Three people sewn together mouth to anus – the idea alone was pretty much enough to cause a huge buzz all over the web. A disturbing trailer with a scary Dieter Laser playing the obsessed German surgeon Dr. Heiter provided with an even clearer impression of what quickly was to become a worldwide genre phenomenon. Dutch writer/director Tom Six, the man behind „The Human Centipede“, was so kind to chat with us about his film, the upcoming sequel, operation reports, his love for Pasolini and things you can’t tell your mom about.
screen/read: Tom, great you took the time for this little conversation. Luckily I had the chance to watch your film a couple of weeks ago and now can’t wait to see what you’re coming up with in the sequel.
Tom Six: I can imagine.
screen/read: How far are you into that at the moment?
Tom Six: We just finished shooting in London and are in the editing phase right now. What I can tell you so far is that it’ll be a 12 person human centipede this time and the tagline goes „100% medically in-accurate“. It’s gonna be really crazy because everything that I didn’t show in part one I will show in part two. As a joke I always say, part one was My Little Pony compared to the sequel. It’ll be pretty nasty.
screen/read: So you made a decisive change in the tagline which in the original claimed that everything was „100% medically accurate“. Did you really have a medical expert helping you there?
Tom Six: Yeah, I consulted a real surgeon in Holland. At first he didn’t want to work with me and he said, „Tom, that’s against my medical oath“. But I knew he was a big movie lover and so after a while he was like, „Ok, I’m gonna help you, but I’ll do it anonymously“. And then he wrote this very detailed operation report for me. He even said, he actually could do a human centipede in his hospital. Actually the way they’re hooked up in the film they could live for a really long time if they get fluids, nutrition and vitamins. Also the physis is not attacked by outside bacteria as everything is going directly from one digestive system into the other.
screen/read: It’s quite obvious that the whole surgery and the idea behind it plays with a common knowledge of the Mengele experiments in Nazi Germany, where twins were sewn together and other gruesome stuff. Was that an initital idea when you developed the film?
Tom Six: Oh yeah, absolutely, it influenced the whole story. When I had the original idea I thought that a surgeon must do the operation, and the most notorious and most scary surgeons I know are from the Second World War, the guys around Mengele of course. Hence the doctor in the film had to be some kind of a Mengele character. So I needed to look for a really good German actor to play that part, and that’s how I came to Dieter Laser.
screen/read: A remarkable thing about the film is that inspite of all the horrible and nasty stuff and the huge suffering of the characters there is also a lot of humour in it. And it’s not accidental but an integral part of the experience. Was that planned from the beginning?
Tom Six: Actually when I wrote the story I had no intention at all to put humour in it. But because the situation is so very surreal, it has a hidden type of humour inside already. The things that happen on the screen are really harsh of course, really nasty. But somehow they’re so nasty and strange that you just have to laugh. That was the whole deal. Dieter played with this element very much and approached everything in a very, very serious manner, just like everybody on the set did. Because we knew, the moment we tried to make it comical by intention, it wouldn’t work.
screen/read: Will this be the same approach in the sequel as well?
Tom Six: In the sequel it’s the same line, I’m doing the same thing. I approach everything very serious, but again the thing happens that the situation itself makes it comical. And the audience needs that. It’s totally different to a lot of French horror films. I actually like them less because they’re so very serious in some way and lack humour completely.
screen/read: Now this is how it is for the audience but how was working on set? Was it a serious situation? I can imagine you needed to cheer the actors up very much, especially the poor girls.
Tom Six: Well, first of all, it was very hard to get good actresses at all who were willing to be attached to an ass in front of them. We did the auditions in New York and about 70% of the girls called me crazy and left immediately. I guess all they wanted was to be pretty in front of the camera but not getting attached to an ass (laughs). The ones that had huge balls though were Ashley and Ashlynn. Half of the shoot they had to be on their hands and knees, completely naked and only inches away from a real ass in front of them. That was quite tough and it became a very surreal shoot for the cast and the crew as well. The girls got massages every day and as a director I really had to charm them to get them to the point where they gave it all.
screen/read: It must have been a tough job for them to do. So even more courageous they went for it. How much did you tell them in advance and what was their initial reaction when they learned about the story?
Tom Six: Ashley and Ashlynn were the two girls of the remaining 30% with the most willingness and so I told them more and more and showed them how they would sit and how I would gonna shoot etc. They really had a good understanding of what I was about to make but you can imagine, it’s been very hard for them nevertheless. Being attached to an ass is really not something you’d tell your mother. „Look, I got a new part, mom, and it’s about …“ (laughs). So they put all their trust in me, and that’s been really daring. But in the end they made a very good choice in doing this.
screen/read: They did, and compared to other horror films where pretty girls are just shallow victims there are these remarkably touching moments where they are holding hands, which was totally unexpected. Did you plan that or was it rather improvised?
Tom Six: I wrote it in the script. I really wanted that because the only thing they can do is hold hands. They can’t see each other, and that was something I visualised when I wrote the script. And the girls did it really well.
screen/read: Apart from watching the movie and talking about it, quite a few people initially started making their own merchandising and mock stuff of any kind, which otherwise only rarely happens to a film. Do you realize all of these things that are happening and how do you feel about it?
Tom Six: For me it is a huge compliment. As a filmmaker of course you hope that your film gets out there and is picked up commercially and gets viewed as much as possible. It’s amazing that so many people get inspired and make all those clips on youtube and all the merchandising and a video game and stuff. Someone even made a porn movie out of it! It’s called „The Human Sexipede“. Pretty cool.
screen/read: Let’s move a few steps back and speak a little about how you got into making movies. What is your background? And how did you come to doing a horror film?
