Few countries get as consistently good press as the Netherlands. Smiling blond capitalists, neat as a pin among their dykes and windmills, offering legal drugs and regulated prostitutes. One of the few European countries that fought a war of independence, they won their freedom from the haughty, unpopular Spaniards and spent a long time as a content little republic before becoming a content little kingdom. Their royal family, the House of Orange-Nassau, regularly spits out pleasant little queens with adorable names: Wilhelmina, Juliana, Beatrix. They own a few little Caribbean islands and have an nice, funny-looking language with a lot of “aa,” “oo,” and “ij.” A sane, cozy oasis between sour, bureaucratic Belgium and will-they-do-it-again Germany, it’s the jewel in Europe’s crown.
Or so we all thought before a Dutchman wrote and directed The Human Centipede: First Sequence. As you read the following review, keep in mind that this was, by a comfortable margin, the movie most requested for Worst of Netflix. It was not my idea.
The Human Centipede: First Sequence: After their car breaks down while in Germany, Americans Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie) wind up at a remote villa -- and soon find themselves trapped in a nightmare. Dr. Josef Heiter (Dieter Laser) kidnaps them for his demented experiment to create a human "centipede." The plan includes removing their kneecaps so they must walk on all fours, then surgically connecting them to a Japanese man to create a bizarre human chain.
The screenplay is essentially one giant bunt, assuming that people won’t be bored by the low-dialogue script or annoyed by the parts that don’t make sense if they’re too disturbed by the vivisection and coprophagia. It doesn’t lend itself well to summary, but I’ll try:
We open with a long, moody shot – the first of many. This one is of a highway. We paaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan, at a snail’s pace, to a car, where a man is looking at pictures of dogs lined up, one behind the other. A truck driver pulls over to have a bowel movement in the shrubbery (God, Europeans and their comfort with the human body), and the man in the car gets out and shoots him with a tranquilizer dart, mid-movement. A sane man would wait until his quarry was finished for obvious reasons of cleanliness, but the shooter’s nervous twitches and plug-ugliness have already marked him as A Villainous Madman, so there we are.
We cut to those glorious archetypes who blaze like shooting stars across the firmament of low-grade shock features: two slutty American girls abroad. Remember those old social studies textbooks that listed the major imports and exports of every country? “Niger. Exports: uranium, camels. Imports: UN aid, Marxist revolutionaries, camels.” Do you know why they stopped publishing those? Because it was too embarrassing to read “United States of America. Exports: Oblivious young women who leave cheap eyeshadow streaked across foreign pillowslips, democracy. Imports: tin, low-wage workers.” These particular young women have names, but I missed them, so we’ll call them Curly Hair and Straight Hair. As we meet them, they’re both on the phone: Curly with the hotel concierge, asking for driving directions to a nightclub called “Bunker;” Straight with a friend “back home.” This conversation with Back Home lets her explain that they’re in Germany (Exports: the Holocaust, luxury cars. Imports: Turks) and are going to “party” for a couple of days before moving on to Italy (Exports: Catholicism, news stories about corrupt politicians. Imports: tourists). But they bought her a present in Holland! No, they’re not going to tell her what it is. (Holland. Exports: souvenir clogs. Imports: slabs of unfinished clog-grade wood.)
Curly and Straight are next seen driving in the woods. Why is there a forest between the hotel and a popular nightclub? Were post-war German cities rebuilt that decentralized – “Firebomb this, assholes?” They have a flat tire, if you can believe it. Neither of them knows how to change it, which pissed me off. Everyone should know how to do that, especially A Woman Alone, and even if you technically don’t know how, it’s not too hard to figure out. A car pulls up next to them, and a fat man in a wifebeater sexually harasses them in German. I suppose this is meant to highlight their vulnerability in a foreign land, or something, but it really just confuses the viewer. The man’s first line is “I have a hot video of you sluts together” – it turns out to just be talk, but for a minute the viewer wonders if there’s going to be a Lesbian porn subplot. (If only.)
The harasser drives off, and Curly and Straight have an argument about if they’re going to get out and walk or wait in the car until morning. Ultimately, they decide to walk. Not along the road, through the woods. Darwin works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform… After a lot of whining, they find a house in the woods, kind of. It has a well-manicured lawn and is clearly in some nice little suburb of Rotterdam. It doesn’t look like it’s in the middle of the woods at all, but there we are.
The girls knock, and the door is answered by the dart-shooter from earlier. A lot of empty-calorie “ominous” dialogue follows:
“Do you live here with your wife?”
“No. I don’t like… human beings.” (I know how he feels.)
“Are you girls here alone?”
