Writer-director Tom Six used to joke with his friends that as punishment, child molesters should have their mouths surgically attached to the "ass of a very fat truck driver." When they would express disgust, Six started to think his perverse comment could become the start of a particularly sick and twisted horror movie.
"Everyone said [my joke] was so horrible that I thought it might be a great idea for a horror film, so that's how it all started," says Six. "The idea came from a joke, but the film isn't a joke or a comedy."
The movie, The Human Centipede, centers on the exploits of Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser), a German doctor who once specialized in separating Siamese twins. Now retired, Heiter has figured out a way to attach three humans via their gastric systems. When two young American tourists (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie) show up at his house one night looking for help after their car has broken down, he abducts them and then surgically attaches them to a Japanese man (Akihiro Kitamura) he has also kidnapped. With its exposed stitches half covered by bandages, the "centipede" really does look like something a doctor tried to haphazardly sew together.
"I don't like computer-generated insects or monsters in films," says Six. "You always think it's not real. I really wanted to make a film about human beings. I called it a 'human centipede' because that's what it looks like. Most people still think it's about monsters, but it's not."
Given that the film begins with a run-of-the-mill opening scene where two pretty girls panic when their car gets a flat tire in the middle of a dark and desolate forest, there's little that suggests the path it will take. The element of surprise clearly works in its favor. There's also a terrific performance by Laser — a veteran actor entering the horror genre for the first time — which ensures that this is destined to become a cult film. Even if difficult to watch, the movie has a vision that distinguishes it from other contemporary low-budget horror flicks that pay homage to the old-school approach. In fact, Six says it was his intention to lure viewers with a conventional beginning.
"I thought if I start with cliché, you will get hit very hard on the head when something strange happens," he explains. "I kept the ending unresolved because it stays with you for a long time. A lot of times when the film ends, people are still sitting there for five minutes."
Plenty of audiences have had that experience. The film, which has won top awards at horror conventions like Fantastic Fest and Screamfest, has absolutely horrified some viewers.
"I've had so many reactions," says Six, who also generated controversy with his 2004 film Gay in Amsterdam, the first Dutch gay film. "People have walked out of the cinemas. I had a girl who was so afraid of me that she wouldn't look at me. That is pretty crazy. I showed it in an American theater, and people were eating during the movie and they spit their food out and couldn't eat any more. I like the controversy because it's fun when people talk about your film."
And if you think The Human Centipede is grotesque, be prepared for its sequel. The follow-up film will feature a 12-person centipede.
"It's really cool," says Six says of the sequel, which he will start filming in June. "I had a lot of ideas for part one that I couldn't do because the idea was so horrible, I thought I had to let the audience get used to the sick idea. Now I can use all my insane ideas in part two."
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