***Note to readers: The subject-matter discussed in this post is probably not appropriate for most people, but it should especially be avoided by children and those about to sit down to a nice big meal. Really, if you’re easily grossed out, go no further.***
Up front I will admit that I have been avoiding writing this post for several days. Since I first heard about The Human Centipede in my “Gender and Horror Film” class last week, I have been dreading having to write about it. But what self-respecting horror film enthusiast goes silent on a movie that some suggest breaks boundaries in the horror genre?
For those of you who haven’t heard, The Human Centipede depicts the demented plan of a German surgeon to create the eponymous creature. The doctor explains to three hapless victims trapped in his basement that they will be connected surgically from mouth to anus to create one digestive system amongst them. The trailer below shows the explanation of this conjoining:
Immediately upon hearing about the concept, I felt totally disgusted. Just the idea as described by my professor made me queezy, so much so that I continued to think about it long after class. I was so bothered that I thought the best thing to do would be to watch the trailer, thinking that the trailer might make the idea more, I don’t know, palatable? Of course, it didn’t–it only made me more consumed by the idea, especially with its trailer’s claim that the film is “100% Medically Accurate.” I hate to admit it, but I even resorted to falling asleep while watching TV to avoid dealing with these thoughts.
My response to The Human Centipede dispels a couple of common misconceptions about horror fans. Often times, critics have depicted horror fans as a callous type, only interested in observing violence with a detached kind of pleasure. I’ve heard of this fan, but never really known anyone who fits the description. Most fans of the genre that I know tend to be highly empathic types, possibly just as sensitive to suggestion as those who avoid the genre.
What distinguishes the horror fan from the horror phobe is that fans take pleasure in fear while phobes do not. Isabel Cristina Pinedo, whom I have mentioned before in relation to this issue, compares watching horror films to riding a roller coaster: both experiences occur within a controlled environment where spectators can assume physical security in which to simulate their dangerous scenarios. She calls this “recreational terror.”
Of course, even the hardened genre fan has limits; for me, The Human Centipede is akin to bungee jumping or sky diving, neither of which I have tried. In both cases, I’m still weighing whether the “thrill” is worth pursuing in light of the associated “risks.” But unlike the aforementioned stunts, The Human Centipede poses an ethical question for me: do I want to want to watch it? To be fair, some have suggested that the film takes great pains to avoid depicting explicit contact, but implication doesn’t seem to have mitigated the nausea factor for some reviewers.
Almost a week has passed since I first learned about the movie and the shock has worn off somewhat. It’s almost more disturbing to me that I’ve become acclimated enough to the idea that I can actually think about it without gagging. I guess in a small way, my response to The Human Centipede explains why humanity functions in spite of the terrors that it creates–eventually, we get used to these ideas so that we can get on with our lives.