Beloved and hated, praised and criticized, madly adored and madly repudiated also. Can a horror trilogy so clearly and sharply divide the opinion of the passionate public, from film critics to the simple viewer? Yes, it can. But only if the trilogy is called “The Human Centipede”.
We’re going to talk about a horror saga that has literally rewritten the genre in question.
We are too often accustomed to horror sagas – but more generally, cinematic sagas – unnecessarily long, repetitive, in which the same story, in general, is re-proposed obsessively, almost always in a worsening way. In the long run, inevitably, the original essence is distorted. Endless, exhausting, redundant sagas, in which the change of the characters and the modification of some parts of the plot – within the same plot, however – do not produce improving effects nor add content.
With “The Human Centipede”, however, this usual way of conceiving and realizing a film saga is inexorably demolished, disrupted, upset by an unprecedented touch of genius. Three chapters, three films in which the same plot is reinterpreted, broken down and reassembled with sublime skill and rare artistic intelligence.
“The Human Centipede (First Sequence)”, “The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)” and “The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence)” are the three chapters of this exciting horror saga, whose main ingredients are originality and psychophysical upset.
The Human Centipede, a… controversial plot
Who’s behind The Human Centipede trilogy? The author of this saga is Tom Six. Born in Alkmaar (Netherlands) on August 29, 1973, Tom Six stands, thanks to the three films at the center of our article, as the absolute protagonist of the international horror scene. Eccentric, particular, innovative, politically incorrect like few others: Tom Six is all this and much more. Director, screenwriter, producer: Tom Six’s hand and mind draw personal plots, strongly recognizable in his works. Together with his sister, Ilona Six, he founded the Six Entertainment Company, a company committed to making and producing films created by the bizarre Dutch director and screenwriter. Numerous sources of inspiration have influenced Tom Six in the conception of this trilogy; above all, the desire to re-propose and re-actualize the Nazi barbarities. Those medical experiments, inhuman, sadly went down in history.
The trilogy of “The Human Centipede” is probably one of the most opposed and criticized in the history of cinema. The distribution in cinemas (and not only in cinemas) all over the world has been bitterly opposed – and therefore, with a patchy distribution – because of the highly rough, traumatizing, violent and bloody contents. Between prohibitions and fierce criticism (but a shock movie, by definition, cannot be criticized for its particularly strong scenes…), the myth of “The Human Centipede” feeds day by day, due – ironically – also to this unjustified, instrumental and excessively moralistic fury.
The three films focus on a plot that is, to say the least, new, surreal and, for this reason, positively upsetting: sadistically uniting people through a bizarre mouth-to-mouth connection. An extreme (not to say disgusting) surgical intervention, the pivot of a trilogy that unfolds around this simple yet extravagant device of horror. To unite, through a mouth-to-anus connection, severla men, several individuals, creating, in fact, a human centipede. An idea that only perverse minds – to whom Tom Six has given body and soul in his films – can conceive. A trashy surgical madness, there’s no doubt.
The first chapter of the saga – “The Human Centipede (First Sequence)”, year 2009 –
Dr. Josef Heiter, masterfully played by the German actor Dieter Laser, practice this surgery on two girls – two American tourists on holiday in Germany, Jenny and Lindsay, played respectively by Ashlynn Yennie and Ashley Christina Williams – and a Japanese boy, Katsuro, also an unlucky tourist played by Akihiro Kitamura. The head of the centipede is Katsuro, Lindsay is placed in the middle; the final segment is Jenny, whose health conditions will be severely affected by a septicaemia. Katsuro speaks only Japanese: a further, interesting expedient to put a cold detachment between Dr. Heiter and the “humanoid creature”. There is no communication between the two.
The second chapter – “The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)”, year 2011
The movie is shot in black and white – the protagonist of the story is Martin Lomax (played by a superlative Laurence Robert Harvey, English actor), keeper in an underground parking lot in London, psychopath, victim of sexual abuse by his father and still at the center of perverse sexual fantasies by Dr. Sebring (played by Bill Hutchens), his psychiatrist. It is Martin who wants to create a human centipede, gathering twelve people.
The third and final act of the saga – “The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence)”, year 2015
It is William “Bill” Boss (played by Dieter Laser), grim and perverse warden of a maximum security prison, assisted and advised by the accountant Dwight Butler (played by Laurence R. Harvey), to put into practice the idea of the human centipede in order to punish prisoners. A centipede, moreover, is flanked by an even more curious and “sick” human caterpillar: prisoners sentenced to death, always united by a mouth-to-mouth connection, to whom, however, arms and legs are also amputated. Unable to move: the final torture.
