Saturday, 17 July 2010

REVIEW: The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

"Four legs good, two legs bad…"

But twelve legs are better in Tom Six’s

already infamous and gripping horror flick.

By now you’ll have seen the trailer and probably doubted whether The Human Centipede is really a genuine film at all or just another online spoof clip. But next month the full film makes its way, on all fours, to cinemas nationwide – and it’s bloody brilliant.

It’s not entirely spoof-free either. The unthinkable premise (for those who’ve spent the past few months in a state of Facebookless, YouTubeless exile) takes us to Germany where Dr. Heiter, an esteemed surgeon, is rounding up tourists with which to create his dream pet: a human centipede compiled of three humans sewn together, arse to mouth, and sharing one long dietary system. Although writer/director Tom Six (Gay In Amsterdam) sought the advice of a qualified surgeon to ensure complete medical authenticity, he paints a thick gloss of parody over his absurd 21st century gothic tale.

From the offset we know who the victims are going to be – and rightly so. Despite their generously aesthetically pleasing qualities, the two backpacking bimbos who say things like “kisses!” and get confused by roadmaps are not only incredibly annoying, they also can’t act (presumably intentional). So when they lose their way and get a puncture while driving through a forest at night and, unable to work their phones to call for help, head for the porch light of the isolated house nearby, we sit back and relax thinking we’ve seen this film a thousand times before. That is until Dr. Heiter reaches for the scalpel.

For all the close ups of anesthetised flesh being pierced and retailored by surgical implements which follow, Six does extremely well to resist the pitfalls of most horror films which make it to UK screens. Favouring almost unbearably intense levels of suspense as much the unflinching gore, the film squats somewhere between the two in relatively untrodden territory. No embittered, disfigured sub-humans with their twisted moralities here, only a superbly cast Dieter Laser (the LEXX series) as our esteemed surgeon who, for all his humanity and longing, has no qualms about making corrective changes to his prisoners in search of the perfect pet.

With excellent comic timing, flicking from smooth criminal to gaunt nutcase with the slightest clench of his razor sharp jaw, Laser takes a bizarre premise and pins it to a character who we love and hate in equal measures. Burlesquing his German accent to the max (“rrrohipnol”), Laser makes the best of Six’s sparse but hilarious dialogue. “Are you alooone?” Dr. Heiter sneers as he welcomes in two fatally naïve American teens soaked through to the skin by sudden rain. Comedy horror disturbing middle-class tranquility will remind horror fans of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, which the film's opening motorway sequence no doubt references.

The setting is unique too. In Heiter’s house, Six has staged a pristinely calm and tastefully furnished domestic space around which his victims must crawl in agony, the different rooms providing the backdrops of each scene and making the film feel grimly voyeuristic and episodic, until the final chase scenes. The swimming pool annex also supplies the film with a couple of memorable and particularly tense set pieces. While the centipede (literally) eats its own shit, Dr. Heiter takes a knife to a juicy slab of steak – it all makes for some very dark comedy indeed.

While diehard horror fans might not fill any of the sick bags distributed by cinema staff, I’d suggest only a light dinner afterwards. There’s plenty of originality here to make this the most essential horror viewing of the past five years.

The Human Centipede: crawling to a screen near you on 20 August.

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