George A. Romero, one of the least subtle filmmakers of our time, once derided "torture porn" for "lacking metaphor," which is tantamount to beating your dog for failing at calculus. The best torture porn (the first two Saw films, both Hostels, Aftermath) is simple and crass; like the best suck-and-fuck flicks, it forces us to consider the outer limits of the corporeal self. Such movies are fantasies about what can be done to and with bodies. They are nasty and mean and ugly. They should be. Have you palpated your vessel lately? Not a pretty thing, is it? I don't know about you, but my nightmares about bodily vulnerability look a lot like Eli Roth's splattered frames. Fuck metaphor for now. Leave that to Cronenberg. Mainline the terror into my eyes. It makes the dark fear in my brain seem manageable, common, human.
So I guess it goes without saying that I had a gentleman's agreement with The Human Centipede: Just gimme those get-me-out-of-this-body goosebumps and we'll be cool. Make me sick. Make my skin crawl. I was sure The Human Centipede would keep up its end of the bargain. In fact, I was afraid. Would I have the stomach for a movie about a deranged surgeon who kidnaps tourists and sews them together, ass-to-mouth-to-ass-to-mouth, into a "Siamese triplet" of shared digestion? Would anyone?
I shouldn't have worried: Director Tom Six was the gutless one all along. I've seen more disturbing anal play on YouPorn—the acting is better there, too. It's appropriate that a film so fixated on coprophagia is itself a reeking colostomy bag of shitty horror-film clichés: The dark country road, the naive girls, the flat tire, the dead cell phone, the failed escape, and the hallway chase all slither out of The Human Centipede's clenched asshole at some point. Boredom creeps in long before Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser), a fey Josef Mengele in shades, puts the finishing touches on his über-German masterpiece, which, it turns out, is not gross or shocking at all. With bandages masking the grisly butt cheek-to-face cheek grafts, the titular creature resembles, more or less, a very intense version of that flirtatious party game in which people pass an orange around the room with their chins. I felt right at home in my body for an entire 90 minutes. That's the wrong sort of torture.
screens at Cinema 21 at 11 pm Friday-Saturday, May 7-8.