This Friday The Human Centipede finally makes it into UK cinemas. To celebrate this I got to have a chat with Tom Six, the film’s writer-director, about his inspiration, ideas for sequels, audience reaction and – most disturbingly – the copyists trying to become human centipedes themselves.
BC: Hi Tom. Thanks for taking some time to talk to me about The Human Centipede. My first question really is the question everybody has asked me about the film: where did that idea come from?
TS: Well, it started very simply. Once I was sitting with a friend watching television, and there was a child molester on, and I said as a sick joke, “You should stitch his mouth to the ass of a very fat truck driver, that would be a good punishment for him.” Everybody was like, “Oh that idea is so horrible,” and it kept coming into my head, and I thought that it was a great basic idea for a horror film. That’s how it all started.
BC: Ultimately when the film was finished, it reminded me a lot of other films in which people are kept in captivity. I mean, it was simply: there was somebody very malicious, there were some people in a house, or a location like that, and they were trying to get out. It was just the biological nature of what he did to them that set it apart from the pack. Were you determined to play with that basic genre, or was this the only story that worked for you?
TS: No, definitely. I watched a lot of horror films in my childhood life and stuff, and I deliberately used all horror clichés possible in this film. Like the mobile phone not working, the flat tire, because I knew that when I started a film like that, I knew that the audience would think, “Oh yeah, we’ve seen this a thousand times,” but what happens then is it’s so outrageous that the audience goes crazy. It works way better like that for me.
BC: I was at the première of the film at Frightfest last year and, beforehand, nobody really knew what to expect. Afterwards, nobody could stop talking about it. Did people come up to you in the foyer and approach you afterwards?
TS: Oh yeah, yeah. At lots of festivals. London was a great festival, and so many people want to talk to you, and they have loads of questions of you from wanting to know more about the film from me. Yeah, it’s crazy, but there are also people that are so shocked by the film they don’t even want to talk to me or look at me, even. They think I’m a crazy guy or something, that I belong in a mental hospital. It’s just make believe of course, but there were lots and lots of different reactions.
BC: How does it feel when people are reacting so strongly against you? How do you feel that people think you’re somehow sick?
TS: Yeah, I think it’s a compliment. For me, the fun as a film maker is to be controversial. I would like to make movies where people talk about, and get reactions from. I would hate it if I would make make a movie and somebody asks after they’ve watched the film, “What’s for dinner?” I love it when it gets reactions. So, of course, negative reactions belong to that. I knew that when I was making the film, on Facebook even, people are so angry. They say, “You should be shot,” or “You should be sterilised.” But that’s all in the game, I think.
BC: It has provoked a lot of strong reactions. I teach film and a lot of students at the school, even students who aren’t film students, have seen the trailer. The phrase “Human Centipede” has almost entered into the popular culture already. Have you seen the t-shirts and necklaces and things like that, things that people have been making?
TS: Oh, yeah, it’s incredible. There’s so much stuff like, made from this film. A guy in the US even set a tattoo on his feet. That’s very crazy. There’s so many people that makes their own human centipede on Youtube. It’s so very funny, and I’m very proud of that of course.
BC: Hang on, if I go to Youtube, I can see people as though they’re a Human Centipede? You’re telling me that members of the public have decided that they’re going to do this?
BC: That’s outrageous.
TS: Yeah. It’s crazy, so crazy.
BC: Possibly very unhygienic as well.
TS: Oh, yeah.
BC: Did you have a medical consultant when you were planning the film?
TS: Yeah, definitely, because my idea was to stitch a mouth to an anus, but I thought a surgeon could do that, and I wanted help from a real surgeon. My girlfriend’s father is a surgeon in Holland, and I approached him with the idea. At first he didn’t want to work with me because he said, “It’s against my medical oath,” but after a while, he is a big movie fan, he said, “I like the idea. I will help you, but I will do it anonymous.” So he created this very detailed operation report for me, and he came up with the idea of using the skin flaps from the butt to put it on the cheeks, so you get a really firm grip. He told me that he could actually perform an operation like this in a hospital, and that’s really scary. It really added to the film, I think.
BC: So you’ve obviously revealed who your consultant is. How does he feel that people know that he’s done this now? Is he still able to practise as a doctor?
