For some reason “The Human Centipede” has been getting some really positive reviews from usually perceptive critics, but it’s nothing but a stripped-down modern Frankenstein story that’s more icky than truly frightening by reason of the extremely peculiar nature of the experiment its mad doctor is performing.
The only real point in its favor is the amusingly over-the-top performance of Dieter Laser as the wacko researcher Dr. Heiter, who lives in an isolated modernist house—equipped, of course, with a full-service laboratory—in the German countryside. Dr. Heiter, it transpires, was the world’s master in the surgical separation of Siamese twins, but in retirement has quite a different project—stitching together first animals and then humans, rear to face, into a combination construct resembling a centipede.
To that end he abducts strangers passing through the area to serve as his guinea pigs. We first see him bagging a truck driver with his trusty dart gun. But his most important victims—from the narrative point of view—are two airhead American tourists (Ashlynn Yennie and Ashley C. Williams) who get a flat tire and traipse through the woods to stumble onto his house, where they’re promptly drugged and carted off to that dreadful lab. Still poor Heiter can’t proceed: the truck driver dies, and he has to go off a bag a replacement, a foul-mouthed Japanese man (Akihiro Kitamura) who joins the two girls in the doctor’s mad venture.
Fully half of “The Human Centipede” is devoted to this set-up, and those forty-five minutes are pretty dull stuff, apart from the gonzo reception Heiter gives to his guests. Alternating between oily graciousness and bursts of rage, he comes across like a modern version of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula simultaneously welcoming Jonathan Harker and scrutinizing the poor fellow as a source of liquid refreshment. He’s a campy, hammy hoot.
But suddenly the experiment is completed, and for the second half of the picture we simply watch his ghastly fabrication squirm and shuffle unhappily about under his training. You have to sympathize with Laser’s unfortunate co-stars, especially the women (Kitamura at least is in front and still can scream out his rage); they have little to do but scuttle about, bug-eyed and moaning, with their lips glued to the diaper in front of them. It’s certainly a disgusting sight—not horrific or funny, but simply repulsive. So what’s not to like?
The last act of the picture involves the arrival of a suspicious cop (Andreas Leupold) investigating the rash of disappearances in the area. The outcome is not pretty for anybody, especially us.
Apart from Laser, the cast of “The Human Centipede (First Sequence)” is amateurish—the girls in particular so much so that one suspects they’re just being their dense selves—and Tom Six’s direction is perfunctory, as is the physical production (though Heiter’s house is an impressive edifice).
But the contribution you’ll most remember Six for is his script. He’s the guiding spirit –the brains, so to speak—behind the entire demented enterprise, which is obviously a bid for cult status. And it may well earn a place in the Midnight Movie Hall of Fame. But for many viewers the reaction to the movie will be akin to the one the girl who’s second in Heiter’s line has when Kitamura’s character, Katsuro, apologizes for relieving himself in her mouth. They won’t find swallowing it a very pleasant experience.