October 22, 2020

How we made: The Human Centipede

‘I lied to my family about the plot of the film. When they went to the premiere, they were shocked’ WARNING: contains material some may find offensive

This started out as a joke. I saw a TV news report about how a paedophile had got a really light prison sentence and I said it would be a better punishment to stitch his mouth to the ass of a truck driver. The idea stuck in my head. I asked my ex-girlfriend to get on all fours and I took a picture of her in that position, which I Photoshopped into the first human centipede prototype. The image had all the ingredients for an iconic horror movie: claustrophobia, the inability to speak, eating someone else’s poop and involuntary surgery.

We held auditions in New York. There were a lot of young actors, all dressed up. I showed them a drawing of the human centipede and told them about the concept. About 70% left immediately. The two leads we chose, Ashley C Williams and Ashlynn Yennie, were the bravest. I’m sure they thought I was a complete madman, but they took on this wild adventure.

I had selected the actors on their ability to act with their eyes and radiate fear. The three actors wore little shorts that looked like bandages: around the anus area we attached a latex knob, which they had to bite down on. We combined this with prosthetics on their faces so it looked like they were actually attached to the butt of the person in front. It was hard on the actors physically – we had a massage therapist on set to relieve their discomfort. The set was a fun place. As you can imagine, there were lots of fart jokes.

The film spread around the globe. There have been porn rip-offs, a South Park episode and I’ve heard it’s very popular in the S&M scene. In my opinion, it’s more a black comedy than a horror film. Roger Ebert infamously gave it zero stars, but I think the best films create strong opinions. Only bad art leaves you feeling completely indifferent.

I was about a year out of acting school and hustling like crazy, trying to get work. I wanted to take a big risk. The Human Centipede sounded mysterious and unique. At the audition, Tom gave me this piece of blue paper with a picture of the human centipede on it. I was very shocked, but made sure I maintained a steely facial expression.

He offered me the role of either the middle of the centipede or the girl at the end of it, who dies. I wanted to take on the challenge of playing Lindsay, the middle girl who escapes and persists. I knew that acting with my eyes would be a real challenge. For filming I went to Europe for nearly two months when there was still no script in place, so it was a real leap of faith.

For the surgery scene, I was amazed at how realistic everything looked. Ashlynn [who played Jenny] and I became briefly convinced it was a snuff movie and that we really were going to be made into a human centipede. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. Tom was lovely to work with and let us improvise, which added a visceral horror to the film.

The number one question I get asked is did anyone fart in my mouth? No! We were very respectful of one another and the suits were layered so we weren’t even close to the other person’s butt. The infamous scene where the character at the front of the centipede has to relieve himself was filmed in one take and took 10 seconds. It was easy but I was grateful Tom didn’t film it for longer than he had to.

The biggest issue was just how physically demanding it was to crawl around as the human centipede. There’s a sequence where we try to escape up some stairs. It was real hard on our bodies. You had to act like your flesh was being torn while really moving your knees. Plus the prosthetic cheeks attached to our faces made it hard to open your mouth to eat during breaks.

I lied to my family about the plot of the film. When they went to the premiere, they were really shocked. My dad took it particularly hard – it wasn’t easy to see his daughter like that. It took him years to forgive me. At the premiere, people were laughing, which was hard. I felt like saying: “Do you know what we went through?” But the film is supposed to be absurdist and I realised it was actually a positive reaction.

I couldn’t think about the grossness – that was the viewer’s job. I just had to look as realistic as possible and make people feel like they had entered this nightmare. Lindsay is one of the great scream queens. She perseveres and survives. I felt my performance was full of strength and heart, but people in Hollywood didn’t want to look at the girl who was in the middle of the human centipede. It was too gross and unconventional. I found that I was getting disregarded for roles. There is still a lot of judgment, even now, and I have mixed feelings about it. But it did at least have a happy ending for me. It was through the film that I met my husband.