TS: Yeah, he’s still working as a surgeon, and of course he’s anonymous, so nobody knows about it. In the reaches of the internet, he really loves it of course, but nobody knows who he is.
BC: So the trucker character you mentioned earlier when you said the idea first came to you. We have that guy at the start of the film, but for the majority of the film, we have these three other characters. Why did you choose these character types?
TS: I saw a lot of horror movies from the 80s, and a lot of the time it was about naive American girls getting into trouble. So I wanted to use that cliché in this film, and I really love Japanese horror films. So I definitely wanted a Japanese actor for it. I put him at the head of the centipede because I didn’t want him to be able to communicate with the Doctor. The girls can’t talk, and so can’t the guy in the way it is now. I chose a German character because when I wrote the story and thought, “I need a surgeon,” I immediately thought about the crazy and notorious Nazi doctors from the Second World War. So that’s how I created all of those characters.
BC: So your film, clearly in your use of clichés, you’ve offered a commentary on other horror films, but is it pretentious to say that you think there is meaning to your choice of a German Doctor there, this evocation of the Nazis? Were you trying to say something, and if so, what exactly do you think?
TS: No, I’m not really trying to say something. I’m just fascinated and horrified by the things that happened in the Second World War, and I read a lot of books about it. Of course there’s a lot of underlying war stuff going because the Americans, the Japanese and the Germans are all the main players in the Second World War. So there are these underlying things in it, but people come up with all kinds of crazy ideas because people say that this film is about politicians who swallow each other’s bullshit, and people come up with all crazy ideas.
BC: Yeah, they’re stretching it a little there, aren’t they, I feel. Was it a difficult shoot?
TS: Yeah, it was mostly a very surreal shoot. It’s very strange. You put people on their hands and knees, and they’re standing in this garden. For the crew it was very funny at times. But also, really, a bit disturbing, especially for the actors. They’re standing on their hands and knees, naked. It gives a lot of physical strain of course, so we gave them a massage after the shoot. It was a tough job for them, for the actors, who were in the centipede. Really tough.
BC: How many days were you filming for?
TS: Almost a month. A little shorter than a month.
BC: How much of that were they in the centipede for?
TS: About half of the shoot. A small two weeks, they were on their hands and knees. Not during the whole day, because the special effects guys made this cool construction that they could come out of it and stand up. And if we wanted to shoot, they could get back into position again. They were on their hands and knees for hours a day.
BC: Has this put any wear and tear on your relationship with the actors? Do you have a good relationship with them now?
TS: Oh, really good. I love them all. They’re great. I really love actors with balls, and the vision made them come through. There’s not many out there that have the guts to do a thing like this, and I really loved everything that Dieter Laser, who plays Dr. Heiter, did. I think he’s a genius in acting.
BC: It’s an amazing performance. It’s a very memorable one too. When you were doing the auditions, did you keep it a secret at all from the actors about what they were auditioning for? When did they find out what the nature of the film was?
TS: Yeah. What I did when I did the auditions for the girl, I made drawings of the human centipede, and I showed it to all the actresses. So many of them were very angry and they left, and thought I was some kind of lunatic or something, but the smart ones stayed because I really explained how this was going to look like. It’s a big step to act in a movie where you’re attached to somebody’s ass, of course, so yeah… what was your question again?
BC: I was just wondering at what stage they found out what you were looking for from them. I mean, if you showed them an illustration when they came to the audition, I think we can all imagine how some of them must have reacted.
TS: Oh, yeah, definitely. I told them as much as I could about the project, but I always work with a lot of improvisations, and I use a lot of what the actors can give, because a lot of directors only give them lines, and that’s it. But I really use all of the talents that actors have. Like Dieter and the centipede came up with great ideas to put in the film, and I use that.
BC: I understand that you did keep the nature of the film secret from your financiers for a while, though, is that true?
TS: Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true. We made three films in Holland, and I told them, “I want to make my first international film. It’s about a surgeon who attaches people.” But I left out the words mouth and ass because I knew they wouldn’t finance it. They were grossed out. Then we showed the film to the investors, and luckily for us, they really liked it. Otherwise this film would never have been made.
BC: So these three films you made before in the Netherlands. Is there some chance that we’re going to be seeing these internationally now?
TS: Well Gay in Amsterdam is sold to the US, not the UK. Hopefully people will get interested in those films, but they have the Dutch language, of course, and it’s very difficult to sell Dutch language films.
