Viewing the horror- The Human Centipede

Some time ago, my friend, playwright Andy Johnston (who recently served as a guest author on The Horror Pages) asked that I post my thoughts about a film I had recently purchased on DVD. After a mutual friend (shoutout to Cade Radhe!) said he would be interested in reading such an article as well, I thought I would indulge their request. Thought this site isn’t known for playing host to film reviews- I’m no Svengoolie– I’ve tried to summarize my thoughts on the film as best as I could. Read on for the first-ever film review to appear on The Horror Pages: Viewing the horror- The Human Centipede.

A film legendary for being extreme. Is there more to it than gore?

A film legendary for being extreme. Is there more to it than gore?

Though it may seem counterintuitive to those uninterested in the genre, horror is a particularly reflective genre, prone to self-analysis. Joss Whedon’s 2012 film The Cabin in the Woods, a deconstruction of the horror genre, served as a vehicle for criticism of the perceived stagnation of modern horror and so-called ‘torture porn’ films like The Human Centipede, Hostel, and Saw. The film sported the tagline ‘You think you know the story’, hinting to viewers the twist; while characterizing itself as a traditional horror film in much of it’s promotional material, Cabin In The Woods was anything but, and it seemed the ultimate message of the film was that the horror genre would need to change to survive, to become something new in order to remain effective. However, it is difficult for any art form to step forward without having one foot planted firmly in tradition. A number of films reflecting this neotraditionalist viewpoint on horror filmmaking (House of 1000 Corpses, The Strangers, and Hatchet, to name a few) were released in the years prior to the release of The Cabin In The Woods. Could The Human Centipede be considered from this neotraditionalist standpoint?

Given the widespread publicity of the exceptionally violent content the film contains, It would be easy to disregard The Human Centipede as raw exploitation and therefore unworthy of viewing, but this is a short-sighted viewpoint. Far from being simply a visual catalog of violent imagery, The Human Centipede has as it’s core a meditation about the effect of dehumanization, a message the intense violence of the film serves as a vehicle to convey.

The Human Centipede might well have premiered with the tagline “You think you don’t know the story”.

A face familiar to any horror fan.

A face familiar to any horror fan.

Viewed through the lens of traditionalism and with an understanding of the history and storytelling methods of the horror genre, the nature of the film becomes clear- like it’s progenitor, Frankenstein, The Human Centipede concerns itself with reflecting the nature of, and our feelings towards, the monstrous, and like Frankenstein the act of monsterization forces the viewer to disassociate with the victim of the gut-wrenching brutality portrayed on-screen, but as we draw back from the monster we sacrifice our empathy, making us monstrous ourselves. The principle becomes even more shocking when you consider that Frankenstein’s Monster committed acts of brutality, although it may not have known any better, but the Human Centipede never commits any morally reprehensible act throughout the film- the Centipede may, in fact, be one of the best examples of a pure victim archetype in the history of the horror genre.

Although Dieter Laser’s mad doctor character in The Human Centipede comes across very differently than the portrayal of Dr. Frankenstein in the 1931 film, insomuch as whereas Dr. Frankenstein could be best characterized as a man who is makes a horrific mistake and suffers the consequences thereof, Laser’s character Dr. Heiser feels no such compunctions, having fallen completely into his own mad designs. Both men are driven by madness; Dr. Frankenstein’s madness is driven by his desire to cheat death, and relay the secret to cheating death to his fellow man; Dr. Heiser, though, has sacrificed his own humanity at the altar of his madness, and feels no empathy, only compulsion to bring his fantasies into reality. Does this monstrousness of character make Heiser less effective as an antagonist?

If we were to attempt reduce horror to a primary essence, that essence might be inevitability. Frankenstein’s Monster, though its creation may have been shaped through the best of intentions for the collective good of humanity, remained an abomination whose effect on the community- and whose ultimate destruction- was inevitable. If Victor Frankenstein was the Modern Prometheus, reaching into the heights of Olympus to steal fire from the gods, Heiser is Prometheus inverted, reaching into the depths of his own diseased consciousness. Though their intentions may have differed, the effect of both men was the same, and the horror that resulted from their actions equally inevitable.

It’s tempting to end my thoughts on the film with a statement like ‘you should watch The Human Centipede, if you can handle it’, but such a statement would detract from the point; you should watch The Human Centipede- and all of the other films mentioned above- regardless of whether you expect that you will be able to handle it, because horror is most effective when it has its teeth.


All of the IP’s and imagery mentioned/shown above are property of their respective owners and their use in this article is intended compliant with applicable Fair Use for the purpose of review. 

~ by Redgoateerob on January 27, 2014.

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