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Movie Review

The Human Centipede

Lazy ‘Human Centipede’ conjoins clichés and exploitation

Dieter Laser plays a madman who surgically binds people. Dieter Laser plays a madman who surgically binds people. (IFC Films)
By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / May 7, 2010

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A good midnight movie pulls you into a realm you would otherwise avoid unless asleep. It’s an invitation to watch someone else’s nightmare. In 1975, the average moviegoer didn’t want to spend 7 p.m. singing with a transvestite and his friends in a Transylvanian castle. At midnight, two years later, a lot of people did, and they liked it enough to make “The Rocky Horror Picture Show’’ an unstoppable after-hours must.

The nightmare has to top whatever your unconscious could produce. Quentin Tarantino knows this. The brilliance of “Pulp Fiction’’ is that it’s a 10 p.m. movie that, not long before we get a load of The Gimp, peaks at midnight. “Grindhouse ’’ made the stroke of 12 last for three hours.

A movie about a German madman who longs to turn tourists into a hundred-legged bug is made for midnight. His dream exceeds your nightmare. But “The Human Centipede,’’ which the Coolidge Corner Theatre begins showing tonight at precisely 12, is only nominally an after-hours experience. Tom Six’s movie has the freakiness and sadism of its genre, but it’s so heavy with self-appreciation — Dude, we had the craziest premise for a movie! — that it can’t lift off into the perverse ecstasy of decent exploitation. That was also the problem with “Snakes on a Plane.’’

When their car gets a flat tire, two American tourists in Germany, Lindsay and Jenny (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie, both surprisingly natural in the early going), wind up at the lovely modernist home of Dr. Joseph Heiter (Dieter Laser). The Americans are wary (what’s with that enormous painting of conjoined fetuses that’s hanging behind the sofa?). So are we — not just of the movie’s cliché but of how the movie intends to exploit it. The ladies soon find themselves strapped to hospital beds in his basement laboratory, alongside a Japanese tourist (Akihiro Kitamura). They try to escape — first individually, then as part of Dr. Heiter’s master creation, which entails a great deal of surgery to complete. His victims are gastrically conjoined. The final product looks like a scatological yoga parody.

It would be nice to report that Six, a Dutchman, has a masterful sense of how to generate dread and suspense, that he has an eye for horrific imagery and a head full of fresh ideas — or, barring all that, that he’s simply a hard-working hack. But this is lazy moviemaking based on the thinnest of concepts. Improvement is possible: the movie’s subtitle (“First Segment’’) promises a sequel (get ready for “Full Sequence’’). For now, many of the scenes simply sit there. Others exasperate: The police show up and find an inarguably suspicious Dr. Heiter; why do they wait 15 minutes to attempt an arrest? The camera slithers and slides, but that’s as witty as things get. This kind of jokey literalism is the only logical place for exploitation to go after the operating-room horror of cable’s “Nip/Tuck,’’ a misapprehension of David Cronenberg’s work, and the so-called torture-porn of two “Hostel’’ movies, “Turistas,’’ et al.

But exploitation is working the wrong way when you find yourself wondering what kind of actor wants so badly to act that she’s willing to spend most of her screen time on all fours, weeping into the buttocks of her costar. That’s how boring the moviemaking is. The film’s two-minute trailer is a more entertaining success. It obviates the need for a 90-minute movie. Plus, you’re done by 12:02.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to www.boston.com/movienation.

THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (FIRST SEGMENT)

Written and directed by:

Tom Six

Starring: Dieter Laser,

Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie, and Akihiro Kitamura

At: Coolidge Corner Theatre

Running time: 90 minutes

In English, and German and Japanese with subtitles

Unrated (but lots of scatological and medical awfulness)

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