Thursday, 19 August 2010

SIX IN THE HEAD: Interview with Tom Six, writer-director of The Human Centipede

Still two weeks ahead of its release in UK cinemas, THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE has already won a notoriety that most horror films can only dream of. Word-of-mouth publicity twinned with the sort of flash-phenomenon that only Facebook can conjure have done their bit, but both are owed to the film’s attention-grabbing concept of biological invention and grizzly creation. I peeled back the hype to probe the mind of writer-director Tom Six for the film’s brains. Here are my findings...

"The idea came from a joke I made while watching television one time with friends. There was a paedophile on television and I said ‘They should stitch his mouth to the ass of a very fat truck driver’. Everybody said ‘Oh that’s disgusting, what a horrible idea!’ – but I thought ‘that’s a great basic idea for a horror film’.”

Although this is Six’s first horror film, the many references he makes during our conversation towards Hollywood teen movies, as well as his Americanised accent and phrasing, suggest a life spent gleefully devouring every US horror film he can get his hands on. Unsurprisingly, this influence has found its way into The Human Centipede, particularly Six’s cruel choice of victims: two American teens on a European road trip.

“I had seen so many horror films in my teens which were always about naïve American girls getting into trouble, and my idea was so crazy and sick I wanted to start the film off as a complete cliché. So that’s why I used the two American girls getting into trouble – then a lot of trouble.

Many people watch the trailer, its clichés and elements of parody, with suspicion, assuming it to be yet another YouTube spoof: two attractive teens (who, incidentally, can’t act) get lost in a forest on their way to a nightclub, suffer a flat tyre and, unable to ring for help, make their way through the rain to the nearest dodgey looking house, etc etc. But, by 20 minutes into the film itself, there is clearly something a bit more intelligent going on.

“I used all those clichés because I knew that the audience would think ‘Hey, I’ve seen this film thousands of times before’, then bam – it really pulls the rug out from under our feet. It really blows you away.”

As well as seducing us into a precariously false sense of security, the flatpack characterisation of these American unfortunates serves to heighten the excellently original performance by German screen veteran Dieter Laser as the surgeon waiting on the other side of the door, stealing every scene with the flexing of his angular jaw, the craning of his sinewy neck, and the strained drone of his voice.

“I call Dieter an acting dinosaur because he has made almost 60 films. When I was writing the script I happened to watch Dieter in a film. I was amazed by his face and his charisma, and I thought ‘Man, this guy has to play Dr. Heiter’. I never had any other actors in mind after that. So we contacted him and met him in Berlin, and explained to him the complete story of the script. He absolutely loved it, so we were very lucky. I think he was born to play this role.”

And the role was written to be played by him?

“Yeh! His face and the way he spoke was always on my mind, so when I wrote the script I always thought about him.”

During the writing process, Six also received inspiration from elsewhere, namely the surgeon whose advise he sought to ensure a chilling level of medical accuracy in creating a human centipede comprised of three people sharing one dietary system.

“When I explained to the surgeon my idea of having arses sewn to mouths, he said ‘Are you crazy? This is completely against my medical oath,’ but in the end he made this very detailed operation report for me. He said that it’s actually possible to perform this operation in a hospital – which is pretty scary. Imagine being operated on by the guy who came up with The Human Centipede...”

In fact, one of the film’s most rattling scenes is the one in which the doctor presents his plans, complete with diagrams, to his ‘patients’, introducing a scientific authenticity which offsets the parody elements of the earlier half. It’s the film’s turning point, dragging it back from the edges of comedy and into a darkly absurd territory not usually seen on film. And so the sound of knowing laughs and tuts is soon replaced by the rustle of sick bags and the creak of people squirming in their seats...

For a director who has made just five films to date, Six boasts an impressive CV. As one of the pioneer directors of Holland’s Big Brother, Six has since been recruited worldwide by producers keen to emulate the show’s success in Europe. His pride in this is marked by a more sedate thoughtfulness in his voice: “I was directing and teaching people in America, Germany and South Africa how the programme works, from a director’s point of view.”

Knowing Six’s work on the show, it’s easy to see similarities between Big Brother and The Human Centipede: a peaceful domestic is disturbed by dysfunction and perverse experimentation, the warren-like layout of a glass-walled house fulfilling the role of prison. And, of course, the fact that all of this is being filmed and watched.

“Yeh definitely! I really observe the people who are in the film. There are a lot of horror films where the victims are slashed up very quickly – the bad guy gets through a lot of victims and we don’t really feel for the victims. But here I really focus on their drama for the whole movie. So I really think observing how they behave and react in a situation like that is maybe a little thing from Big Brother. And also the editing of the film – it’s really slow, it really dwells on the situation. It’s not edited very fast like a lot of horror films nowadays where we don’t see what’s going on because it’s been cut so very fast. So many things happen that you’re not involved on any dramatic level, and that wasn’t my goal at all.”

Earlier this month, filming for the sequel – The Human Centipede (Second Sequence) – already began in London, where the film will be set. First Sequence finishes with the middle piece of the ‘centipede’ ending up in a less-than flattering position, and I’m curious to know what Six has in store for us second time round. Do we ever find out what happens to the girl sewn in the middle?

“Well a lot of people are asking me what happens to the middle girl, but if I answer that I will spoil it.” Needless to say, Six promises “a big surprise”, announcing “a twelve people human centipede” this time round.

Removed from the isolated rural setting of First Sequence and translated to the urban heave and pull of London, Second Sequence looks set to be quite different in tone. “Almost all actors are British – people from television and stage, and all very professional actors. You will recognise them” he adds. Although I can’t help thinking that, by the time Six has finished with them, we might not recognise them at all...

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