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What the Hell Was I Thinking? A Failed Attempt to watch The Human Centipede

January 14, 2011

I am fortunate enough to possess some extremely clever friends. As December transforms Minneapolis into the World’s Largest Hockey Rink, our expats make return pilgrimages to annually remind themselves why they originally abandoned the place. A few weeks ago, Bryce – an “idea guy” if there ever was one – and a few other past and present Minnesotans crowded into the C.C. Club to discuss the Timberwolves’ lack of guard depth, Blake Griffin’s latest poster-dunk, and other weighty matters. Because I like to start debates that eventually expand and swallow all of the oxygen in the room, I decided to ask my friend Emilia “what is the worst movie you’ve seen in a theatre?” (and yes, I spell it that way, even when I’m saying it). Before she could finish  the first word of her answer (“The…”), everyone else decided to jump in with their recollections of past cinematic pain. When the topic turns to music or movies, Bryce will grab the closest available approximation of parchment and transcribe the specific items listed in the discussion (how else would I recall that “The Beautiful Ones” was my 5th or 3rd-favorite Prince song, depending on whether the Old-Fashioned was concocted with Maker’s Mark or Woodford Reserve). After compiling our table’s worst-movie selection, he asks if I’ve seen a little Dutch indie called The Human Centipede. After replying in the negative, he asked if I’d even heard of it. Also no.

Bryce, emboldened by the magic of Grain Belt “Premium”, decided that I needed to watch it as soon as possible, and live-tweet the experience. “What the hell, why not?”, I replied. Within seconds, he was informing our other far-away friends (like John of Slow Learner) about my decision, seeking advice on how to assure I don’t walk back my promise. “Don’t read anything about it”, he said. So I decided to give it a try.

What the hell was I thinking?

Luckily, I did not have to rent the film, thanks to the streaming service of That Popular Movie Delivery Company. Sadly, I was unable to avoid the brief synopsis that appears on the movie’s page. “This movie is about what!?”, I cautiously muttered. As I clicked “play”, I worried that said Company may incorporate this film into their “you might like” lists, which might lead to some frightening suggestions. As Robert Plant said in “Big Log”, from his underrated solo album The Principle of Moments, “There’s no turning back – no.” Except that day, I was not feeling very well, and had to delay the whole process. This did not sit well with the (two) people reading the tweets.

“I have a NEED. A NEED FOR ‘PEDE!”, said @slowlearner. Hell, Goose and Maverick wouldn’t quit, damnit! So a few days later, I returned to the scene of the crime.

After a lengthy establishing shot of an ordinary countryside, the credits inform me that this film contains an actor by the name of Dieter Laser, which sounds like a great Batman villain. Eventually I learn that Laser is the ominous-looking guy who reminded me of a slightly-mad Larry King. And if your car breaks down, you really do not want him to stop and “help”.

We do not get to see what results from his aggro creepiness, but I got the sneaky feeling that Toy Story this ain’t. Enter the two female protagonists, who are engaging in the kind of inanely-vapid conversations that explains how a highly-disciplined political movement can wreak some serious havoc on a population’s conception of “facts.” Scenes like this lead me to ask, “Is this an example of terrible acting, or a great performance in attempting to look like ‘bad’ acting?” After a clunky sequence where they call a few people and get into a car, they soon realize that they are lost. Then a tire explodes. A “gentleman” stops to check out the setting, but instead of help, he is relegated to offer a series of expletives and lewd comments. Luckily, he avoids aping Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant, sparing us from hearing You Know What Demand in a dialect I can only describe as “Disturbed Dutch”. After he departs, the women decide to abandon their car to seek assistance. And you’ll never guess whose house they amble into.

Soon, the doppelganger of our suspender-clad barker is handing out glasses of Patrick Bateman-style adulterated beverages. As a series of macabre paintings and photographs enter the shots, I get the feeling that he’s not going to let these women leave the place. After he kidnaps them and explains his – gulp – plans on their utilization, I begin to doubt if I can actually finish this. Who would have thought that a movie called The Human Centipede would have been about someone actually creating a human centipede?

I tried to keep watching, but the blueprints for Dieter’s creation was one of those things that might be difficult to unsee, I accurately predicted. It was also extremely boring, outside of the spectre of watching three people get surgically-altered to enable this, um, creation. So I technically bailed after 45 minutes, outside of a quick scroll forward to see if I made the right choice. After catching a few seconds of the real-life “centipede” attempting to climb a set of stairs, I screamed “I’M OUT” like Kramer exiting “the Contest”.

This film left far more questions than answers, but not in a good way. I remember first hearing that current Virginia governor Bob McDonnell received degrees in Law and Public Policy at a “school” called “Christian Broadcasting Network University”, and all the questions that I felt needed to be asked. Who looks amongst a list of actual institutions of higher learning, and says “Nope, I want to attend a place with a School of Government named after the whacked-out goofball bigot Pat Robertson’’? Then there’s all of the steps involved in the process – actually visiting said campus, realizing you are surrounded by people who would not ridicule you for seeking to invest time and money at a school founded by said whacked-out goofball bigot; completing the application without laughing yourself hysterically to tears; earnestly asking a financial-aid worker to review a request for assistance to attend a “school” called “Christian Broadcasting Network University”; actually attending class and trying to complete assignments that will eventually be graded by people who choose to work for a whackjob that declares that tidal waves are “God’s wrath” for people’s bedroom activities when he isn’t feasting on the stupidity of his acolytes to steal significant amounts of their paychecks? Then there’s the last part – actually telling people about the entire experience without awaiting for everyone to gasp, saving their sanity with a “…just kidding!” afterwards?

The Human Centipede begs for a similar deconstruction. What kind of director flips through a list of movie pitches and thinks, “Naw, these are too ordinary – oh, here’s one where a mad doctor cuts people’s faces and butts and sows them together to make a ‘centipede’ out of people! We have a winner!”? How does he pitch the idea to potential funders? How does he ask actors to appear in such a film? And, most importantly, when the unlucky cast members learn that the moviemaking will require that they devote several hours on their knees, with their mouth a centimeter away from another actor’s arsehole, what kept them from running away in horror?

  1. January 14, 2011 5:20 pm

    I believe it was Judah Friedlander who said on Twitter that “the moral of the story is: learn how to change a tire or you’ll end up with your mouth sewn to some Asian guy’s anus.”

  2. David Wigfield permalink
    February 8, 2011 6:31 am

    Regarding your final question, as to how the film was even made in the first place, the writer/director, Tom Six, deliberately withheld much of the details of the script from the investors he approached for financing. He also had to take a similar approach with the casting, as several actresses walked out of auditions upon reading the script.

    (Of course, these could largely be apocryphal anecdotes aimed at hyping the film. It’s impossible to know for sure.)

  3. Lloyd permalink
    February 12, 2011 12:36 pm

    I love the fact that now, if someone ever Googles “bob mcdonnell human centipede,” an actual page will pop up. Such is the genius of Todd.

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