3 March 2011

The Human Centipede (from The Hub, May 2010)

For general fun and film-based frolics here is an article I was asked to write for the Hub Magazine's website (still currently down/awaiting restart) last year to drum up reader interest, and ponder what the the fuss might be, regarding 2009 horror film The Human Centipede (First Sequence). I wanted to repost it here to give it some kind of online home. The readership of the magazine is primarily (high) fashion-based, therefore it's pitched to appeal to a wider-than-just-horror cohort, to say the least. But lord knows what they made of an article on a film about a guy who sews three people together for fun...

Ever wondered what Jake and Dinos Chapman would make out of Frankenstein? Well, with new horror film The Human Centipede (First Sequence) we may have an answer. This new extreme surgical torture film from Dutch director Tom Six is another in the grim line of contemporary shock-horror films - such as Saw, Hostel, Captivity, Frontière(s) etc - which have risen to prominence over the last ten-or-so years.

The Human Centipede recently caused quite a stir on its US release (April 2010) and its controversy may well be repeated when it gets a release here in the UK (August 2010). The furore surrounding the film has all to do with its grossly novel premise, which can be easily gleaned from its promotional posters. It doesn't need spelling out, it's there in the title: crazed doctor creates living arthropod by joining together three hapless victims. Somehow being the back end of a panto cow doesn't seem so bad after all.

This particular trend in 'gorno' horror to reduce audiences into wincing bags of psychological nerves has increased year after year since Jigsaw first opened his basement to a handful of unwilling victims in 2004's Saw - the puzzle fit and surprise successful franchise was born. Shock tactics are the horror genre's meat 'n' potatoes: Hitchcock gave Janet Leigh an early bath (well, shower) in Psycho; Linda Blair turned heads (including her own) in The Exorcist; Bruce the shark surfaced to gnash his Jaws at a surprised Sheriff Brody; and a mini xenomorph gave John Hurt the worst chest pains imaginable in Alien. But many recent horrors have gone that bit further. As the desire in audiences for The Ultimate Scare has increased over the years, some filmmakers are less inclined to make us jump, and more keen to test our gag reflexes.

These films are looking inward, zeroing in on, and within, the human body for a deeper investigation into what makes us most afraid. The invasion of the body is tantamount to absolute fear, and always has been; the thought of death at the hands of the unknown fuels our fears. But more upsetting, more radical, they seem to suggest, is the prolonged and tortuous journey to the grave. Simply dying in horror cinema isn't cutting it these days. The need for unparalleled cinematic suffering has somewhat sidelined the slasher, the zombie and the garden-variety bogeyman. The likes of Hostel, Martyrs and Inside have posited entrapment and torture as the genre's in-thing: it's not when, but how. But it looks as if The Human Centipede may have shifted things into a new medically-dubious area.

Is it the latest in the tradition of Cronenbergian or Miike-like explorations of body horror (Jeff Goldblum's evolution into The Fly, the full-grown-man birth scene in Gozu for example), or a more jokey, scatalogically-fixated counterpart? Something the Farrelly bros. might well come up with if they ventured into horror filmmaking? The numerically leading subtitle in parentheses in the film's full title points to inevitable sequels, and indeed there are rumours of a (Full Sequence) currently in production - this time featuring twelve unlucky centi-peeps. (Well, it has been a long time since creepy-crawlies have given us a cinematic fright). But let's see if this first flick is simply great or just plain gross first shall we?

The derision and - in some quarters - outrage it's so far been largely met with suggest that Tom Six has crossed a line. But, ultimately, should a film with such a daftly preposterous premise really be taken too seriously? Isn't it after all just a horror movie with a bit of added, ahem, tongue in cheek? Either way, it's unlikely that the central centipede trio in the film will sign up for Dr. Christian Jessen's Embarrassing Bodies waiting list any time soon.

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