Interview: Tom Six
The German Director of ‘The Human Centipede” Talks of Pushing the Envelope
Thursday, May 6, 2010
KPBS film critic Beth Accomando speaks with Tom Six, the director of "The Human Centipede."
All you have to do is describe the premise of "The Human Centipede" (playing midnight May 7 at Landmark's Ken Cinema) and you are guaranteed to get a major “Eeeew!” reaction. What is the premise you ask? A mad German doctor wants to surgically attach three people – “ass to mouth” -- to create a perverse version of a centipede. Excuse me?
“Well the idea came very simply,” says writer-director Tom Six, “I always make this little sick joke to friends [about] a child molester. I said they should stitch his mouth to the ass of a very fat truck driver. That would be good punishment for him. Everybody says that idea is so horrible. And I thought yeah it is a horrible idea and it might be a great idea for a horror film.”
Yet despite the disturbing subject matter, Six directs the film with surprising restraint. You won’t find any handheld shakycam, excessive gore, or fast-cutting here. The pace is actually measured and the film is almost elegantly shot. But what is disturbing is Dieter Laser as the crazy Dr. Heiter. Laser looks like a cross between Lance Henrikson and Christopher Walken as he channels old Nazi war criminals. Laser’s performance is mostly low key – with the occasional mad outburst – and he’s brilliant.
Six spoke with me by phone about his film, which is jockeying to become another regular on the midnight circuit. You can listen to the interview or read what he had to say about mad surgeons and pushing audiences out of their comfort zone. I will also post my interview with actor Dieter Laser.
BETH ACCOMANDO: This is KPBS film critic Beth Accomando and I’m speaking with Tom Six, the director of the new film “The Human Centipede.” Hi Tom.
TOM SIX: Hello.
BA: I’ve heard that you like the idea of pushing boundaries, so was that one of the things that attracted you to this idea?
TS: Yeah definitely, the fun for me as a filmmaker is to see if you can make a movie where people talk about it. I don’t like movies that you leave the theater and you think, “What’s for dinner?” And you forget about the movie immediately. I like when people can talk about a movie for hours, days, or maybe even years. That’s a big challenge for me. Yeah, than for me a film is pretty controversial like this and that’s very fun for me.
BA: Now how did you decide on the approach you wanted to take to it in terms of how you wanted to film it because a lot of horror films these days are using the shakycam and fast cutting but that’s very visually and artistically that’s not the approach you’ve taken.
TS: No, no. I really wanted to take it really slow and really show the emotions of the human beings inside “The Human Centipede.” The editing and the pace of the film is kind of slow because in my opinion the audience is way more sucked into the story then if I had cut the film very fast because you lose a lot of emotion. So I really rub it in very slowly.
BA: You said you wanted to make an international film is that why you decided to make it in English and then have a mix of American actresses, an Asian actor and a German lead? Was that part of your thinking when you were putting it together?
TS: Yeah definitely. I watched a lot of horror movies from the 80s from Hollywood and a lot of films had naïve girls who get into a lot of troubles and I used that cliché when I started the story. I really liked that idea so I started with the two American girls going to Europe. And the surgeon in the story had to be a German surgeon. Yeah because in school you learn a lot about the Second World War and and of course the notorious Nazi doctors and so in my story I definitely wanted a Nazi-like German surgeon in the lead. And when I constructed “The Human Centipede,” I wanted the front of the centipede to be a male and I love Japanese horror films and I thought that guy has to be a Japanese because I also didn’t want him to be able to communicate with the doctor. That’s why in fact he can only speak Japanese. And he can speak just as the girls are tied to a butt in front of them.
BA: Where did you find the actor who plays the doctor, Dieter Laser?
TS: Yep, Dieter Laser. Dieter did lots of movies in Germany and also in America and I saw a couple and I thought that guy would be absolutely great to play Dr. Heiter. So I contacted him and we flew to Berlin and I told him the story in very much detail and he absolutely loved the story and we had a deal in like two hours. He was my only choice and luckily we got him for the part.
BA: With a story like this, how did the pitch sessions go? How did you pitch it to finacial backers?
TS: We made three films in Holland and we used the same investors for this film and I went there and told the investors, “I want to make a film about a surgeon who stitches people together but I left out the words mouth to ass. Because I knew they wouldn’t invest if I mentioned those words. So they liked the idea and gave us the money to make the film. Then when we got finished we showed them the investors and of course we were afraid what they might think and luckily they really loved the film and we were very lucky with that.
BA: This film is called “The Human Centipede First Sequence” so what are your plans for the sequel or the follow up, I see a “The Human Centipede Full Sequence.”
