life. Certainly, a lot of horrible stuff does happen in real life, but we’re here for a film. A scare, a thrill, and to be shocked, sure, but paying the $17 or whatever for a ticket is not signing a contract in blood for a total and irreversible mind-fuck. Well, not quite.
So we have two stereotypically dumb American girls, on holiday in Germany, doing the stereotypical horror thing of getting lost in the woods and their car breaking down. We have a really, really creepy German doctor being an evil Nazi villain, and having him being called a Nazi. A Japanese tourist is also kidnapped, probably just because someone suspected there might be a good market for this sort of thing there. And, when we have one of the girls with a chance to escape, she runs back to the house for her friend against all good sense, like going to the police and getting a SWAT team to storm the house or something.
Yes, there was plenty to laugh about. It’s pretty preposterous, and you do not quite believe your eyes.
Once the required number of people have been kidnapped, the nasty Dr Heiter, played with the right mix of malevolence, mania and melodrama by Dieter Laser, explains the torture he is about to put them through. (Heiter, BTW, is German for “cheerful”.)
Yes, the surgeon famous for separating Siamese twins has kidnapped the three to sew them together, anus to mouth and anus to mouth, in his spare time.
Why? Who knows, who cares? Helpfully, he provided diagrams.
Says it all, really. But then he has to get the centipede to walk, to work, and to survive. And, through the power of suggestion more than anything overt, we get to understand how Heiter wants the digestive tract to work.
Yeah, it’s all pretty gross. And the brain wants to reject the idea. One member of the audience opts for laughter at the most extreme moments, causing the rest of us to giggle nervously, occasionally shuddering in horror. And there were moments I flinched, averting my eyes from what could have been about to happen.
Now, it should be pointed out that stylistically, The Human Centipede is made and acted pretty much as a stock-standard horror movie. In some ways it is playful with the formula, knowing the audience knows the conventions of the genre (it does not to this anywhere near the extent of Scream 3, don’t worry). And in some ways it is pretty B-Grade. Kudos to the actors willing to be part of the centipede, they knew what they would be in for and chose to suck it up. That doesn’t mean they are necessarily going to win major acting awards any time soon.
On the bright side, the actresses, particularly Ashley C. Williams who was trapped in the middle, were so good at being annoying, dumb horror film victims it fitted the overall absurdness of the film perfectly. Laser was captivating, ghoulish and central to the film’s success. And did feel like a success, because it’s creepy, hard to believe and strangely mesmerising. The crowd wandered out into Carlton in the early morning stunned, laughing, and incredulous.
Of the audience reaction, the most memorable was a loud exclamation of “What the fuck was that?” It seemed to sum up everyone’s feelings pretty well.
My first reaction was fairly simple: OMGWTF?
Just what will Tom Six come up with for the sequel, where he plans to put 12 people together? And will there be a dozen actors willing to be involved?
Some link love, for want of a better phrase…
The Vault of Horror’s charming take, with references to children’s literature. Naturally.