Sunday, April 10, 2011

30 Day Horror Challenge Day 10 - Your favorite psychological horror film

The Human Centipede is a very misunderstood movie. It was hyped as the sickest and most extreme film ever made. When I saw it, however, I was surprised to find a truly extreme and disturbing concept played out intelligently and with restraint. Human Centipede is not a graphic movie. Instead it shows you just enough to plant the idea, and then lets your mind take over from there. Just like another very psychological horror flick that doesn’t have the reputation as being one, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the viewer is left to fill in the truly horrific details for themselves. Director and writer Tom Six masterfully draws out the revulsion without resorting to gore, making the audience squirm. That, my friends, is what a psychological horror flick is all about. There's a reason it made my top 5 of 2010 list.

Some film critics, mainly the squeamish and easily offended types (wusses and idiots I think are the correct technical terms) have decried this film as nothing more than another shock gross out flick. They’ve even gone so far as to use the ridiculous term, and I can’t believe I’m about to say this, torture porn. God I hate that term. Roger Ebert refused to rate it, saying “The star rating system is unsuited to this film. Is the movie good? Is it bad? Does it matter? It is what it is and occupies a world where the stars don't shine.” If Ebert hated it, you know it’s gotta be good. We all know the plot by now. A crazy doctor stitches three people up pie hole to poop chute, creating a human centipede. That’s it. What could have turned into a gore soaked 1 dude, 2 girls, and no cup scenario, however, is cleverly manipulated into being more horrific than anything that could actually be shown.

This film mixes body horror and psych horror deftly. You are never shown explicitly the “contact points” of the human centipede. Hell, the centipede doesn’t even get created until more than halfway through the film. When three end up becoming one, all you see are bandages and barely the tip of a stitched up cheek. That’s it. They don’t show you the ass to mouth going on, it’s implied. This creates a uniquely personal horror experience. Since it’s not shown, the viewer has to fill in the gaps. We all have mouths, and we all have butts, so naturally when filling in those gaps we subconsciously think of it in terms of our own. Instead of seeing someone else in that situation, we’re left to imagine the horror of our mouth stitched to someone’s ass. That’s brilliant.

Tom Six, in several sequences in the first half of the film, uses the audience’s imaginations against them. The scene where Dr. Heiter is calmly explaining step by step what he’s going to do to them, with diagrams no less, is positively squirm inducing. It is such an outlandish idea that our minds have no choice but to take it and run with it. We only see about 30 seconds of the actual procedure, but it follows four minutes of watching the good doctor marking his patients for their incisions. The tension is brilliantly maintained. Suggestion is, occasionally, better than gore. Yes, I, a gorehound, just said that.

The spot on acting adds another dimension to the psychological trauma inflicted on the audience. Dieter Laser as Dr. Joseph Heiter is every bit as effective as another doctor from what many consider to be the greatest psychological thriller of all time, Hannibal Lecter. What really sells the horror, though, is the performances of Ashley C Williams and Ashlynn Yennie, the lovely ladies of the centipede. Akihiro Kitamura gives a solid performance as the head, but he can vocalize. The two ladies with a face full of booty have to sell the whole thing with just their eyes, and they do a remarkable job. Every little nuance is crystal clear. This whole thing could have gotten real silly real quick had the actors not kept the sincerity of the situation intact. These two actresses especially, along with Laser and Kitamura, really bring it. And the ending! Oh my god the ending! I won’t give it away, but I don’t think anyone has ever been left in a more desperate and hopeless situation than someone is at the end of this flick. After all the audience has been through, many films would throw them a bone and give them a happy ending. Nope. This is more like a “one final kick in the nuts” ending.

One of my favorite little psychological touches is the subtitle: First Sequence. Those two little words make sure that in the back of your mind you know that as disturbing as all this is, there’s more on the way. I know I’ll be waiting for it with a shit eating grin. C’mon, you knew I was gonna make that joke sooner or later. It even has the one marking of a film that's made a true cultural impact, its own porn parody. Two non-surgically severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.

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