Horror is old hat. It has been many years since Hollywood cinema explored the boundaries of the genre preferring to rely on the tried and tested “teen slasher” riddled heavily with the mundane. Moments of silent followed by a sudden burst of sound for a cheap shock, even the ever original Asian frontier, famed for its originality and disregard for convention, has become stagnant leaving a genre in desperate need of a saviour.
The 36 year old Dutch director of children’s comedy Honeyz Tom Six wouldn’t be the first name on the list to grasp the torch and lead the way back to the glory days of horror cinema but a passing comment to friends has led Six to creating horror cinema’s last and greatest taboo only for him completely decimate it.
The Human Centipede – First Sequence tells the story of a German doctor with a single goal, a horrifying dream, to create a human centipede out of compatible individuals. Severing muscles, removing teeth, surgically grafting one to another and another. Like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds the question of why is never really addressed. It’s a redundant question anyway, why typically detracts from how and how is the most terrifying and sickening idea to hit the horror world in years.
DL : The film was born out of a joke you had running with friends about the punishment for paedophiles. What was the thought process around the film when you finally decided to actually make it? Was there much of the script in mind or did it evolve around the surgery?
TS : I wanted to make my first international film, a horror or a thriller and when I made the joke to friends everyone was disgusted by the idea but it stuck in my head and I began to think who would do this? I would need to be a doctor, a surgeon so I thought what kind of surgeon would do that? I got to thinking about the Nazi doctor’s during the second World War and their experiments and decided at that point that the doctor needed to be German. I was a fan of the 80’s American horror films and decided at that point to make it almost like a cliché with American girls getting into trouble. I also love Japanese horror films, they’re very inventive so I wanted a Japanese character.
DL : So the choice of German, American and Japanese actors was part of the design as you wanted the film to echo back to the German experimentations during World War 2?
TS : It became yeah, I knew it needed to be a German doctor and with the American girls and the Japanese character I had the main participants of the second world war. I also knew that I wanted to have the Japanese character at the head of the centipede so he’d be unable to communicate with Dieter.
Historically horror has always been grounded in the tragedy of the human condition and the evil that mankind does. The Weimar cinema movement in Germany owed its very existence to the collapse of the German economy after the first World War and the shattered psychological state of German men as a generation of males returned home physically and mentally scarred and their wives running the nation. Critics of The Human Centipede would have you believe that it’s nothing more than a chauvinist exercise in the vile and tasteless but it’s simply not the case. The film resonates against the imposed echoes of the second World War challenging audiences nerve and expectations when confronted with a sequence of events that can only ever end badly.
DL : How do you go about getting a film like The Human Centipede – First Sequence made?
TS : We had the same group of investors for my three films and to get them onboard we tricked them a bit. When we came to them about the film we told them it was a film about a surgeon who stitched people together but at that time we didn’t mention anything about the mouth to anus but when they saw it they liked it. When we casting in New York I brought a diagram in to explain to the actors what I meant, a lot of them got angry and left but the smart ones stayed.
DL : Dieter Laser did a wonderful job, was he your initial choice for the Doctor? Did you have an idea on who you wanted for the cast?
TS : When I was writing the script I saw Dieter in a DVD and loved his face, I watched a lot of his work and he’s been in a lot with people like John Malkovich and Burt Lancaster but had never been in a horror but his face was perfect, evil. So I flew to Berlin to meet him and I can’t actually describe his reaction when I told him about the film [laughs] but he got it and agreed to make it, we became very close on set.
DL : Laser performances seemed painfully honest on screen, how much did he actually bring to the set that was his own ground work?
TS : Yeah, Dieter is a great actor…really involved and methodical in his approach. He brought in all of his own clothes for the character, all his suits, the doctor jacket was a Nazi doctor jacket, nazi boots…it was really fun. Almost like playing.
Oddly, The Human Centipede is not without its humour though it’s never played for laughs the film carries the director’s dark sense of humour from conception to the page to the screen and because of this makes it easier to watch and even enjoy that other films of a similar vein, Grotesque for one. It is Six’s sense of humour that makes you cheer for Laser even though you know you really shouldn’t that grounds the film, uniting the audience in a state somewhere between the horrific and absurd.
DL : The Human Centipede feels like a return to old-fashioned horror (with the presence of a crazed doctor and young women stranded with a broken down car), was this a deliberate move back to the narrative traditions of horror?
TS : That’s my style, I am a fan of David Cronenberg and his earlier work [his horror films] and they way the play out. Horror films at present are too fastly edited, you miss so much because it’s just continually chopping and you see little emotions in the film so what I wanted was a slower editing, more attention to the drama. [To] create a warm atmosphere, slow editing really lock in the drama and the claustrophobia.
The film’s narrative is wonderfully simple, even cliché to borrow from the director’s own words, and in being so only goes to highlight just how far the envelope has been pushed by the Dutch director, something which has been nothing short of polarising with critics and audiences alike.
DL : The film’s reserved some seriously harsh criticism from many mainstream publications but hasn’t seemed to damage the anticipation of the film, is this something that upsets you or do you embrace it?
TS : Yes I knew the film would create a real divide, a love or hate reaction. Lots of critics hate it but I don’t care about the bad reviews, there’s always something about it film they have trouble with. They have an inability to cope with some of it, I take it as a compliment.
DL : A lot of the negative reviews get very personal.
TS : Yeah, it’s just a film. I don’t understand it…it’s not real.
DL : You’ve cited the early work of David Cronenberg as a form of inspiration was there one particular film in mind during production?
TS : Not particularly one, I love his way of making film, especially the older films, his horrors. The way he edits, the way he creates tension. Lars von Trier is also someone who’s style I love, I think my style is like that also.
DL : This is as far away from HoneyZ and Gay as you can get, is this the evolution of your cinematic ouvre or will we see you return to those genres in future projects?
TS : [Laughs] Yeah it is. I always wanted to make horror films and in Holland the climate is not that receptive. Most of Holland’s horror films flop immediately so it was always somewhere I wanted to go. One of my best friends is gay and he started telling me about the international gay scene and I thought ‘that’s controversial, perhaps I could make a movie about that’, then I wanted to make a children’s film and then a black comedy, which is more my sense of humour. I think I have a dark sense of humour and at that point I decided I wanted to make an international horror film
DL : How is Full Sequence coming along?
TS : Good, we start shooting in August, in London. The cast is almost entirely British, it’s a twelve person centipede. I had lots of ideas for the first film but I felt I had to hold back as I figured I needed to introduce the audience to the idea so I couldn’t do everything I wanted to [in First Sequence] and that’s all going into the second one. This film is going to be everything.
DL : Now that the world knows what to expect was there any trouble financing or similar outrage with casting the sequel?
TS : All sorted, we start in two weeks. It was a very different experience, people knew what the film was about and everyone wanted to be involved. People want to put money into it, actors really want to be a part of it. It’s way more disgusting [laughs] and so much more offensive but they really want to be a part of part 2 [Full Sequence] even though it’s so much more. When it’s finished it will make the first one look like My Little Pony [laughs]
Horror has a new voice, a darkly comedic and mischievous teller of shocking tales that are traditional yet ground breaking all with a genuine sense of humour. The Human Centipede has divided opinion in every cinema screen in every city it has played but one fact is beyond argument, what Tom Six has in store for his cinematic audience will be unlike anything that horror has seen before. The envelope will be pushed, the taboo broken.