“Yes, we’re alone.” (Is it too soon for another Charles Darwin joke?)
with the end result that the Mad Scientist roofies the girls (one rohypnol in a shared glass of water disables them both in less than five minutes) and they wake up tied to hospital beds. The crapping truck driver from earlier is in a third bed. The Mad Scientist announces that he is to be killed because he “does not match” – presumably this refers to tissue type, but one hopes he means that his coloring clashes with the rug. A disjointed little clump of scenes follows in which the Mad Scientist kills the truck driver, buries him, and then arrives at the house (his departure isn’t shown) with a captive Japanese man. I’ll apologize here for all the dashes and parentheses. Ideally the writing would be smoother, but it’s that kind of movie. If I told you about it in person, I’d be overusing “apparently,” “it turns out,” and “for some reason.” And, of course, “to my horror.”
The Japanese man turns out to be the star of the show. Since all his lines are in Japanese, (the rest of the movie is in German, English, and terrified grunts) we can’t tell if he’s saying dumb shit like everyone else, so he can just emote with abandon. During this scene, the subtitles report one of his lines as “The Japanese possess incredible strength when backed into a corner!” He repeats this Dragonball Z war cry as the Mad Scientist sets up a light projector, the kind you had in elementary school, and explains how he intends to turn the three of them into a human centipede. This idea occurred to him during his illustrious career separating Siamese twins – if you pay attention, you’ll note that the paintings in his house are of conjoined fetuses. He practiced this centipedification with his three Rottweilers earlier, and is now ready to move on to humans. In short, he plans to cut the tendons in their knees to force them to walk on all fours, and, uh. Uh. May Chaucer forgive me for using English to write this sentence: He intends to sew the anus of the preceding segment to the mouth of the next, joining them by the digestive tract. I admit, I didn’t see that coming. I imagined some kind of chest-to-lower-back graft, but I suppose that isn’t upsetting enough.
Straight Hair manages to escape, setting up the standard girl-runs-from-madman chase plot – except he catches her, and goes ahead with the surgery, creating the human centipede. This is about half an hour into the movie, leaving an hour for an extended reflection on how awful it would be to be a human centipede. I refuse to describe any more. That awful implication that just occurred to you? It happens. Whatever it is, it happens. The only detail I’ll give is that we see the dog-centipede’s grave, marked “Mein Leibe 3-Hund.”
I’ll admit, I watched much of the latter two-thirds of the movie on double speed. I lost nothing: the dialogue was in Japanese or German since the English-speaking characters lost the use of their voices. The lazy, luxurious camerawork drags a fifty-minute movie into an hour and a half. Looooong shot of the centipede undergoing something appalling. Looooong shot of the room. Nonsensical cut to the Mad Scientist, doing something mad. Rinse, repeat.
I watched the bonus features, which was a mistake of nearly the same magnitude as the movie itself.
Casting tapes: The two American girls’ audition. It’s the worst audition I’ve ever seen. “You have a LOVELY… home?”
Deleted scene: As the centipede waits in the background, the Mad Scientist does a prancing little dance around the living room.
Foley session: A shirtless Dutchman shows an unseen narrator the various meats he intends to use for special effects. This includes a cow’s leg and a skinned, jawless sheep’s head, neither of which were in apparent use during the film.
Interview with the director: He’s wearing a silly hat. He got the idea for the movie from “a running joke,” when he would see “a child molester or something on TV” and tell his friends the molester-or-something deserved “to have his mouth sewn to the anus of a fat truck driver.” Not that the truck driver’s wishes are considered, or anything. He must be a blast at parties. “This crab dip is terrible! Whoever made it should be refashioned into a monstrous oddity by a sadistic surgeon playing God.” He thinks a Hollywood remake should star Tom Cruise, Jennifer Lopez, and Paris Hilton as the centipede (no argument there) and plans a “more disturbing” sequel which will feature a twelve-person ‘pede. He claims that the movie is 100% medically accurate, which it isn’t. Tissue types are very hard to match across race, and if he didn’t tissue-match them and put them on anti-rejection drugs, they’d have a brutal immune response to each other’s bodies.
So. There’s The Human Centipede. I take a little comfort in the fact that the actors did have to spend weeks with their faces in each other’s asses. The writer/director is named Tom Six, and the producer is Ilona Six. Two more “Sixes” are thanked in the closing credits, which opens the alarming possibility that this was a family project. I don’t even really know if I thought the movie was bad. There’s no character development or explanation of anything, but it set out to disturb and it did. Also, and this sounds like a backhanded compliment, the lighting was really good. I’m too wrung out to close this properly – all I can think of is the fact that Queen Anne called her Amsterdam-born brother-in-law “the Dutch Abortion” and how bad I am at the arcade classic “Centipede.” (I get distracted shooting the mushrooms.) Also, I want my mother. This is more a reflex than a considered decision; my mother is the kind of person who’d point out medical inaccuracies during the move, and then want to talk about how it made us feel. I want someone else’s mother, who will just read me Jemima Puddleduck untli I forget all about The Human Centipede.