Whew, not nice. That outdid my expectations.
You might well have heard of this one. It got a lot of internet attention from people who like this kind of thing. However if somehow you've managed to stay ignorant of what happens in it, stop reading now and go watch it immediately. Surprises are important in life. We should enjoy them. You might even say "gosh". You're unlikely to have experienced what happens in this film in your day-to-day life. For maximum effect, watch it with your elderly mother and some small children, if you're happy to run the risk of being arrested afterwards while the children get taken into care.
For those of you who haven't heard of this charmer but don't mind spoilers, I'd better describe it.
The film involves various stock horror elements, which are deliberate from its Danish writer/director, Tom Six.
1. There are two American girls (Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie) on the tourist trail in Europe, at least one of whom is either badly acted or not meant to be likeable. They end up lost in the woods and, whoops, knock on the wrong door. This is from faintly cheesy 1980s horror.
2. There's a Japanese man (Akihiro Kitamura), because Tom Six likes J-horror.
3. There's a German doctor (Dieter Laser) whose first name is Josef and whose surname might as well be Mengele. I'm pretty sure someone says the word "Nazi" and, for his part, he taunts Kitamura by, ludicrously, calling him "Kamikaze". (Put that together with the presence of Americans and we have an interesting World War Two metaphor available for the film, arguably including who's alive or dead at the end.) The important thing, though, is that Laser is mad and horrific even compared with your expectations of a Nazi-like mad scientist in a horror movie. His plan (SPOILER) is to make a human centipede. You don't want me to elaborate further, but it will involve three victims. What's more, Tom Six got a surgeon to help him think through how this could work. The results are medically accurate. You could do it. You'd need intravenous drips and no humanity in your soul, but what happens in this film is achievable. It's explained to us in enough detail that you'll start wondering whether it would be worse to be the middle or at the end.
What's interesting is that the results aren't cheesy. Every element of this film, in isolation, screams "schlock". You'd expect it to play like Henenlotter or early Jackson, but it doesn't. Six thinks lots of modern horror is edited too quickly. It's downright elegant, with slow camerawork and a distant, sterile look that makes Laser's house look almost beautiful. This is particularly striking when Williams escapes and is fleeing around this spotless white house, leaving red handprints.
Six also struck gold with his actors, especially the veteran Laser. He's never at low intensity, even when just pouring a drink or looking out of the window. He's got a skull-like face, eyes that could drill through concrete and a smile that's genuinely one of the horrible things in the film. He makes the film classy. He's making art, even with a character who's completely and utterly mad. Not only does Laser's character not seem to comprehend the concept of not getting away with it, but he almost seems to be deliberately trying to make the police suspicious... and he's so bone-chillingly arrogant that you don't doubt Laser's performance for a millisecond.
The victims are interesting. At first, they're horror movie victims. You don't really give a damn about the girls, while Kitamura is so obnoxious that I actively wanted him under the knife as soon as possible. You don't get the full sense of this in the subtitles, but sheesh. What a twat. He's got a gutter mouth, he rants at Laser as if expecting a German doctor to understand Japanese and he's abrasive enough to make me wonder if he was meant to be a yakuza. He's not, I think, but he's certainly some kind of lowlife. He has a tattoo, for instance, which is a big no-no in Japan even if it's nowhere near the full neck-to-waist of a professional criminal.
Anyway, you've got these horror movie victims who range from "not particularly likeable" to "die die die"... and then the film humanises them, a bit. No one deserves Dieter Laser. Kitamura's character development surprised me (including how it reflected on Laser's earlier verbal abuse of Kitamura), while the relationship between the girls is the one simple, human thing in a story of utter inhumanity. That's still true even when they've been [SPOILER]ed.
The movie also has a dry sense of humour. I laughed near the end with one particularly juicy bit of timing, although I'm a bit disturbed to hear that apparently the audience was laughing all the way through when Six showed this film in Japan.
It's Euro-horror, by the way, but it doesn't feel that way. It's mostly in English, although there's a fair amount of German and Japanese too. Incidentally, I wonder if I might have been at a slight disadvantage in being able to understand Kitamura's dialogue even without the subtitles? There would be another layer of horror in being stuck in that situation and not even being able to communicate.
The characters are stupid sometimes. Three of the four main characters all had opportunities to do something very differently, but I can forgive them. Their situation's so monstrous that it would almost be weirder to see them being level-headed.
This film is not fun. It doesn't feel particularly clever film, since it's basically Tom Six taking 90 minutes to show us things we really don't want to see. (He could have gone further, though. We see surprisingly little of the surgery. Admittedly I didn't want to see even what little we do get, but that's a place where Six is deliberately not going for the maximum gross-out.) However it has integrity and it looks and feels classy, with Dieter Laser giving 100% to his role, as if it's a historical reconstruction of war crimes or something. Kitamura isn't holding back either. The human centipede itself is a metaphor open to almost endless audience interpretation (e.g. politicians swallowing each other's bullshit).
In short, deeply unpleasant. Schlocky idea, but rather good execution. I respect it, although I can't say I'm in a hurry to rewatch it.
Next: the sequel.