Come on in, the water's crawling...
The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009)
Tom Six, Holland
This June sees the UK release of The Human Centipede (Final Sequence) so here at Film Gutter we're in a celebratory mood. The conclusion to what must be well among the most notorious film trilogies of all time – certainly in terms of mainstream attention, at least – draws to a close so all through June we're going to be looking at the trilogy, with a review of each movie, a retrospective on the three movies plus some very cool interviews with those involved in the series.
So where better to begin than with where it all began? First Sequence arrived to a fanfare of controversy back in 2009, and particularly drew attention with its claim of being '100% medically accurate'. Why no-one has never tested that hypothesis yet I don't know...
Anyway, we begin First Sequence with two American girls on vacation in Germany. Jenny and Lindsay head from their hotel to a club for the evening, and in classic horror film style they get themselves lost in the middle of nowhere in the rain when their car breaks down. Unfortunately what happens to them from there is substantially worse than many horror film victims will endure, because when they do finally find a house it belongs to the wonderfully menacing Dr Joseph Heiter (played by the fantastic Dieter Laser, who we'll be talking to later this month). Laser's performance is such a highlight of this film for me – Heiter comes across as a true sociopath, calm and reasoned one moment before leaping into spectacular fits of fury the next.
Unfortunately Jenny and Lindsay realise Heiter's intentions too late, and by the time they realise just how dangerous the doctor might be they've already drunk the drugged water and wake in an underground laboratory. It is only there that Heiter makes his intentions clear in a chilling presentation – to link his three victims (including a young Japanese man, Katsuro) mouth to anus, creating the first 'human centipede' based upon previous experimentations with his dogs. As the reality of what they are about to face comes into contrast, there is a desperate escape attempt from Lindsay. Her efforts to escape Heiter's villa ends in failure, and an even more terrible fate – consigning her to being the middle part of the centipede.
Unable to escape their fate, the operation to link the three takes place – and succeeds, with Katsuro at the fore of Lindsay and Jenny. There are a number of harrowing scenes as Heiter attempts to 'train' the centipede – as though the human chain were a pet – and the sight of Jenny and Lindsay holding hands (pretty well the only interaction available to them) gets to me every time. Katsuro remains defiant at the head of the centipede, and the experiment does not turn out as Heiter would have wished – especially when two policeman arrive at the house seeking the missing girls.
Taking advantage of the distraction, Katsuro, Jenny and Lindsay make their final escape attempt, crawling from the horrific basement laboratory to near-freedom. But the determined Heiter foils all the attempts, leaving us with a suitably bloodsoaked and horrific finale and a closing shot that – even on rewatching – carries a strong emotional impact for me.
So, what to make of First Sequence, with all things considered? While the central concept of the centipede itself is certainly like nothing else seen anywhere else – with the one possible exception of Kevin Smith's far more recent Tusk – there is a lot here that is tried and true horror ground. The motifs of girls abroad lost in the middle of nowhere captured by a madman are nothing new. It's also, in my opinion, fair to say that the concept is probably more disgusting than the execution in this instance – the idea of the human centipede is horrible, but the presentation of it certainly could have been more grotesque and disgusting (see next week's review of Full Sequence). Compared to that second part, you could argue this movie is a soft introduction. What does lift this film above much horror, for me, is the performances and the emotional impact – Laser's performance as Heiter is spot-on, and the three components of the centipede each carry their own segment of the slight story well. It also has a feeling of being more carefully shot and crafted than many horror films that do carry the same motifs.
Rating: 7.5/10. A good, solid horror film in its own right that it's hard to consider without the swirl of controversy and fuss that has continued to surround it. It's hard to go overboard because there's not enough here that's startlingly original other than that core conceit at the story's heart – but strong performances, lots of nice touches of shooting and some genuinely difficult moments to watch combine to make this a film well worth watching in its own right. There might be more extreme movies out there, but in many places it's still a tough watch, so overall it's a 7.5/10.
Next week – well, what else? We'll be looking at The Human Centipede: Full Sequence. If you thought First Sequence was a tough watch, you might want to look away now...