TS: Yes we are going to shoot the sequel “The Human Centipede Full Sequence” in London, I wanted to make a sequel because part one I could have all my ideas and couldn’t put them all in part one because the idea itself is so horrible that I first wanted the audience to get used to the idea first and now in the sequel I can use all my ideas so I am going to build a human centipede twelve people and I always say part one will be “My Little Pony” compared to part two because it’s going to be pretty horrible part two.
BA: In some ways the film feels restrained. I mean considering the subject matter and where you could have gone with it do you feel that you used restraint in terms of how you filmed it?
TS: Yes definitely. Because I knew the idea would get a lot of commotion. And I wanted the idea to happen in your head most of all. So when the guy in the garden is going to the bathroom actually you don’t see much. It’s all happening in your own head. The idea is so horrible so I really like that fact so the movie becomes like way stronger because I really focus on the human centipede and the drama of the two girls and the guy having to go through these emotional, very horrible things and that’s why I chose this way and left out the gore a little bit.
BA: What led to your fascination with horror films and your desire to make one?
TS: Yeah I have no idea I think the genre can really push the limits you can have a very big imagination and you can all put it in this genre and I like the fact that people would love these films and would want to watch these films and the DVDs and really want to get thrilled or horrified or whatever and as a filmmaker it is fun to see if you can push an audience to the limit. It’s a really big challenge to create something original or new and see how people react to it. And that for me is a challenge and is fun as a filmmaker.
BA: Do you like to see people walk out on your films? Do you need that to a certain degree?
TS: Yeah I think if nobody would walk out the film wasn’t controversial enough. Of course you don’t hope that everybody walks away but yeah for the hype and for the feeling it’s always nice when some people can take it. And I had it a few times when people walked out they were afraid to even talk to me or even look at me. So that’s pretty crazy but we also have people that laughed so hard during the movie that they were almost crying. So these reactions are so very different that’s very strange about this film.
BA: Do you find that people sometimes have a hard time separating the film from the filmmaker in terms of oh if you made a film this twisted you must be this twisted?
TS: Yeah lots and lots of people think yeah oh my god I’m gonna meet Tom Six and he must be a monster. But I have had a very happy childhood and I couldn’t hurt a mouse so I think I’m a very friendly guy, a guy with a huge imagination. And that’s it basically. I just lead a very happy, happy life. So it’s just imagination for me I think almost everybody has those black holes in their head and can make up all sorts of horrible situations. It’s just inside human beings and as a filmmaker it’s nice to get them out of your head.
BA: Can you remember the first film that scared you?
TS: Oh yes a film that really scared me was "The Shining" with Jack Nicholson Oh really that was one of the really frightening films.
BA: As a filmmaker now what films do you feel have influenced you?
TS: The early films of David Cronenberg, the body horror stuff, Rabid and Shivers and stuff like that I think he is a really, really good filmmaker. And I also love Japanese horror films, great bizarre weird films out there. I think these are very big influences.
BA: I read that you also like a French film called "La Grande Bouffe," which is horrifying in a different way.
TS: Yeah that is one of my all time favorite films of all time because of the combination of a horrible idea with drama and also black humor in it. I think this combination to me are the most fun films to watch so not only the gory horror with no intelligence but also with underlying humor in it. And I think "La Grande Bouffe" is exactly the kind of film what I like.
BA: And for anybody who doesn’t know, “La Grande Bouffe” is about a group of men who decide to eat themselves to death, correct?
TS: Yes that is correct. Great basic idea.
BA: So if you needed to pitch this film to an audience what would you tell them to entice them to come?
TS: Yeah that’s difficult. I think if you like to see a film that really the images and the basic idea if you will forever keep them in your head to see the film. But I think I would tell them as little as I can because for me the impact is way more fun if people know as little as possible. Then it’s way more fun to sit with people in the audience. Of course as a filmmaker you hope as much people as are willing to go go to your film because of the film people are interested in the crazy idea and want to have a horrible time in a nice way they should definitely go.
BA: How do you respond to critics who say why should I put myself through something like that? Why do you feel the need to make a film like that?
TS: I always knew when you come up with this crazy idea that there are a lot of people that will hate it. On the other hand a lot of people will love it. So the critics will be exactly the same I think. They say either “It’s a masterpiece,” or “It’s disgusting. Why would you do that to humans it’s unnecessary, it’s just a part of the game I think. I think especially with this kind of film where you are pushing so many boundaries I knew that critics could also not hate it and not like it… I think the fun in horror filmmaking is that you are safe in the theater or at home on the couch and you saw all those horrible things on the screen and you are safe. And I think that gives you a thrill or something. That combination.
"The Human Centipede" is also available Video on Demand.