Among the protagonists of the film, also Governor Hughes (played by Eric Roberts) – at first reticent and skeptical in the face of the barbaric practice of the human centipede, finally positively impressed by the punitive and re-educative effectiveness of the torture in question -, Daisy (the attractive secretary of Boss, played by Bree Olson, stage name of the porn star of the century Rachel Marie Oberlin) and Tom Six, in the role of Tom Six. Tom Six gives us the inspiration for the next in-depth examination of this compelling trilogy: the interaction between the three different chapters of the saga.
“Three films in one” and the actors’ versatility
The three chapters of the trilogy “The Human Centipede”, as we have seen, rest their narrative structure on the same torture, although reinterpreted and constantly amplified: from the three individuals of the first film, in fact, we passed to the twelve of the second film to an authentic human “big snake” composed of hundreds of inmates of the third and last act of the trilogy. Five hundred people united by a mouth-to-anus connection.
Beyond the torture, what strikes the viewer is the continuous, unusual, original interaction between the three films, an interaction that develops – taking into account the alternative ending of the “Final Sequence” – in a perfectly circular way. Links and weaves that only a complete artist, such as Tom Six, can conceive and make – even with a not inconsiderable dose of surrealism – coherent.
Links that qualify the entire trilogy as a sort of “three films in one”. And it is also curious how this link is made concrete by Tom Six: in fact, the first two films of the saga are presented – within the trilogy itself – as full-fledged films. In the second chapter, the protagonist watches the first film, in the third and last chapter, instead, the protagonists watch the second film. Only the third act of the saga, therefore, is proposed (in the original film version) as a real story. Metafilm, metacinema. Let’s analyze more in detail.
This interaction is born in the second act of the saga, “The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)”. The aforementioned Martin Lomax, in fact, is a big fan of “The Human Centipede (First Sequence)”, a film that he watches dozens and dozens of times. His obsession for this film and for the centipede – an animal that Martin owns as a pet – pushes the man – represented in a deliberately slimy, filthy, dirty, sick and taciturn way (the character doesn’t say a single line), to emphasize the psychic and physical discomfort (Martin is overweight and asthmatic) of the character – to implement the diabolical plan: to emulate the deeds of Dr. Josef Heiter. Martin even manages to kidnap one of the protagonists of the film, Ashlynn Yennie, who the psychopath lure with the (fake) proposal of a casting for a film by Quentin Tarantino and who, in the end, will lead the human centipede. The girl, therefore, stars as herself.
The film ends with a reference to the first chapter of the saga: Martin, in fact, is still watching “The Human Centipede (First Sequence)” in the cage of the underground car park.
In “The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence)”, the interaction between the different films completes its circular development, until it connects – in a surprising, surreal but equally coherent way – to the first two acts of the saga.
First of all, it is interesting to note the versatility of the actors. Bill Boss, in fact, is still played by Dieter Laser, the infamous Dr. Heiter of the first film. Dwight Butler is played by the versatile Laurence R. Harvey. The characters of Boss and Butler are diametrically opposed to those of Dr. Heiter and Martin Lomax: so refined, aseptic, clean, cultured, taciturn, calm and patient Dr. Heiter, so vulgar, trash, irascible, rude, unsheathed Bill Boss. So much filthy, dirty, silent Martin Lomax, so well-dressed, tidy, cunning and talkative – but naive – Dwight Butler. Obviously, all characters are psychopaths and characterized by hues of pure sadism. Yet, within the same scenario of degradation, inhumanity and perversion, Tom Six shows all his ability as a screenwriter to portray characters so different from each other. Perversion, then, can have multiple faces and nuances.
Tom Six’s intervention enhances this interaction. In the third and final chapter of the saga, in fact, Boss, Butler and Daisy are watching “The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)”, a movie that will inspire Butler to propose his “re-educative” and punitive idea for prisoners: to transform them into a huge human centipede. At this point, in order to convince the reluctant Bill about the effectiveness of Butler’s suggestion, Tom Six is summoned. The Dutch director and screenwriter plays himself: he, in fact, will convince Bill about the goodness and the medical and surgical feasibility of the mouth-to-anus connection. Not only that: Tom Six’s films are also shown to inmates before they are told that they intend to proceed to a human centipede for punitive-reeducational purposes. The prisoners’ riot – vain and sedated in the blood – breaks out ferociously.
The film – taking into consideration the alternative ending contemplated in the home video – closes with the umpteenth twist: it turns out, in fact, that everything is the result of the imagination of Dr. Heiter: everything is only a dream. An unclean premonitory dream that anticipates the kidnapping of the two American tourists.
