The Story Behind The Human Centipede

“I saw a child molester on television and I said, ‘They should stitch this guy with his mouth to the ass of a very fat truck driver. It would be a really good punishment for him.’ Then I thought, ‘That’s a cool idea for a film.’”

Director Tom Six there, explaining the origin of his new, demented body horror flick The Human Centipede (First Sequence) .

Taking that dark, off-the-cuff joke, Six – whose previous credits include little-known films Gay and Honeyz - decided to apply it to an icky, squirm-inducing horror movie.

The premise? Three backpackers in Europe are royally stitched up by a nutso surgeon who wants to create – yup – his very own human creepy crawly.

It could be the most shocking body horror to come out this side of Martyrs and Antichrist , with its ‘David Cronenberg on acid’ trappings. As one US critic noted, it’s the film “that you can’t unsee”.

Here’s how it got made…

Next: The Origins [page-break]

The Origins

So you have a sinisterly brilliant idea for a horror flick. The concept’s so queasy and unnerving that it both repulses and intrigues. And you’re filled with unbridled enthusiasm for the project. But how the heck do you get the thing financed?!

Writer-director Tom Six decided the stealth, softly-softly approach would be the best tactic…

“We made films in Holland before and so we had a group of investors,” he explains. “We told them we wanted to make an international horror film and we were going to stitch people together.

“We left out the words ‘mouth-to-ass’ because we knew they wouldn’t fund it. If I had mentioned ‘ass-to-mouth’, I think they would have said, ‘Have a nice day, bye!’ But they have seen the film and they loved it. So the trick worked very well, fortunately.”

And you can understand his reservations. The story of two American girls who are kidnapped alongside a Japanese man by demented retired surgeon Dr Heiter - and then have their mouths sewn to each others’ unmentionables in a terrifying experiment – would keep just about any investor clutching onto his or her cash.

But Six’s thought-out concept no doubt helped assuage their concerns post-shoot. Instead of aiming to fashion a quick fix shocker that induced aisle vomiting but little else besides, Six wanted to establish a psychology behind the model.

Naturally, his biggest inspiration was the work of David Cronenberg, alongside the boundary-pushing scarefests that are a hallmark of Japanese filmmaking.

But it was the inclusion of a German villain – the menacing Dr Heiter (Dieter Laser) – that hinted at a brain behind the project. Six drew on the Nazi medical experiments that took place during World War II as a very real launch pad for his ooky idea.

Further still, the Japanese male lead – Katuso (Akihiro Kitamura) - played on the War-time notions of divided nationalities, and created a language barrier between the antagonist and his prey.

Next: The Human Guys [page-break]

The Human Guys

“A week after we talked,” notes Dieter Laser of his initial meeting with Six, “I suddenly got small and afraid. But then I got the script and I discovered, ‘Oh boy, there’s so much possibility!’”

Signing on to play sinister surgeon Dr Heiter, Laser – a veteran of German cinema – agreed to a role that was bound to illicit outrage from audience members. But Laser, like the financiers, could see what Six was trying to do.

“The [ plot ] is a good marketing thing that will create discussions and anxiousness and everything. Under the surface I discovered why he chose a German. I regard the film as a grotesque [ parody ] about the Nazi psyche.”

Notes Akihiro Kitamura, who plays victim Katsuro: “I’m the lucky guy. I don’t really mind having my face attached to a female’s butt. I don’t mind.”

Still, he admits that “Dieter’s a pretty scary guy. I thought, yo man, that’s going to be awesome to have some hot chick attached to my ass. But because it’s a horror film setting, it was kind of a scary feeling, actually.”

“For me there was only one actor who could play the role of Dr. Heiter,” says Six. “I saw a couple of DVDs where Dieter Laser was playing and I think he's absolutely a brilliant actor. So we flew to Berlin to meet him and we were very excited about what he would think about my story.

“And I told him in detail and he absolutely loved the idea because he's just as crazy as I am and in a couple of hours we had a deal and he was the one.”

Next: The Human Girls [page-break]

The Human Girls

For the parts of the two female American tourists who are conjoined with Katsuro, Ashley C Williams and Ashlynn Yennie were cast as Lindsay and Jenny.

“The two American actresses were really hard,” Six notes. “I wanted very beautiful and very intelligent and very good actresses, of course...

“We were casting in New York and I made some drawings of the human centipede and a lot of actresses thought I was crazy and didn’t want to work with me.

"A lot of actresses only want to be beautiful and I had to ask those actresses to be mutilated. So they left. But the wonderful Ashley and Ashlynn, they had the balls to play it.”

The Human Centipede (First Sequence) marks Williams’ first lead role in a feature film, the 26-year-old having previously only appeared as a Nelwyn villager in fantasy Willow .

“I met Tom at my first audition for the film,” Williams says. “He wanted to show me a sketch of what the human centipede would look like. Before he showed it to me, I will never forget, he said, ‘Are you easily shocked?’ and I said, ‘Nope!’ So then he showed me the sketch.

“I wasn’t shocked at first but I had never seen anything like that before, I was like. ‘This guy is crazy,’ but he was so sweet and passionate about the story that I became intrigued about the film, and about this crazy man behind the project.”

Yennie is also a film newbie, having only appeared in TV movie Evan And Gareth Are Trying To Get Laid.

“I love the fact that Tom’s work is being compared to Cronenberg’s work,” the actress notes.

“It is very true with this film, beauty is destroyed, human fear is exposed and there is a little infection mixed in. All very close to the genre that Cronenberg has made his own.”

