The Human Centipede

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21 June

Josef Mengele’s remains identified, 1985

On this day in 1985 it was finally ascertained that remains exhumed from a grave in Brazil were those of Josef Mengele. Later DNA testing in 1992 confirmed this original identification from dental records. Mengele had died after suffering a stroke and drowning while swimming in the coastal resort of Bertioga. He was 67 and had been living in South America ever since fleeing the concentration camp Auschwitz at the end of the Second World War, where his experiments on inmates had earned him the nickname the “Angel of Death”.

Mengele’s special field of interest was twins and he performed any number of experiments to prove the supremacy of nature over nurture (the better to bolster the Nazi’s theories about racial supremacy). These included infecting one twin with a disease, amputating limbs, the injection of chloroform into the heart and in one particularly gruesome case the sewing together of Gypsy children to try and make conjoined twins. These unfortunates died of gangrene.

The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009, dir: Tom Six)

When buzz about The Human Centipede first started being generated online, the film was being talked about as a new peak of torture porn, perhaps as the ultimate torture porn. In fact it’s an old form of torture porn, revived. As evidence, here’s Dieter Laser, as Dr Heiter, a smock-coated, severe Teutonic doctor, leather boots, gaunt face, long pitiless limbs, the twitch, the embodiment of the cruel Nazi medical man who’s putting his undoubtedly brilliant skills to fiendish ends. Admittedly, writer/director Tom Six has come up with something new for this updated Mengele to do, though it isn’t a long way from the Angel of Death’s original practices. He’s going to sew together three innocent tourists he’s kidnapped, the mouth of one connecting with the anus of the next, then that one’s mouth sewn onto the anus of the one in front. To make a centipede, one whose shit passes from first person to second to third. Why? To create an internet buzz, bums on seats, make a name for Six, make money, nothing more.

But what’s admirable about the way Six does it is that he follows his logic through mercilessly. The film lacks the guile it would have had if it had been made by Hollywood. We see naked women, but they’re naked because they’re being readied for an operation, the fact that we occasionally cop a glance of a sideboob more accidental than intentional (I’m absolutely not saying it’s not intentional though). The remorseless logic of the operation is followed through too – once three people are connected thusly, how do they interact? What happens if one wants to go left when the other wants to go right? What if something serious happens to one of them (like it hasn’t already)? Six also introduces a fascinating political element in the shape of the two cops who come to check out the mad doctor’s remote facility and who threaten to stop him in his tracks.

The cops are clearly 1968 refugees – “Hitler’s children” – and what Six reserves for them shows that there’s a keen cultural intelligence at work. Like most torture porn films, The Human Centipede is really a comedy, Six coming up with increasingly horrible things to show the audience and then basically daring them not to groan. Laughter is the only way out. The cue being Dr Heiter breaking off from his medical work to expound at length on his strange domestic pet, the so-called Three-Dog. Yes, yes, yes, he’d worked up a prototype. Barking.

Why Watch?

  • One of the most infamous films of recent years
  • Dieter Laser’s grim-faced performance
  • Tom Six’s ingenious screenplay
  • A very very dark comedy

The Human Centipede (First Sequence) – Watch it now at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2014

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