Comparing The Human Centipede Films: 'Unflinching, Brutal, But Sadly Missing Something…'

Lee Clements writes about his experiences watching The Human Centipede and The Human Centipede 2 and discovers how and why the surgical precision of one is let down by the brutal blunt force of the other. Warning: this article contains brief descriptions of scenes featuring graphic violence.

The first film's nefarious Dr Heiter.

In the first Human Centipede, director Tom Six creates a film where his main character is as interesting as the plot. The seemingly mad Dr. Heiter was a world-renowned surgeon whose speciality was separating conjoined twins, but in a bizarre reversal of his skills, he plots to stitch together three unlucky souls, kidnapped whilst they are travelling in Germany. Dr. Heiter’s medical background provided the accuracy that the film needed to stand up to basic criticism, the theoretical possibility for this procedure to happen and for these three kidnapped tourists to share a single digestive system backing up the film's obvious intention to shock.

Dr. Heiter’s combination of silent confidence, complete madness and twisted passion held my attention for the duration of the first film. Ironically though, I felt afterwards that his clinical manner and the atmosphere that his character created seemed to hold me hostage too.

The first film had suspense, some (tasteful?) gore and a few genuinely uncomfortable scenes, most of which centred around the psychological terror that these three tourists had woken up to. The slow, logical explanation by a mad German scientist that they were going to be carefully and plausibly stitched together – and that there was absolutely nothing they could do about it - fed the horror effectively.

Having seen the first Human Centipede film, my expectations were high for the new story.

The second film's more humble, less skilled protagonist, Martin.

In Human Centipede 2, the main character goes merely by the rather innocuous name of Martin. He is a short, overweight, abused, silent, disturbed loner who has become obsessed with the first film, watching it repeatedly, both at home and at work. He has collected a scrapbook of pictures and scribblings about 'improving' on Dr. Heiter’s ideas by creating a new human centipede out of a staggering number of people.

By comparison though, he is not a world-renowned surgeon. He is an underground car park attendant. He is not trained in medical procedures, sterilisation and certainly does not have anything resembling a 'duty of care' to the humans that he is operating on. As the film progresses he shows proficiency in using duct tape, hammers, scissors, crow bars, a pistol and – most brutally of all – an industrial staple gun.

Tom Six must be, in a way, applauded here: the audience is treated to all of the sights and sounds of these tools being put to full use. All of the sights and sounds.

Take a moment now to recall something you have seen onscreen that made you squirm or feel squeamish. I flinched during American History X at the sound of teeth grating loudly on the curb just before a character's head is stamped on. Whatever image you conjure up from your memories, is nothing in comparison to the sights and sounds of Human Centipede 2.

In the film, you see teeth knocked out with a hammer and then scooped out of the character’s gurgling throat. You see flesh torn right before your eyes – and then, in some cases, roughly stapled back onto the body. You see ligaments ripped like they are rubber bands. These scenes are unflinching, graphic and intense. Thankfully, the film has been shot in black and white to avoid attracting any more controversy surrounding the high levels of blood that are onscreen during the 'procedures', but it also adds grittiness to the experience. It seems to make the film even more dirty and filthy. I honestly felt unclean after viewing.

In every sequel or expansion of a story the director has to up the stakes, raise the bar, go bigger. Whilst Human Centipede 2 and Tom Six have categorically ticked all three of the aforementioned boxes, that does not necessarily make it a better film. Or even a necessary one.

Martin’s reign of terror is lacking in atmosphere and emotion, lacking in purpose and precision. Because he never utters more than a growl or a pained scream, the audience is never allowed to explore his motivation for committing these horrific acts. Are we meant to assume that an occasional flashback to sexual abuse by his father has triggered this descent into anger and confusion? I found that this particular justification for Martin’s behaviour to fall short and, due to his silence, he sadly fails to live up to the previous lunacy of Dr. Heiter, so effective in perpetrating the horror in the first film.

Maybe Tom Six will be able to create a character that is comparable to Heiter in the upcoming Human Centipede 3, due 2013. Dare you watch?

Lee can be found on twitter @LeeRClements.


  1. There would literally be more point in watching medical procedures from a seat in an operating room than sitting through anything Tom Six does. The man isn't a talented filmmaker, he's just mad.

  2. I've never heard him talk really, just a few quotes when the BBFC denied him a rating over here. Having said that, the madness looks well apparent given the subject of these two films.

  3. I think Martin sound like the perfect movie monster. Yet to see the film but sounds lovely!

  4. I'm sure he's exactly the sort of person you'd like to have round your dinner table!

  5. He'd certainly be a very quiet guest.
    But you wouldn't want to leave him alone anywhere in your house...

  6. I'll have to take your word for it. He's not coming anywhere near my house. That I know of.