Despite my taste for weird fantasy and artful horror, your proprietor is by no means a gore-hound. Squeamish? A bit, perhaps, but I'm more averse to the depiction of cruelty and suffering than I am viscera and blood. So I was never in attendance for a screening of any of the films in the more sanguinary horror franchises in recent memory, but did belatedly catch up with SAWs and HOSTELs 1 and 2. I found the films neither as vicious as I'd feared nor, weirdly, quite as bad as I'd been told.
So when this film (the first, apparently, in a planned series by Dutch auteur Tom Six) hit the circuit, I was initially dismissive. But the movie's killer mad scientist concept lingered, and when the film resurfaced for a three-night run at the nearby Red Vic Movie House, I girded myself, and, ready for the worst, went in. I was not expecting to feel how I feel about the film, and leave it up to you to decide what this reaction says about the writer, but...
Here's the thing: You've got a juicy, if disturbing (and, the press mordantly, if wrongly, warns us, medically accurate) premise, and a doctor deranged enough to graft three humans together in a chain, mouth to anus. You've got an impressively weird German actor (the exquisitely named Dieter Laser) who looks like his mouth was carved out of his face by a scalpel. And you've got three actors willing to submit to the demands of the title role (who each give excellent panic and disgust when called for).
But it's not enough.
I'm willing to give Six the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he had a limited budget and timeframe to realize this thing. And yet the listing of a rehearsal space in America gave me pause, since there's no evidence on screen that anyone really engaged the concept. When you're working (for the most part) on a single set with a limited budget, it's time to tinker and flesh out details, but Mix hasn't set his sights any higher than his (admittedly outre) concept. Laser's ready for anything, and is a good mad scientist, but there's very little indication why he's putting humans through this. A little bit of a Frankensteinian relationship between creator and creation would have given the film some much needed texture. And I realize how oddball this sounds, but there was plenty of space to explore the relationship between the three segments after joining. It's a huge challenge for the actor (which Uta Hagen could never have anticipated), and there's considerable suspense in the final reel as we watch the segments finally figure out unified motion as they make a desperate bid for freedom.
A movie with this batshit a concept is not going to attract a mainstream audience. If you have people in seats who know that they're going to see some folks get sown ass to mouth, you gotta get ahead of them. And not just the cerebral shit I'm a bit appalled to hear myself advocating for in the previous paragraph; Six grabbed me with an explanation of the science of the thing, but some fairly obvious outlets for gore and viscera went weirdly unexplored, and I can't imagine I was the only one disappointed that I was coming up with images that were never matched by the action on screen. And though I don't hold the marketing of the film against Mix, it's weirdly crushing that "the most shocking film of the year" should wind up playing its concept so half-assed. Six has sworn up and down that David Cronenberg was a huge influence on his work, but there's a hell of a lot of thought behind Cronenberg's viscera, and none behind Six's.
Unless, of course, Six is in fact playing a long game to be fleshed out and more deeply explored in subsequent segments. Which may be possible, but though I can't deny I'm curious to see where he goes next, there's no evidence in this movie to suggest it'll be a worthwhile voyage.