The real final scene of the third film, however, does not directly link the third to the first film. In fact, the “Final Sequence” ends with a Bill Boss, more than ever in ecstasy and delirium of omnipotence (an almost sexual orgasm, we could say), who admires – naked, megaphone in hand and on top of a surveillance tower – his own creature: an enormous human centipede composed of five hundred prisoners. Even Daisy will be “sewn” and inserted into the human centipede. The apotheosis of the human centipede is, therefore, realized.
The Human Centipede trilogy is a hotbed of ideas and touches of cinematic creativity. In this sense, the three different narrative registers that characterize the three parts of the trilogy are also well thought out.
“The Human Centipede (First Sequence)” embodies the scientificity and surgical precision of an operation studied in detail. Everything is and appears extremely aseptic: the rational, austere but at the same time authoritative and renowned figure of the wealthy Dr. Heiter, the villa, the operating room. Everything is neat, clean, like a hospital. A sense of order that is affected not even by the absolute perversion of the operation and by the unfolding of the cruent event. Aseptic sensations not at all affected by the dramatic condition of the three victims, frightened, terrified, the object of an inhuman surgical butcher’s shop.
The register of the first chapter is totally cancelled with the second, “The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)”. Now, the environment becomes unhealthy, filthy, dirty. The bad smells are almost perceived through the screen and the vision of the film. The degradation of men and things is perceived, touched and smelled at every moment of the film. The warehouse, the place where Martin Lomax created the human centipede, oozes unclean stench. Abandonment.
The frustration and existential discomfort of the main character (which will also lead him to the brutal killing of his mother, excellently played by Vivien Bridson, when she discovers the secret album that her son dedicated to “The Human Centipede”) are reflected in the vivid black and white with which the film was shot and in the environments in which the characters operate: Martin’s house, the parking lot, the warehouse, squalid places that leave no room for some residual concept of “healthy” and “beautiful”. All the characters are negative and embody concepts of social or psychological dissoluteness: Martin, his doctor and a taxi driver having sex with a prostitute, the prostitute herself, some of the victims included in the human centipede, ruthless people without values.
Even the operation exudes exaggeratedly unhealthy sensations. If Dr. Heiter acts in a clean, orderly place, illustrating to his victims every step of the operation and making the mouth-to-anus connection according to precise medical and surgical protocols, Martin acts exclusively following his perverse instinct. The operation is, therefore, poorly performed and messed up: rough and crude in the manner of execution, performed by surgical instruments improvised to say the least, a powerful laxative to test the connection between the victims, blood and nauseous body slurry scattered everywhere to give the story a hyperbolic taste of perverse, unstoppable cruelty.
The poverty and harshness of the dialogues – as said before, Martin doesn’t have any lines, except for grumblings and noises of various nature – and the assiduous presence, especially in the second part of the movie, of screams, cries, cries of help and despair increase the anguish and the feeling of roughness and depravity of the scenes and of the whole story. Sexual, social, human and existential depravity reigns supreme: Martin and his sexual perversions, a pregnant woman accidentally murdering her newborn son (crushed with her feet while trying to escape by car), disturbing, incessant fury over the victims. Immorality and endless degeneration.
To complete this picture, we must not overlook the physicality – far from perfect and attractive – of the actor who plays Martin Lomax: only an Oscar-winning Laurence Robert Harvey could best fit into the role of the complex, funny but at the same time ruthless, character of Martin Lomax.
With “The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence)” the register changes form and substance again.
In this chapter, everything is over the top, hyperbolic, excessive, vulgar, scurrilous, screamed: the plot, the language, the colors, the acting, the characters. Horror becomes trash. Daisy’s presence also adds that pornographic and strongly masculine touch that is functional to the conception of a character – irritating and megalomaniac – such as Bill Boss. Death, blood and violence reach, in the third and last act of the saga, sidereal levels. Everything, however, appears and turns out to be coherent. The film will also manage to snatch evident smiles (or laughter): the abundance of trash and references to sex and sexual organs, in fact, makes the pure horror gives way to a “comedy-horror-porn of excesses” that inevitably leads to moments of pure, truculent entertainment. The restlessness and oppression typical of the first and second chapters give way to more frivolous sensations, albeit in a context of extreme and violent perversion.
Beloved and detested. Concepts and antithetical judgements that, after all, effectively summarize the same essence embodied by the trilogy of “The Human Centipede”: the horror that has rewritten the horror genre.