Tom Six is lost in thought. “Beautiful women,” he eventually answers. “I think it would be more bearable that way.” Yes, but which ones? He pauses again. He obviously hasn’t been asked this before, and he’s considering it with the gravity of a man who fully realises what the question entails. “Carmen Elektra—she’s really pretty.”
Pretty probably isn’t the word I’d use, but—“And the other one?”
“Jenny McCarthy. Jim Carrey’s wife? Oh, and I’d be at the front, of course.”
Tom Six is the director of The Human Centipede (First Sequence), a romantic comedy in which a German doctor surgically conjoins two American women and a Japanese man, attempting to bring them closer together, and—in the process—teach them the true meaning of love. In many ways, it’s a spiritual adaptation of our childhood favourite, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This wholly innocent premise hasn’t stopped it from drawing criticism, with some calling it “torture porn” and others vomiting copiously in movie theatres while watching it. The controversy centres on the way the protagonists are joined together: arse to mouth, with the second and third people in the ‘centipede’ eating the recycled faeces of the first for nourishment. The film takes the established notion of the ‘love triangle’ and stretches it out, into a sort of love-centipede.
I was recently granted my most fervent wish: an interview with Tom Six via Skype. He is, perhaps surprisingly, a remarkably affable man. “You know you’ve made it when the Hollywood porn industry parodies your movie!” he enthuses when asked about his opinion on The Human Sexipede, a less platonic adaptation of his masterwork. His Dutch accent lilts pleasingly, almost as if to reassure me that everything is going to be okay. He introduces me to his dog, Nigel. I notice with some disappointment it is not a sweet 3-hund (a conjoined dog centipede more fully described in the movie) but then, truth never quite lives up to fiction. Also of note is his hat—something like a cross between a cowboy hat and a fedora—that seems to appear in almost all the interviews he gives. I guess every director needs a conceit: George Lucas has his hair and his multiple chins, Peter Jackson cameos in all of his films, Tommy Wiseau has a deformed, veiny Russian torso—why not a hat? Hats have an air of mystery about them.
I wonder—The Human Centipede is such a novel interpretation of the rom-com genre, how did he convince investors to finance his film? He seems to blush. “I didn’t tell them, exactly, how everyone was going to be attached. I just said that it was going to be a [romantic comedy], with a [friendly] German doctor sewing people together. I didn’t say how.”
The German doctor Mr. Six refers to is played by actor Dieter Laser, and I had heard some interesting rumours regarding Mr. Laser’s disposition while filming—“Is it true he stayed in character the entire time?” I ask.
“Yep. From the time he arrived on set to the time he left at the end of the day, he was Dr. Heiter. He didn’t talk to anyone. He even brought in this little lunch box of green slime stuff every day to heat up and eat.”
“Did that concern the cast and crew at all?”
“Yes. We were all terrified of him.” Six hesitates for a moment. “He really was an excellent actor.”
Although a little put off by Laser’s slime-scoffing, Six says that he was never uncomfortable about anything he asked his actors to do while filming. “By that time, I’d been around the script for so long, I’d really grown used to how everything was going to look in my mind.” That said, “about 70 per cent” of the actors he interviewed for parts in the film walked out of auditions when it was made clear exactly what part they would play. He found it much easier to recruit actors for the sequel, The Human Centipede (Full Sequence). Ah yes, the sequel.
“Is it going to be in 3-D? That would be amazing, to see the centipede coming right at you, out of the screen.”
“No, unfortunately only 2-D for this one,” he laughs. The sequel will feature a 12-person human centipede—I imagine something like a cross between Love, Actually and Evil Dead 3—and a whole new friendly doctor, played by some as-yet unknown actor (the smart money’s on Nicolas Cage). “The first film is ‘My Little Pony’ compared with the second one,” Six declares.
“So it’s a lot more gory, then?”
With filming complete, it’s now in post-production, scheduled for an early 2011 release. “If the first one was successful, I was always going to make a second one, because I had a great idea for it. You’ll have to wait and see what it is though—I’m not going to spoil the surprise.”
“How about a third—The Human Möbius Strip, maybe?”
“That would be really great—almost a centipede of films!” he laughs. “But I would have to think of a new innovative idea for it, which I haven’t yet. I would only do another movie if I could offer something new.”
This drive for innovation belies the harsh criticism The Human Centipede has received from some quarters. Film critic Roger Ebert said of the film, “I am required to award stars to movies I review. This time, I refuse to do it… Is the movie good? Is it bad? Does it matter? It is what it is, and it occupies a world where the stars don’t shine.”
In this sense, the film is located outside of space, and is therefore technically ‘timeless,’ but that’s hardly a ringing endorsement from the man at the head of the film-critic centipede.
Six, though, is sanguine about reviews. “Some have been quite negative,” he concedes, “but bad publicity just makes people want to see it even more. And I actually quite liked what Roger Ebert said—the fact he refused to give The Human Centipede any stars is pretty unique!”
Thus concluded our interview, and my access to Mr. Six’s dulcet Dutch tones—but that night I dreamt of him slowly crawling into the sunset with Carmen Elektra and Jenny McCarthy attached to his anus, and in my sleep I shed a single tear.
The Human Centipede is available now for rent (apparently people still do that), and it will be released in full technicolor Blu-Ray DVD glory on December 3rd.
Full disclosure: I am a fucking huge fan of The Human Centipede.