From the opening shot to the closing credits, this film by director Tom Six is carefully constructed in every frame to create an overall atmosphere of unease and with the superb performance by Dieter Laser, this is less a gore fest than a very personal and intimate character study of a true mad scientist. But this is really where the true horror in this film lies.
Long gone are shots filmed like this, from the opening slow pan to the reveal of a lone man in a car, we hear just the background noise and the soft menacing tones of the music sets the stage for the pace and tone of the entire film. Then we get to see exactly what we expect, pictures of three dogs attached to each other and a doctor that is crying over them. The beginning threads of madness are shown, we have been given a glimpse and watching him capture his first human, we know it will only get worse.
The weakest part of the movie, however, is the set up for getting two girls to Dr. Heiter?s house. Not only does this part not work, but the acting of Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie leave a lot to be desired. The effort was made to make this believable, two girls stranded in a foreign country and the only help they find was a sex pervert in a car. They use this to justify entering a very creepy man?s house to use his phone and it kind of works, but it?s not very believable. Once they are in the house, however, the true Machiavellian tale begins. With the addition of Akihiro Kitamura, not only does his performance raise the stakes and adds to Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie victim performances, having him only speak Japanese adds yet another layer into this superb horror mix. One of the best scenes is when the three are recovering from surgery and Dr. Heiter waits, laying in a Christ like pose on the bed, waiting in a suit like an expected father, lounging on the couch in satisfaction and then suddenly he hears the first murmuring and rising, looks directly into the camera and you can feel this insectile gaze staring into your soul. But maybe it?s the juxtaposition of his joy, his delight and his desire of creating a pet that makes this performance. But honestly, it?s the combination of all elements that elevates this film above many other.
There are no gotcha scares here, no cheap thrills, and remarkably very little gore. This is not a standard torcher-porn horror like you would expect by the ads and popular opinion. We are not shown the surgery, only a glimpse because the surgery is not the point, not is it the main tension of the film. Nothing is easy, there are no shortcuts. The brilliance of this film is the performance of Dieter Laser as Dr. Heiter who plays a mad scientist with grace, subtlety and such superior malevolence you cannot help but shudder at his gestures, his movements which are alien, insect like and predatory. This is like watching Anthony Hopkins playing Hannibal Lecter and not knowing if you could ever watch him in the same way again. He is the role.
The construction of the shots are exquisite. From the warm tones and lighting of the upper floor mixed with the coldness and sparseness of the furniture arrangements, showing warmth and coldness bathed in orange tones, it gives the idea of life, but shows the coldness of that life, that it?s a stage set for others and downstairs is the true lair. Downstairs is bathed in a cold blue light, everything is harsh, sterile and organized. There is nothing extraneous about this house; everything is for a single purpose. Every shot is also composed of dual imagery, from exterior shots to interior, each is framed to not only show exactly what Tom Six wants to show us, but to show the contrasting order within the life, the other framed within the natural.
Finally let?s talk about the music, Patrick Savage and Holeg Spies deliver a score that never distracts, but just creates another layer of malice to the visuals on the screen. There are no soundtrack songs, no swell of music for every spec of interesting footage or lead up to a scary moment. The score is long, drawn out tones that serve to enhance in a way that never pulls you out of the intensity. All elements combine perfectly into a haunting tale of pain and humiliation combined with the absolute joy of Dr. Heiter of his success and the idea of creating a subservient human centipede that will be a pet to him. To see his transition from coldly treating his human prey to how he lovingly treats his created pet, and crescendoing into an ending that is complete, utterly disturbing and tragic all in one.
Suddenly you realize this film didn?t take you to new gory depths, but to a new level of terror and revulsion rarely seen in modern horror. While it has flaws, this film should be part of any serious horror collector.