The Human Centipede's Delicate Touch

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
April 30 2010 11:25 AM

The Human Centipede's Delicate Touch

I know you've heard about it: The Dutch indie horror flick about a deranged plastic surgeon who sews people together, top-to-bottom , in an effort to create a human triplet with a continuous digestive tract. Yesterday, the Vulture blog offered a guide for how to watch the movie without throwing up . New York film critic David Edelstein called it a "monstrosity" and " torture porn ."

Does The Human Centipede tell the story of a man who tortures his victims in the basement of a secluded house? Yes. Does the head of the centipede confess, at one point, that he has to go to the bathroom?  Uh-huh. And does the evil surgeon respond by throwing up his hands, and crying, "FEED HER!  FEED HER!"?  Sure.  But to call the movie torture porn goes a step too far. For a movie about three people sewn together mouth-to-anus, The Human Centipede is surprisingly restrained.

The film has less nauseous gore than you'd find in many mainstream American horror movies, and what scares there are tend to be of the who's-behind-that-door variety. (There's more crying and whimpering than on-screen disembowelment.) The crux of the story that biological interface between one victim and the next is never shown on-screen.

All this may sound like cold comfort, but seriously consider how director Tom Six compares to his fellow horror auteurs. The sadism of splat-packers like Eli Roth, James Wan, and Darren Lynn Bousman far exceeds anything on display in The Human Centipede .

Let's put things in perspective: Six's monstrous film opens today in exactly one theater . Meanwhile, here's a sampling of the genuine torture porn that turns up on a regular basis in suburban multiplexes around the nation:

Daniel Engber Daniel Engber

Daniel Engber is a columnist for Slate

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In Hostel , a man is handcuffed to a chair while someone puts holes in him with a power drill. Later a young woman's eyeball gets burned out of her head with a blowtorch, and snipped off with a pair of scissors . Goo dribbles out. (2,300 theaters; $80 million.)

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In Saw , Cary Elwes is shown cutting off his own foot with a rusty hacksaw. (2,500 theaters; $100 million.)

In Saw II , a victim must tear a dozen metal rings from his own flesh, one by one, in order to escape a trap. (3,000 theaters; $150 million.)

I won't say The Human Centipede is a good movie. But next to films like these, it's a stone cold masterpiece.