The Human Centipede - Tom Six interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
TOM Six, the writer and director of the year’s most notorious horror film, The Human Centipede, talks to us about the inspiration behind the film, the reasons why he can claim it’s 100% medically accurate and some of the extreme responses he has provoked. He also talks about the forthcoming sequel and some of his own horror influences…
Q. I gather the idea for The Human Centipede first stemmed from a joke?
Tom Six: Yes, that’s correct. It came about while I was watching TV with a friend one time in France… we were watching a report about a child molester and I said they should stitch his mouth to the ass of a very fat truck driver as a punishment. After that, the idea kept growing in my head. It was such a horrific idea, but I thought it would make a great idea for a horror film and it just kept growing from there [laughs].
Q. How easy was it to get made after that?
Tom Six: Oh, pretty difficult! The financing was really tricky. We work with a group in Holland, who financed my first three films, and I told them we were about to make my first international one and that it was going to be about a surgeon who stitches people together. But I left out the words ‘mouth’ and ‘ass’ because I knew they wouldn’t go for it if they knew that. When it was finished I showed it to them and they were shocked. But they liked it also. So, we got very lucky.
Q. I gather the film is 100% medically accurate?
Tom Six: Yeah, I consulted a friend of mine who is a real surgeon in Holland. At first he said: “No Tom, I’m not going to work with you on this because you’re crazy and it would be going against my medical oath…” But after a while he said he’d help but would do so anonymously. He then drew up a very detailed operation report for me, and said I could make a human centipede.
Q. Has he seen it since?
Tom Six: Yes, and he absolutely loved it [laughs]. He said it was really well done, especially the special effects and make-up. Actually, it was him who had the main idea… I initially only thought of stitching the mouth to the anus, but he said: “No, you’d rip it too easily…” And he came up with cutting the skin flaps out of the buttocks and attaching it to the cheeks to make a more secure fixing. I never would have thought of that!
Q. What did you think of what you’d created when you first saw it?
Tom Six: Myself? It was very surreal when you make something like this, especially during the shooting, when you had people sitting on their hands and knees, half naked, pretending to be a centipede. It was so surreal. But I also wanted it to look almost beautiful as well, and I think it worked. The more striking you make something like this, the longer you think about it.
Q. So, what’s the most surprising or shocking reaction you’ve had do it?
Tom Six: I was in a theatre in the US where you could order dinner throughout the film. Now, that’s not a good idea! I saw a guy vomiting all of his food out in the middle of the cinema, for everyone to see. It was horrific for the audience too. Also, during test screenings there were a few ladies who left early, so I went to ask them why and they were afraid to even look at me [laughs]! They thought I was an absolute maniac. They were so totally in shock at what they had seen, and were really afraid of me. So, you could say the reactions are very extreme all the time.
Q. Does that bother you? Or is that something you were seeking?
Tom Six: No, no, it doesn’t bother me. You know when you’re writing something like this that you’re going to get a lot of reactions, and that’s part of the fun for me, creating something that gets people talking about it. I hate it when people come away from a movie and forget about it straight away, or are more worried about what’s for dinner… so getting an extreme response from them, drawing an opinion – whether good or bad – that for me is where all the fun is.
Q. It must have been incredibly flattering, then, to hear about the Internet campaign to get the film a cinema release in the UK, rather than sending it straight to DVD?
Tom Six: It’s every filmmaker’s dream. It was incredible to have had this kind of support, and to hear so many people are talking about it. From the time the trailer – which was made so brilliantly in America – was released on the Internet it just went ‘bang’ and the momentum behind the film just went on and on. At festivals, people kept talking about it. But the idea is so universal… everyone is disgusted by it, whether it’s been shown in the US, across Europe or in Japan. It’s all the same.
Q. Is the Internet an important tool in a filmmaker’s arsenal, particularly in getting lower budgeted films out to wider audiences?
Tom Six: It’s a great marketing tool. I always use the Internet. It’s a great starting point, allowing you to show your trailer and have people all over world be able to see it. It was much harder in the old days.
Q. How easy was it to find the right actor to play Dr Heiter?
Tom Six: When I was writing the script, I watched a DVD and saw Dieter Laser playing a prisoner and was so struck by his charisma and voice. I thought immediately: “Oh man, that’s the guy who should play Dr Heiter…” And after that point, I never imagined anyone else during the writing. I then looked up his name on IMDB, saw that he’d done 60 films, including ones with John Malkovich and Burt Lancaster as well as a lot of films in Germany – so I approached him and he absolutely loved the idea of playing the role.
Q. Did he need any convincing as to how you might pull it off?
Tom Six: No, no… he was totally blown away by the idea of playing the character. He liked the idea that I’d been influenced by some of the notorious Nazi doctors, and the idea of playing with that because he’s German himself. In fact, it was him who brought the beautiful white doctor’s jacket that you see him wearing in the movie, and the other beautiful suits you see him wearing in the film, because he had a very specific idea about how the doctor should look in the film. There was a lot of improvisation on set from him, which was a very big present to me as a director.
Q. Conversely, were the members of the centipede a little harder to cast because of what it entailed, particularly the two girls?
