Please note, this review is for a film whose entire premise may be considered vile, disgusting, crude, and completely unacceptable to some viewers. As such, this review may not be for everyone. Reader discretion is advised.
Thirty five years ago, an Italian director by the name of Pier Paolo Pasolini created what may be his opus, an adaptation of the Marquis de Sade's The 120 Days of Sodom, entitled 'Salo.' The film depicted the kidnapping of teenagers, both male and female, and a grueling gauntlet laid before them, full of torture, aberrant sexual behaviors, humiliation, murder, and coprophagia, though it had a deeper meaning, a political statement of the most extreme kind.
He was killed the very same year.
There haven't been many films before or after 'Salo' that contained the mastication of defecation. It's considered the worst of the worst, the most repulsive of actions possible. Excrement jokes are common place in cinema, with the intent that the nastier it is, the funnier it is, while shock videos like the infamous 2 Girls 1 Cup focus on the forbidden, the vomit-inducing extremes. It's ironic, really, that poo can be either funny, or the most foul blasphemy possible...not much in between.
Tom Six's 'The Human Centipede' has arrived with plenty of hype, with all of the proclamations of its sheer foulness countering the claim that it is 100 percent medically accurate. The claims of death threats being received due to it are somewhat believable, in our society, where convicted murderers become the target for groups of lonely women seeking companionship, while a fictional tale concerning coprophagia earns miniature jihads. Talk about backwards priorities.
As two American tourists (Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie) visit a few European countries, a ride on the way to a German party changes their lives forever. A flat tire, no cell phone reception, and a sudden downpour of rain force the girls to seek shelter, and they find it in the home of Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser), a famed surgeon who specialized in separating conjoined twins. They're not in safe hands, though, as the doctor has a new goal in life: to create a siamese triplet, by conjoining three people's bodies in a manner creating a sort-of "human centipede." The two girls soon find themselves on the ass-end of Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura), with no way to eat other than to wait for nature to happen, incapable of standing due to the slicing of knee ligaments as part of the surgery. Escape soon becomes more important than survival, as their lives no longer hold meaning to them.
Honestly, I don't get why anyone is actually all that offended by this film. The premise, sure, it's shocking, and may upset more than a handful of viewers, but the film is honestly fairly tame. It's the ideas presented in the film that make it so difficult to digest. There is not one single depiction of fecal matter in the film, not one. There is only one true "feeding" sequence (and it is a stunner of a scene, to be sure). There is no mention of religion, no political parallels, and no sexuality on display. Amazingly, nudity is mostly covered, despite the fact that we have two women who are topless the entire time they're in the 'pede. As such, this film is so amazingly tame compared to 'Salo,' that I honestly can't truly comprehend what all the fuss is about. Honestly, I'm more dismayed that people are that sensitive these days.
This is more a work of art than anything. A film that is likely to out those incapable of letting those of us who aren't offended have our fun. A film sure to draw criticisms and hatred and disgust from audiences who hate the sheer idea of the film, sight unseen. It's not unheard of, as political and religious leaders have led boycotts of films they deem offensive almost yearly, even before anyone has seen the particular films in question. 'The Human Centipede' is a very straight forward film, with no statement on right or wrong, no moral compass, and no judgment passed on anyone, not the doctor, nor his "patients." It pushes boundaries, and seemingly intentionally goads its audience, all the while creating a tense film that demands attention from its viewers. It's hard to look away from this at any time.
There are layers of dark comedy, themes of survival and rebellion, and a medical drama to keep our attention. There's an obsession with flesh here that puts even the most grotesque vision from David Cronenberg to shame...yes, even 'Crash' is one-upped. It's amazing the fact that there's teeth pulling and some extreme footage of surgical incisions have fallen under the radar due to the fact that excrement is involved in the film, the rallying point of all concerns. The film progresses at a solid pace, that would rather present logical conclusions than twists or gags, and gives us four realistic characters, who are all written in a believable manner.
After watching the film two times, however, one question remains: with the iv's pumping fluid into the bodies of the triplets, what happens when they have to urinate? In the film, they all wear pseudo-diapers (an easy way to do the effect, concealing it), but would Heiter have potty trained his creation? Does anyone think less of me for wondering that?
The Disc: Vital Stats
'The Human Centipede' arrives on Blu-ray from IFC Films on a BD25 disc housed in a standard case. There are no special packaging variations on the USA release. Pre-menu, there are trailers for 'Mutants' (the David Morley version, not the Amir Valinia version already on Blu-ray), 'Doghouse,' 'Exam,' and 'The Possession of David O'Reilly,' none of which are skippable through the top menu button.
While there have been no special gimmicks for this film in the States, in the UK, a Steelbook edition was pressed, and even came with a T-shirt that featured the stencil outline of the centipede found in the film, in the medical slides. That would have been the one to buy, for me, but they never put XXL shirts in these types of packages. Will have to scan eBay for some memorabilia my size. I want people to know my support of this film when I'm in Target, damn it!
'The Human Centipede' is presented with an AVC MPEG-4 encode at 1080p, in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and it's not that impressive. The opening scenes lack detail, feel ultimately grubby, and have some slight aliasing problems. Daytime sky shots are overblown, while the whites in the film are incredibly busy. Artifacts, ugh artifacts, they're easily noticeable, though banding problems are far worse, with two incredibly nasty moments (in the 23rd minute, and again 12 minutes later). Noise is randomly an issue, while it seems any segment with lower light brings equally low amounts of detail. Detail is either hit or miss, as there are some great close-up shots, but numerous sloppy, softer moments to remove any positives before them. Exterior moments bring glossed over skin tones, too. I didn't have any problems with the edges, but that's no consolation prize. I can't imagine what the DVD looks like, when the Blu-ray looks this wimpy.
There is only one option for the audio for 'The Human Centipede.' IFC gives the film an uncompressed Linear PCM 2.0 mix. The packaging is a bit unclear, as it says English, German, Japanese, but that is in reference to the languages spoken in the film. Subtitle options are English (SDH) and Spanish.
The sound mix for 'Centipede' is about as average and unmemorable as they get. I most certainly enjoyed the bass levels in the film, giving my subwoofer one nice workout, but beyond that, there wasn't much to praise. Separation is average, dialogue suffers prioritization issues, and often struggles to overcome other elements. We get a few appreciated volume spikes, and some very high screeches, but that's about it.
Let's be honest, here. 'The Human Centipede' isn't for everyone, but for me, it was much easier to finish than the last few Nicholas Sparks films, which, by the way, were also much scarier.
The film is divisive, the content difficult to stomach, but the acting is easily digestible, with Laser turning in one hell of a performance, and the story isn't reliant on shocks to progress (yes, there's an actual story). The Blu-ray release is everything the film isn't, though. Average, and forgettable. Horror fanatics must own this release, though outsiders to the genre will want to approach with extreme caution.