BC: Sure. There’s nothing more that you can do than subtitles. I’m always frustrated when audiences won’t accept and watch subtitled films, but I guess we both know that that’s very frequent. But going forwards, your next project is another Human Centipede film, is that correct?
TS: Yes. It’s called Human Centipede Part Two: The Full Sequence, and I’m going to shoot that in August in London. It’s going to be a human centipede of twelve people, and I really go full force in that one. I hold back in the first one, because I wanted the audience to get used to the sick idea first. Now they are used to that idea, I can use all of my ideas that I had and could have put in Part One. So it’s going to be a pretty rough film.
BC: Why London?
TS: That’s because I absolutely love London. I wanted a total English cast, and a lot of people said to me when I told them all the main players in the World War, two are there, all of them said, “It’s eight and the English.” A very big deal, and that’s why, with all of those elements together, I wanted to shoot the film in London.
BC: Can you announce anything about the cast at all or are you keeping this secret?
TS: Yeah, I’m going to keep that a secret because a lot of people wonder if the Doctor is coming back. Of course he’s dead, but in one form is he coming back? What happens to the middle girl at the end? So I keep it a surprise that will happen, but it will be pretty original, I hope.
BC: One of the things that struck me is that before the film, we were told at Frightfest that your history was in fine art. Is that fair to say, that you were initially more of an artist than you were a film maker? Is that correct? It was in their marketing materials.
TS: Oh, yeah. I used to paint, so that’s more of a hobby life, like drawing and painting and stuff. But I always loved film making, and I come from a television background.
BC: Have you directed television?
TS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. When the first show of Big Brother started in the Netherlands, I was one of the directors on that show, and it of course became a huge success. I was a directing consultant, and I was put directing ones to show in the US and in Germany and in Denmark, Norway, South Africa. So I travelled a lot, with that concept. But I always wanted to make my own films, so I quit and I started making films.
BC: You must have received letters and emails from people who went to see the film that were a little bit scary, I would have thought. Is that true? Have you had some people who seemed a little bit too excited by it?
TS: You mean they had their own ideas? I’ll use an example. A girl made three dolls, and she sewed them together and gave it to me as a present. That’s really strange, to accept that, of course. Of course you have some really crazy people out there.
BC: Yeah, it doesn’t matter what the movie is, it could be anything. I know that any movie, somewhere out there, there’s someone who finds it a little erotic, in a disturbing way. I was just frightened for you that you were receiving mail from people who were rather too much like Dieter’s character in real life.
TS: No, no. Luckily, I haven’t received emails from that, but I have, on Facebook pages, I see a lot of crazy stuff. People who like all kinds of sick ideas and stuff.
BC: So, Tom, my last question for you. What’s the big thing about Human Centipede that no one’s quite worked out yet? What’s the big secret, what do we need to know about this film that we’ve not quite worked out?
TS: Well, I think that the basic, just the very basic idea of a mouth to an ass, I think that’s the big appeal because everybody is grossed out by it, but that thought, somehow it also fascinates. That’s really fascinating for me to see, because it’s like a global thing. If you’re in Taiwan or whatever, people are struck by the film, as everywhere. So the reactions are almost the same everywhere, and maybe that’s the trick, I don’t know. The simple thought.
BC: Yeah, it’s something very universal. We’ve all got mouths, we’ve all got anuses. Good luck with the wide release of the film across the UK. When can we expect to see the Full Sequence do you think?
TS: The Full Sequence, I think its world première in the US (is) in the beginning of January. So hopefully around that time it will also come to the UK, but I can’t say that for certain.
BC: So, very soon. That’s good. Any more after that? A third Centipede movie or is two enough?
TS: No, I have an idea for the third one. But if I want to make a sequel, I’d really want to have an original story. That’s for me, very important. No Part Two is going to be pretty original, and I have ideas for the third one. But first I’m going to make another kind of horror film, also pretty controversial. Maybe after that one, if I want to do it again, maybe I shoot a third one then.
BC: Well, good luck with all of these. I’m interested in what this other kind of horror film is going to be. I’m sure it’s going to be very surprising.
And then we thanked one another and said our goodbyes. This is posted with special thanks to Ted Leighton for transcribing the conversation in full.