Tom Six: The girls were very hard to get, yes. We did a casting session in New York and a lot of actors want to be pretty in films, so when I showed them drawings of the centipede and what the role involved, many of them were angry – some simply left the audition because they felt I was a European nutcase [laughs]. But the smart ones stayed and allowed me to try and explain what it would look like. I put the girls on their hands and knees and some were afraid to be that close to another person’s ass. But the really brave ones and the best ones were Ashley C Williams and Ashlynn Yennie, who subsequently play such a big part in the success of my movie.
Q. How did you handle the shooting of the scenes themselves? I gather you worked hard to make them feel comfortable and not exploited, particularly as it also involved a certain amount of nudity?
Tom Six: Yes, you’re right. We made every effort to make them feel comfortable. We gave them a massage every day after the shoot because it was so hard and there were a lot of emotions for them to convey in terms of the physical and emotional pain they had to relay, as well as having the experience of having this doctor walking around them. But they did a great job I think.
Q. Did any of them mention having any nightmares afterwards?
Tom Six: They talked about it for a long, long time… but it’s such a surreal experience. Luckily, they also made a lot of humour on-set about passing gas and showering well. They also came up with a centipede dance, which we are going to put on the DVD.
Q. I gather you’re working on a sequel but don’t want to reveal too much?
Tom Six: Yes, and I can tell you it’s going to be a human centipede of 12 people! Part one [First Sequence] will look like My Little Pony compared to part two. Everything I didn’t show in part one will be in part two. It will be very original and very disturbing, and its tagline this time will be that it’s 100% medically inaccurate [laughs]. We start filming in a week and a half in London with an almost entirely British cast!
Q. Will you be nodding to the original by bringing anyone back?
Tom Six: Well, that’s part of the big surprise I have in store… who’s coming back [laughs].
Q. In terms of the original and its haunting ending, was that always intentional? Did you always intend to leave it so open-ended and harrowing?
Tom Six: Absolutely, that was the idea. By having an ending that could keep going on and on, it makes people continue to think about it. If you have an ending that’s closed or wraps things up nicely, people tend to forget about it. This keeps it open in people’s minds.
Q. The Human Centipede is being described as the most talked about film of the year and one of the most shocking and gross of all time… what’s the most shocking, or grossest thing you’ve seen on film?
Tom Six: The film that really made a huge impression on me, and still does… the one that I find the most horrific is Salo [or The 120 Days of Sodom] by Pier Paolo Pasolini. That’s really the sickest film I’ve ever seen.
Q. Do you think there’s a line that horror films shouldn’t cross? Or do you think there are no boundaries?
Tom Six: I don’t think you can go too far, no. Films like these are art, it’s all make believe. It’s great if a filmmaker can try to push boundaries and see how much an audience can take and see what happens. It’s fun to be able to do that.
Q. When watching The Human Centipede I was reminded at points of David Cronenberg. Was he an influence?
Tom Six: Yes, very much so. I think that man is a genius. I love his films, especially his early ones such as Rabid, Shivers and Crash… I love Crash. He creates a great atmosphere. I love his films and certainly used him as a lot of inspiration.
Q. Which other directors inspire you?
Tom Six: I also like Michael Haneke, the Austrian director… what he did with Funny Games was amazing. It’s a really well made film. [The original] Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an all-time classic. And I loved The Devil’s Rejects from Rob Zombie… it’s a really raw film. I also liked High Tension [or Switchblade Romance], the French film by Alexandre Aja.
Q. Given Hollywood’s appetite for horror remakes, would you be open minded to seeing The Human Centipede given a big budget makeover? And who would you like to see in it?
Tom Six: Well, the film itself is doing well in America [laughs], but if they will insist I would say that if you do a remake you’d have to have Tom Cruise as the head of the centipede, Julia Roberts in the middle and maybe Paris Hilton at the back [laughs].
Q. And Cronenberg directing?
Tom Six: [laughs aloud] Yes, yes, that’s a great idea!
Q. Will you be staying in the horror genre from now on, or would you like to explore other genres as a filmmaker?
Tom Six: Oh yes, I love horror. I want to explore the psychological horror movie more in the future and I have a great idea for a film that we’re going to shoot in LA, with American surroundings, next year. I can’t tell you what that idea is yet, but it’s going to be really upsetting for a lot of people. I also have an idea for a third Centipede movie… so maybe one day we’ll see a third one completed. But at the moment, I’m concentrating on writing those ideas and making the second Human Centipede movie.
Q. Is working in America something you’d like to do more?
Tom Six: Definitely, because it’s such a big film country and everyone is so film minded. I’ve never worked there before, so it will be great to be able to do that sometime in the future.
Q. Has the success of The Human Centipede raised your profile? Or is there a notoriety that comes with you now that perhaps makes casting a sequel even harder?
Tom Six: Oh no [laughs]. I’ve been approached by agents who have ask if I’d be interested in reading a script from Hollywood with a view to directing it. But for now, I want to work on my own stuff because that’s more challenging to me. A lot of the things coming out of Hollywood are clichéd and not original, and I really think I have some original ideas. So, first I want to see if I can make them. But we’ll see what happens from here…
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Tom Six interview
- The Human Centipede Photo Gallery