Next: The Centipede [page-break]

The Centipede

“I wanted a real operation report,” reveals Six of his diabolical design for a human centipede. “So I went to a Dutch surgeon. He said, ‘No, no, that’s against my medical oath.’

“But he’s a movie lover, so after a while he made a very detailed operation report. A surgeon could actually make in a hospital a human centipede. That’s what fascinates me. And makes audiences feel more horrified by the idea.”

Like all the best horror films, The Human Centipede (First Sequence) only ever hints at its explicit content, and contains very literal actual exploitative footage. The use of bandages proved pivotal in ths respect, allowing Six to hint at the atrocities that were going on underneath.

Using sketches made by the Dutch surgeon whom Six visited, the special effects team – led by father-son duo Rob and Erik Hillenbrink – designed hard underwear for the actors to wear in order to imply the mouth-to-bum connection.

“We had to wear this special underwear, like a diaper... a hard diaper,” says Kitamura. “And where my ass is there’s this rubber thing for the actress to bite onto it. When we were trying that in the beginning, they were feeling it a little bit. But they are good actors.

“They liked the experience. It’s good it’s scary. It’s good it’s humiliating. Because they can be great actresses.

"We got a massage every two or three nights. You know the scene where we climb up the stairs? There was no stunt double. It’s really tough on the neck and back. If we complained, they listened to it.”

Jokes Williams: “We made a very nice centipede! When we all met up together for the first time we were like, ‘Hello, nice to meet you, I’m going to be attached to your butt soon!’”

Still, the actress adds that it was an uncomfortable shoot – especially for herself, being the middle ‘segment’ of the centipede.

“I know all of us had some difficulties being part of the centipede,” she says. “But I feel that being in the middle was very hard because I had Ashlynn tugging at me with her mouth in one direction and Aki pulling me forward in another. So we all had to coordinate.

“It put lots of pressure on my jaw when the Centipede would walk and also climb up those stairs. We were all regretting doing that scene. It was the hardest thing the Centipede had to do, because we were really doing it. No help from the crew!”

Next: The Release [page-break]

The Release

So far, The Human Centipede (First Sequence) has taken numerous film festivals by storm, having premiered at the London FrightFest, Lees International and Screamfest circuits.

Tom Six noted that thanks to the high amount of word of mouth, numerous studios approached him with offers to distribute the film.

In the end, IFC Films snapped up the rights for distribution in the USA and Canada, and The Human Centipede was given a limited release in the States on 30 April.

The Human Centipede is more artfully done than you think,” says Williams. “Its horrifying but also medically accurate, intelligent and not a slasher movie! There are a lot of fans out there who have seen it that said ‘This is the grossest, craziest movie I have ever seen’, at the same time they give it 5 out of 5 stars.”

Reviews have been mixed. “ The Human Centipede is not what it's cracked up to be,” we reported last August from FrightFest 2009. “it is not, actually, nearly as vomit-inducing and the hype suggests. Far from being this year's Irreversible , Martyrs or Inside , films that push boundaries, it is (relatively speaking) a rather tame affair.”

Still, others have lapped it up, with Entertainment Weekly favourably reviewing the film and saying that Six "has put together his nightmare yarn with Cronenbergian care and precision”.

The flick has also received a fair few awards, having taken home Best Picture prizes from Fantastic Fest, ScreamFest, Sainte Maxime and Ravenna Nightmare Film Festivals.

Roger Ebert perhaps surmised the film’s divisive nature best: “I am required to award stars to movies I review. This time, I refuse to do it. The star rating system is unsuited to this film. Is the movie good? Is it bad? Does it matter? It is what it is and occupies a world where the stars don't shine.”

Next: The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) [page-break]

The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)

Ah yes, you perhaps noticed that The Human Centipede is followed by some sneaky bracketed words – (First Sequence) giving us a less-than-subtle hint that this could be just the start of a, ahem, string of centipede horror pieces.

You’d be right in assuming that. The flick has yet to receive a worldwide release (it’s not even got a fixed UK date yet), but a sequel entitled The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) is now in the works with Six at the helm.

“I had so many ideas, which I couldn’t use in this part,” the director reveals. “I wanted, first, people to get used to this idea. Now I can expand my ideas and hopefully create something really original. I want to offer people some more!”

So will a sequel extend the concept and take the ‘bigger, faster, stronger’ sequel route by adding more humans to the centipede segments?

Six is up to the challenge. “It's very challenging for a film maker to make a sequel,” he says, “because a lot of sequels are very disappointing for fans and for audiences. So I really wanted to have a really original idea to make a sequel and I think I have something that people won't expect.

“In part two I can use all of my imagination and put everything in part two. I can't tell you what it's about of course because I want to keep it original and a surprise to audiences but I hope I will succeed. I'm going to shoot it in June in London and hopefully it'll be ready by the end of the year.”

Not that Six is planning on stopping at centipedes. Now he’s gotten the industry’s attention, he’s planning on making more films.

“I really want to explore the horror genre combined with drama some more,” he says. “So I'm writing a script right now for a new film after the centipede that's going to be completely different but a film that will definitely push a lot of boundaries.

“Hopefully again it's very original and something that hasn't been done before and I'd like to shoot that in LA next year.”

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Josh Winning has worn a lot of hats over the years. Contributing Editor at Total Film, writer for SFX, and senior film writer at the Radio Times. Josh has also penned a novel about mysteries and monsters, is the co-host of a movie podcast, and has a library of pretty phenomenal stories from visiting some of the biggest TV and film sets in the world. He would also like you to know that he "lives for cat videos..." Don't we all, Josh. Don't we all.