Why I Hate "The Human Centipede"
A few months ago, I decided to do a marathon of double features. One extremely disturbing film and one Muppet film. While I understandably preferred the Muppet side of things, the onslaught of disturbing films ended up leaving a significant mark as well. Some I really liked, like Irréversible and Audition, some I really disliked, like Hostel and Antichrist, and then there was The Human Centipede. The Human Centipede has arguably the most infamous reputation of any movie ever. Where some terrible films have garnered remarkably devout cult followings and disturbing films have many willing to defend the artistry beneath, The Human Centipede seems to be beyond saving, and deservedly so.
There are very few films I vehemently detest; The Human Centipede is at the top of that list. Some may claim that I have a weak stomach or that I’m simply not equipped for intense horror, but that’s untrue. I’ve seen countless films, horror or otherwise, that are far more disturbing than The Human Centipede, and many of those films I consider to be fantastic. My problem with The Human Centipede isn’t how it’s disturbing, but rather why it’s disturbing, and how it presents disturbing and nihilistic themes to the audience.
One of the most essential aspects to a successful screenplay is respect for the audience. Respect is the reason many films that could’ve been great ended up being mediocre or worse. To me, there is no movie more disrespectful to the audience than The Human Centipede. The Human Centipede is a film that unabashedly flaunts its malice towards the audience. By the end of the film, the audience is left with an emptiness. This emptiness is not caused by a knockout ending that puts the hopelessness of the whole film into perspective. Rather, this is an emptiness born of anger and shock at a film that effectively built up a big 90-minute middle finger to the audience.
To dissect why the film is so offensive, it’s important to look at the now infamous plot. I’ll issue not only a spoiler warning but also a content warning for some upsetting topics. Two young women vacationing together and a Japanese stranger are kidnapped by a madman who sews their bodies together, mouth to…the other end, to form the titular monster. What ensues is a vile and grueling film with zero plot. We see as these three people undergo horrific torture at the hands of a psychopath, with each “experiment” being worse than the last. The film finally ends with the three finally being able to get the better of the scientist, only for Katsuro (the head of the centipede) to kill himself, one of the girls at the back dying, and the middle woman having to wait and die between the other two. It’s a narrative that makes me physically ill just thinking about it, and not in an effective way.
The Human Centipede enjoys tormenting the audience with cheap tricks and cruelty. It doesn’t take the time to build up characters, rather attempting for us to feel for their plight on the surface level of their situation. Unsurprisingly that works. Stick any three individuals through a gauntlet like that and the audience is bound to feel bad, that’s not effective writing though. A film like Saw places characters in similarly dire circumstances, but the screenplay takes the time to invest us in their plight. It makes the hopelessness of the situation have weight. In Saw, I want to see these men escape because I care. I want to see them win, because them winning is me winning, and if they lose, the loss means something because I saw them be bested and it’s emotionally affecting. In The Human Centipede, I want to see the characters win because I want to stop suffering alongside them. I feel as though I’m begging for mercy as a fellow human being, and I’m biologically programmed to help another human being in distress. It’s appealing to me on a fundamentally primal level, something that doesn’t require thought or finesse, it only requires itself to be so abhorrent I’m morally compelled to oppose it. I don’t care if they go home to their families or lovers, I just want this agony to stop, which brings me to my next point.
For decades scholars and critics have debated whether extreme violence has a place in film. I’m of the opinion that if used correctly, violence can elevate a film to create a more impactful emotional experience. The problem lies in how many films use violence for surface level shock rather than narrative material. Irréversible is a film that makes me feel sick, namely from two scenes, one of which involving a fire extinguisher. The extinguisher scene is a brutal and very hard to watch scene, but it’s earned. The overarching themes of the film and the motif of destruction benefit from such a visceral display. Something like Day of the Dead can also be horrifically violent because it knows why it is. It’s not treated like the extinguisher scene, it’s self-aware. Violent? undeniably. Exploitative? No. The Human Centipede is pure exploitation. It is despicably evil acts of torture that exist for no reason. It’s 90 minutes of the extinguisher scene on loop with no artistic merit. It doesn’t just border on sadism, it is sadism. Relentless cruelty with no reprieve that grants the audience nothing in return. We gain nothing from seeing this agony, and with no catharsis to speak of, it’s abundantly clear that the filmmakers never wanted us to in the first place.
The Human Centipede is a film that I want to erase from my memory. It’s a film designed to use the audience and drop them into a hopeless pit with no sunlight. We watch innocent people be tortured to death, ending on a dour note. There is no poignancy, no greater mystery, no reason for any of it. The film rewards you for your time and investment with a slap in the face and an ending that spits directly onto the audience it was presumably made for. I see no artistic merit in The Human Centipede, just filmmakers who wanted to create a film as offensive as they could, and congrats to them for doing it. There is absolutely nothing of merit in The Human Centipede, don’t let your curiosity get the better of you, The Human Centipede is truly the vilest, most upsetting, genuinely awful piece of filth in existence. Stay as far away as you can.