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The Human Centipede & Cinema's Finest Mad Scientists
Simon Jablonski , August 23rd, 2010 07:25

Simon Jablonski steadies his stomach for digestion shock-fest The Human Centipede, and looks at the greatest deranged men of science in film history

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There aren't many films whose premise alone can cause such intrigue and repulsion as that of The Human Centipede. As horror concepts go, stitching a row of people together bum-hole to mouth is pretty horrifying. There's little in the blood-porn series Saw that shows a worse fate than death by being stitched in the middle of that scatological conga mess. The film's central victims are those most annoying of horror tropes: two scatty American girls who are useless in any situation outside of ‘happening club'. Together their screeching and general stupidity irritates and breaks tension throughout. For a start, you've failed at building tension in a film if you're actually praying that some sicko will turn up as soon as possible to silence these obvious victims – watch Wolf Creek for dramatic tension building by getting you to actually like the characters.

Eventually they end up at the home of a German surgeon, tripping over a grave stone labelled “My Beloved Three-Dog” (eluding to the photograph of three Rottweilers stitched ass to mouth we see him stroking at the start). Drugging the girls, he takes them down to his basement surgery and explains in detail their fate by way of an extremely crudely draw diagram. Despite at times being an over-the-top pantomime villain, the surgeon has the most amazing face for horror: scared, deep eyes and the profile of a crow. Tom Six is quite obviously a brilliant director – at times the shots he picks out are the only thing holding your attention. But the stupidity of just about every character is so baffling that it's off putting to the stage that all tension drains away. It is, however, a great horror concept and the surgical slashing and Cronenberg-esque body horror is well executed.

Dr. Heiter, the maniacal surgeon, got our brains rattling to think of those other Mad Scientists in cinema. At the heart of every Mad Scientist is a severe God-complex, usually characterised by a compulsion to create life or perfect what they see as our current flaws – crazy hair and a good maniacal laugh also help.

Dr. Heiter – The Human Centipede

Dr. Heiter's unique and troubling obsession with stitching human beings or dogs together to form his own ideal creature gives him the number one spot as the looniest of all the mad scientists.

Rotwang – Metropolis

Fritz Lang's Metropolis is a masterpiece of Wagnerian proportions: expansive, masterful, booming yet beautiful. It's richness and various layers require several viewings. Rotwang is Lang's mad scientist. Fuelled by loathing of old love-rival and owner of Metropolis, Fredersen, with whom he fell out some years ago over a girl who died whilst giving birth to Fredersen's son. Rotwang creates a robot he intends to mould into the likeness of his dead love and marry. However, when he comes across Maria, he performs experiments on her to give her likeness to the robot who he then instructs to destroy the city and kill Fredersen's son.

Doc Brown – Back To The Future

The dynamic and ageless Doc Brown hangs out with teenage boys, has a mortal fear of Libyans and dances around his gadgets with eyes like saucers. He splendidly blurred the line between science-fiction, adventure and comedy by inventing the Flux Capacitor, a tongue-in-cheek non-science explanation for how time travel is possible. All you need now is some plutonium to create your 1.21 gigawatts of energy and a DeLorean to stick it in. And off you go. He may be a loony recluse, but at least he doesn't get off with his mum.

Seth Brundle – The Fly

Ever wanted to fly across space like Dr Spock? Seth Brundle did, now he's very dead, not before horribly disfiguring himself and upsetting a few other people on the way – especially that man in the arm wrestling match who looks like Jean-Claude Van Dame's brother in Kickboxer. Like the twins in Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, Seth Brundle is a charismatic, booze-loving, woman chasing kind of mad scientist. After one very unsuccessful and one apparently successful attempt at transporting a baboon across his teleportation pods, and in a haze of booze and jealousy, he decides to give it a spin but doesn't notice the fly that's sneaked its way in.

In this deleted scene, Seth creates a mutant Cat-Monkey. Look away if you like kittens.

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein - Young Frankenstein

Surely the funniest and silliest parody devised on film. Written and directed by slap-shtick legend Mel Brooks, closeness to the 1930s film was of such importance that many of the same lab props were used. Gene Wilder plays Frankenstein (he pronounces it Fronkensteen to distance himself from the name), grandson of the lunatic scientist. After discovering he has inherited his Grandfather's estate, he moves to Transylvania and resumes his ancestor's work trying to reanimate a corpse. He eventually succeeds with dim-witted, music loving Monster who, along with his Schwanzstücka, becomes more animated and sophisticated as the film progresses.

