Talking to Tom Six about The Human Centipede can segment the mind. For all the exploitive edge of the trailer The Human Centipede is actually far more interested in it's characters than in gore, sex or even shock and Six himself couldn't be further removed from the disturbing Dr. Heiter if he tried. So while there's is no doubt that the man knows how to piece a film together it's hard to imagine him piecing together this film.
DC: Human Centipede's Dr. Heiter is a cypher. There are little hints of some humanity in him, but he does these atrocious things. In some ways it seems as if you wanted him to stand in as a catalyst as much as a character.
TS: Yes this was very much my intention. The doctor should have no clear motivation for what he wants to do, we shouldn't understand his actions. But he's still a human being. It isn't that I want the audience to love what he does, but clearly there is more to him than just his surgical mania. He's selfish and god-like but he's clearly unhappy. At the same time we can laugh at him because he comes so close to being cartoonish which humanizes the other characters who aren't satirized at all.
DC: He's also German. I couldn't help thinking of Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS.
TS: Yes he is very German LOL. Not in the sense of the Nazi motif in the film, though that is certainly present but I liked the idea of him being so utterly what he is. The film indulges those cliches so that we can break them down later. Of course I was thinking about German and Japanese and American horror films. Who wouldn't conjure Heiter as Ilsa She Wolf of the SS, the centipedes head from Audition or Ichi the Killer and the girls from Last House on the Left or Hostel? But I wasn't just thinking about film. It isn't primarily a self-referential exercise. The nationalities are interesting because as suffering becomes apparent the humanity is revealed. It suddenly doesn't matter why people do what they do only how they act as they suffer. This is a very political statement in a world where we identify ourselves according to nationality or party.
DC: The film contains lots of static but almost pastoral exterior shots.
TS: Well the house is so cruel, and then you give the audience a break by letting them do what the other characters can't and it also speaks of not judging the book by its cover. Something can be beautiful on the outside and rotten to the core. Someone who is suffering can look horrible but suddenly become beautiful in how they suffer.
DC: The speech the Japanese man gives at the end of the film seemed more religious than political?
TS: Well it's a very religious idea even if it is a twisted one. What's wrong of course is Heiter's smugness, "an eye for an eye and all that." Heiter is unworthy of his goal because his goal does not recognize where true human community lies. True human community is far more spiritual than physical and it must be chosen rather than forced on someone.
DC: Yet the film does have an awful lot of horror cliches in it ie: the mad doctor, the secret lab, the monstrous experiment even the girls...
TS: LOL Yes, I wish more people would point that out.. What I did was use all the horror cliches two naive ladies forest flat tire no phone fall into trap which are all very commercial to set the audience at ease and then I get them. The basic situation for the film is so repulsive and disgusting that I knew I had to ease the audience into it. I used to tell a joke that politicians should be stitched ass to mouth so they would have to swallow they're own bullshit all day.
DC: Yeah the metaphors are there but the film really isn't very graphic? Were you afraid?
TS: No no. The next film will be almost impossible to watch. This time I wanted it to be more in the audiences head. Part two will incorporate a more ruthless point of view. But it's for fun. At some point someone will need to decide if it's for them. Not everyone appreciates the black humor when it gets too dark. But I take the suffering seriously in my films. I feel I have three or four more horror films in me and maybe some black comedy but not at the expense of the victims. The audience shouldn't feel bad about paying a price. The victims go thru much more than the audience is asked to go thru.
Death and suffering are the strangest spiritual things for people because they represent the unknown and we are desperate to explore them and understand them before they occur and of course they re inevitable. Americans have to remember that Europeans are driven by a different understanding of horror. Human Centipede is built on an absurd cruelty and that is where the truth creeps in. The meanings of it are multilayered art is a way to explore that. Of course we always want to watch people who suffer more than us. Does it help us feel better about our own situation or see it more clearly? It always boils down to what you want from an experience that twists it into good and bad.