New on DVD: The Human Centipede, Splice, The Oxford Murders, A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

(Capsule reviews by Karina Longworth, Nick Pinkerton and Chuck Wilson)

The Human Centipede In Tom Six's torture-porn game-changer The Human Centipede, an evil German doctor kidnaps a Japanese man and two vapid American girl tourists, imprisons them in his basement lab, and shows them a presentation of simplistic hand-drawn slides that illustrate his diabolical plan: By surgically connecting all three via digestive tract, he will turn three beings into one. Just like that, an iconic movie monster is born. Never as explicit as a Saw or Hostel film, Centipede disarms the viewer with comedy early on, then swiftly shifts into the shit (literally and figuratively), managing to maintain a steady aura of stomach-churning dread purely through performance and suggestion. It's definitive psychological horror.

The film plays on the notion that the only thing more frightening than death is a state bridging life and death, in which, though one's body is no longer his own to control, the mind remains conscious. If the standard cinematic way of dealing with that fear is by giving victims a last-minute burst of heroism to arrange their own reprieve, then The Human Centipede is truly subversive in its hopelessness. Centipede ultimately manages to correct mainstream horror's bullshit conservative ideology. It's become an old film theory chestnut that the horror heroine who says "no" to sex gets to live while her friends die--thus, the Final Girl. Six's final girl never gets to have sex, but in the end, she's truly fucked. (K.L.)

90 minutes Not Rated

Splice Though Sundance-screened and sporting an upscale cast, Vincenzo Natali's Splice has a mad science quality. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley are Clive and Elsa, a married couple of "rock star" genetic engineers who are introduced midwifing the birth of a lab grown, maggoty sack of tissue, which we'll soon observe in a mating tango that'll put you off your popcorn. Clive and Elsa then decide to tamper in God's domain and toss a soupçon of human DNA into their recipe. What winds up in the incubator is a massive spermatozoon ending in an obscene glans, which hatches a walking skinned rabbit, which develops into an increasingly humanoid girl with a wicked harelip. Though he'll more than accept their adoptee in time, Clive is understandably creeped out at first by his wife's coddling treatment of the thing, now christened "Dren." (Polley's glowing reaction shots while nestling her mutant toddler make a deadpan joke of parents' indifferent pride over whatever they've hatched.) In spite or because of the portentous, gathering-clouds score and accumulated Freudian gibble-gabble, Splice is a queerly funny movie. Natali never drops his poker face, but you can't tell me a moment like the Big Presentation where the front row of suits get splattered isn't supposed to be a knee-slapper. Of Splice's various primal scenes, that's-just-wrong coitus interruptuses and ridiculous dialogues delivered with unfailing conviction ("Was it ever about science?"), I am less certain of the intention. (N.P.)

104 minutes Rated R

The Oxford Murders Even those of us who barely passed algebra accept the idea that there's beauty to be found in the study of numbers, but for Martin (Elijah Wood), an American grad student newly arrived at Oxford University, studying higher mathematics is akin to a religious calling. Martin has come to England hoping to be mentored by a brilliant logician named Arthur Seldom (John Hurt), who promptly rebuffs him, until the two discover together the murdered body of Martin's landlady. Joining forces, teacher and acolyte begin hunting a serial killer who's sending Seldom a mathematical equation that somehow links his victims. In the film's early stages, Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia, who adapted Guillermo Martínez's Argentine bestseller in collaboration with Jorge Guerricaechevarría, enlivens Martin and Arthur's prattle about Wittgenstein, Gödel, and other math gods with stylish camera movements, including a three-minute tracking shot. As an arrogant professor, Hurt pontificates with delightful precision, as only he can, but his director doesn't bring a matching grace to the storytelling, which grows into a big, fat, silly muddle. For now anyway, how to effectively merge the simplicity of an Agatha Christie mystery with the complexity of a Dan Brown thriller appears to be an insoluble problem. (C.W.)

108 minutes Rated R

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) If audiences are willing to pretend that they've never seen Freddy Krueger, at least give them the privilege of a tease. Unfortunately, this remake of Wes Craven's 1984 horror staple pops its cookies early. The story is unchanged: Freddy Krueger, the guilty secret of Springwood, Ohio's parents, menaces their teenaged children's sleep: "If you die in your dreams, you die for real," "One, two, Freddy's coming for you," and so on. Its first half-hour devoid of the most basic sense of timing, showmanship, and atmosphere, Nightmare gets a grip after a couple of bad dreams winnow the focus down to two nice-looking goth-y kids (Rooney Mara and Kyle Gallner). The job of making Freddy Krueger plausibly frightening again goes to Jackie Earle Haley. No small task, this, but the makeover is good--the stringy melted-mozzarella complexion is replaced by a head that's a singed, featureless knot of meat, with charcoal nubs for ears. But even with a greater budget and ostensibly superior technology, first-time director Samuel Bayer proves mostly content to record cover versions of Craven's analog nightmares. All your favorites are here, including wallpaper Freddy, the dancing-on-the-ceiling number, the slithering body bag in the school hall--as well as slight variants on the melting staircase and gore geyser. Notable updates include CGI blood spurts and characters using Internet search engines. This franchise relaunch may have been inevitable, but that's no excuse for it to feel automatic. (N.P.)

95 minutes Rated R

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