The Inventor – Edward Scissorhands

The Inventor (played by Vincent Price) lives in a Gothic castle high on a hill spending his time inventing such things as snow and cookies. Not having a son, he creates Edward. And for reasons only know to him, gave him scissors for hands. Though he's set out in the film as a benevolent, loving father figure, if he manages to engineer the small miracle of sight and hearing, surely hands couldn't have been too difficult to stick on. Maybe he got fed up and just threw on the nearest appendage he could find lying around? Maybe he wanted to dissuade the adolescent's curiosity about his other appendages? Or perhaps there's a greater lesson to be learnt about what it is to be complete – we'll go with this one to maintain the kindly father figure. As well as teaching Edward to read, write and speak he makes sure he's well versed in social etiquette. Yet in one of the most heartbreaking scenes in cinema, The Inventor dies of old age whilst showing Edward the hands he has made for him.

Dr Jekyll – Dr Jekyll And Sister Hyde

Famous for combining comedy blood and bouncing boobs in new and inventive ways, Dr Jekyll And Sister Hyde is actually one of Hammer's better films. Taking full advantage of the newly relaxed censorship laws, they were able to explore themes of eroticism and violence – in their own bouncy buxom way, of course. The classic Robert Louis Stevenson story is well known, so why not spice it up a notch? Dr Jekyll experiments on newly deceased corpses determined to discover the elixir of life that will provide immortality. He inadvertently creates a potion that transforms him into the sadistic yet beautiful Sister Hyde who, when not posing nude in front of the mirror, stalks Whitechapel for innocent young women to continue the research into immortality.

Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr - The Man With Two Brains

Remember when Steve Martin was funny? Remember when he had a hilarious rubbery face instead of a disturbing rubber face? Well this was back then – the golden days of the silver fox. Operating in the realm of the maddest of mad scientists, Martin plays neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr. The recently widowed Hfuhruhurr accidently knocks over money grabbing Dolores Benedict using a method of his own invention: cranial screw-top brain entry. The two get married. When in Vienna Hfuhruhurr starts a semi-romantic relationship with a brain in a jar.

Professor Klump - The Nutty Professor

Possibly the only scientist on the list you'd want to spend any time with, not being a maniacal lunatic. The loveable Klump just wants to lose some weight so a pretty girl will like him, and that's something we can all relate to, maybe. His magic potion goes haywire when his alter-ego Buddy Love gets out of control. At the end of the day we all learn that invaluable lesson that though a fine ass can get you a long way, it's what's on the inside that counts. Don't bother with Meet The Klumps though.

Docteur Génessier – Les Yeux Sans Visage

Strangely enough, Les Yeux Sans Visage follows a very similar narrative structure to The Human Centipede. Docteur (he's French) Génessier is an expert surgeon who kidnaps and drugs young girls in order to surgically remove their faces to graft onto the head of his daughter, who suffered a disfiguring accident some years ago. Of course he doesn't test his revolutionary new grafting technique – the heterograph – on his daughter, he's not a monster! He runs various tests on his dogs – ring any bells? Docteur Génessier is clearly unstable, as is shown by his drugging and butchering of young girls, but he creates this odd tension by carrying out his crimes for the love of his daughter. Is that one of those big golden values that trumps all the bad things? Probably not. Whatever, he's still a bonkers scientist.

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Erik Dunn
Aug 23, 2010 12:38pm

No Dr Phibes?

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toby
Aug 23, 2010 1:10pm

Nice little article. Just two nit-picky points though:

1. The Inventor created Edward Scissorhands from a robot that was designed to chop salad and therefore had scissors for hands. It's pretty tenuous, but it's an explanation.

2. Seth Brundle wasn't a drinker until Geena Davis's character (can't remember the name off the top of my head) got involved. It was his jealousy and her rejection that made him test the chamber on himself with hilarious results. It's an interesting (and maybe worrying) theme in a number of Cronenburg films - men are busy doing MAN things, then a woman comes along and screws it all up. Although I think he can avoid accusations of misogyny as the men are usually up to things that if not always criminal are generally amoral.

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Tim Russell
Aug 24, 2010 3:10am

"watch Wolf Creek for dramatic tension building by getting you to actually like the characters." Are you kidding? Those two girls were SO obnoxious I was rooting for the psycho all the way.

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Anthony
Aug 24, 2010 1:12pm

I liked Wolf Creek!

And in Edward Scissorhands he dies just as he was going to fit the proper hands the scissors only being a stopgap :)

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Greg Rawson
Aug 26, 2010 8:47am

Great Article.

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