Tom Six: I always wanted to be a filmmaker for as long as I can remember. When I was a little kid I already used to run around with my grandfather’s film camera, so I probably had some kind of gene or something. Later I started doing television and worked as a director for a company named Endemol. They created the Big Brother show and I was one of the pioneer directors there. It did really well, and so I went all over the world to teach the concept of the show to other directors. But apart from that I always wanted to make my own films, so I set up a film company with my sister. We produced three Dutch language films which came out in theatres in Holland. They are completely different though, as the horror genre is not very much appreciated in Holland. But I wanted to make a horror film and I wanted it to be international. Because internationally horror is pretty much wanted. And when I came up with the „Human Centipede“-idea we thought, hell, why not? So we went for it and the rest is history. Horror is the genre I really love, and so I’ll definitely continue making horrifying films.
screen/read: Could you name certain films that you consider major influences on your own work, maybe especially in genre history?
Tom Six: Definitely. For me the most influential and original film is „Salo“ by Pasolini. I saw it when I was pretty young and it left an everlasting impression. Then there’s the early work of David Cronenberg, „The Brood“ and „Shivers“, and he is a big influence as well. I also love the films that Werner Herzog did with Klaus Kinski. He’s one of my all-time-favorite actors, I think he’s been amazing. But then again I love all kinds of movies, I really am a movie lover in general.
screen/read: Although there are certain echoes of these influences in „The Human Centipede” and despite the obviously intended use of some typical horror clichés, your film is highly original and in that respect differs very much from most genre productions these days.
Tom Six: That’s cool to hear but also very true. You know, for me it is very important to come up with something original, because there are so many films being made, and as filmmaking is so tough, why always make the same things? I don’t understand it. Maybe people are afraid to come up with something new or they lack ideas. But to new filmmakers I would always say, create something that is original, because then your work will get noticed.
screen/read: Thinking of your Big Brother background it is interesting to look for parallels considering all the voyeurism and the locked-up constellation. Would you say that was an influence and added up to the initial idea?
Tom Six: Yeah, definitely. Working on Big Brother, like you say, it’s all about voyeurism. I saw so many people in houses all over the world and witnessed lots of human behaviour and psychology. And just like in „The Human Centipede“ it’s set in one place, in a house where people can’t get out. Of course the situation is totally different, but nevertheless the film is really observing behaviour. And it’s taking the time for that. I think in a lot of horror films the editing is way too fast. You lack emotions of victims and persons that way. And I wanted something different because you really feel with them much better when you take the time to show their mysery and suffering and all that much longer. That’s why the editing is kind of slow. I could have made a totally different film out of this if I had edited in a Hollywood way. Like really fast and lots of special effects, lots of action and stuff. But it wouldn’t have been the same film then.
screen/read: Let’s hope then it never gets a Hollywood remake.
Tom Six: Luckily it’s out there now the way it is. But maybe Tom Cruise would be interested as the head of the centipede with some other actresses in the back.
screen/read: Nicole Kidman and Julia Robers?
Tom Six: That would be very cool (laughs).
screen/read: The reactions to your film are quite remarkable and some people even don’t really seem to know what to do with it. Roger Ebert for instance wasn’t able to give a star rating in his review, something he usually does otherwise. Do you follow what serious critics have to say or do you just not care?
Tom Six: Oh yeah, I do care. I enjoy to read all the reviews very much, and the one by Roger Ebert is really special. That man is an icon in the industry! I don’t know if he ever gave a film no stars before but it’s pretty cool. Critics are split in two though. On the one hand there are those who really love it. In England you have this very high-standard newspaper The Guardian, and they gave the film a very good review which nobody expected because they’re so high culture and stuff. But on the other hand there are critics who absolutely think the film is disgusting and really bad. Same with audiences as well, there are people who think I’m a genius and others say it’s the worst they’ve ever seen. Lots of people are really, really angry. They say I’m degrading humanity. There’s a fan page of me on facebook where people write comments, saying terrorists should be sent to my house, or I had to be sterilized or shot dead.
screen/read: Or maybe sewn together with someone else.
Tom Six: Oh yeah (laughs).
screen/read: It’s quite ridiculous to see people react as extremely as that. In the end it’s only a movie, it’s entertainment, it won’t change the world. So it’s rather tough to understand. How would you explain it, do you think the concept of the film brings out some sort of suppressed anger?
Tom Six: I think so. This idea of being attached mouth to ass is almost like a virus, it spreads all over the world. And maybe people consider shit the most dirty or most appaling thing there is. So if someone is forced to eat it in a film, people are almost not able to handle that and they get angry from the core. And that is really strange in this society.
screen/read: It’s something that dogs do and in a way it’s quite obvious that these three characters are turned into dogs, replacing the ones Dr. Heiter tried his first operation on. So doglovers should actually like it. Do you have a dogs?
Tom Six: I do. A little dog, a pug, a mopshund, as we call them in Holland. Oh, and I love him.
screen/read: So you won’t consider sewing him together with some other dog?
Tom Six: Erm … no. It’s just that I only have one, but if I had three … (laughs).
screen/read: Tom, thanks for taking the time.
Tom Six: Thank you so much for taking an interview. I’m really happy that it went to Germany.
screen/read: Well, the story is set in Germany. People here should really get a chance to see it. Is there a German distributor yet?
Tom Six: German distributors are very much holding back. Somehow they’re very afraid of the film. And that is really strange because it’s so huge everywhere else. But in Germany it’s apparently a very sensitive topic. So hopefully a very daring distributor stands up soon and just does it.
Tom Six started his career in the media as a pioneer director of Big Brother for the Dutch production company Endemol. Together with his sister Ilona he founded Six Entertainment in Amsterdam and wrote as well as directed three films under the company’s label. „The Human Centipede” will be followed by a sequel in early 2011.