The comparison between Knock Knock (2015) and The Human Centipede (2009) began as a joke. Reading the plots stacked against each other, the same loose premise existed for both. Two girls meet strange male after night stranded in rain, they enter home, suspense and horror ensues. “How can you even draw that conclusion?” my girlfriend asked before we began. What started as a bit quickly grew in to big brain energy. The more the movie unfolded, the more I realised I was right.
“Okay, maybe you’re on to something,” she said.
The initial draw to Knock Knock was the fact it was trending on Netflix for a month. How a 2015 film could end up top 7 out of 10 after years of irrelevance beats me, but we played it hoping it would live up to the hype it got. Knock Knock, a Keanu Reeves movie starring Keanu Reeves, follows the plot of a family man, Evan, staying home with his dog for Father’s Day weekend due to work and a physical therapy appointment. His wife Karen (Ignacia Allamand), a well renowned artist, takes their children to the beach and appoints her assistant Louis (Aaron Burns) to check in once and a while on a sculpture she created that will be repositioned to an art gallery for her show.
Once Karen leaves, two young girls (emphasis on young) knock on the door and all hell breaks loose. Stranded in a storm, Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bel (Ana de Armas) need a place to stay while they dry off and call an Uber. Like the Human Centipede, these dripping wet girls are in dismay and place their fate in the hands of someone they just met. Their body language sets the precedence of who will have power in this film, shoulders back, shirts see through, their exchange with Reeves is casual or, albeit, sensual. Izzo and Armas play on the male gaze by weaponising it for gain, nudging their way into the house as if it was their own. Unfortunately, that is not the case in The Human Centipede.
The Human Centipede is more of an experience than a film. Centered around a German doctor’s deranged vision, the 2009 movie follows surgeon Josef Heiter (Dieter Laser) and his dream of making a new creature by sewing people together. After successfully connecting three Rottweilers together mouth to anus style, Heiter utilizes the same manner for his next creation, setting his eyes on tourists Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams), Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie) and later revealed Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura). If you need any image of where this movie drew inspiration from, think “the medical experiments carried out by Josef Mengele in Auschwitz.”
Lindsay and Jenny show up to Heiter’s house after a tire blowout leaves them stranded on the way to a party. As if by divine intervention, the encounter takes place exactly fourteen minutes into the film, the same time and frame rate mirrored in Knock Knock. The encounter, however, is drastically different than its counterpart. Whereas Genesis and Bel exude confidence with their bodies framed, tits out, Lindsay and Jenny hunch over mascara running down their face, vulnerability oozing out of every pore.
Their first interaction with Heiter sets an example of what little power these two hold in The Human Centipede and the standard stereotype of horror films filtered through the eyes of a male protagonist. The two films parallel each other from the offset and, because of the power shift, mirror the best, and worst case, situation every woman anxiously dreams up when stranded somewhere they don’t know, as best illustrated by Milo Farragher-Hanks in the Saint:
“Depending on who you ask, horror is either nakedly regressive, relying on lurid images of female suffering for entertainment, or a vehicle for empowerment, presenting resonant stories of women conquering internal and external demons, sometimes actually turning the lens back on its male spectators.”
The movies continue and the thin line connecting the two grows stronger with time. In the living rooms of each collective house, the women interact with the men expanding on initial introductions: Lindsay and Jenny huddle asking for water unknowingly laced with Rohypnol, Genesis and Bel coercing Evan into DJ-ing some of his greatest hits for them, different sides of the same coin. As Heiter hauls Lindsay and Jenny to the basement, strapping them to a hospital bed prepping them for surgery, Evan falls victim to the feminine mystique.
Similarities hit home thirty minutes into the film. Despite the framing of both The Human Centipede and Knock Knock’s rain scene being eerily similar, I was not yet sold on Knock Knock being a feminist mirror of The Human Centipede. This was just an ill-conceived bit I doubled down on the more my girlfriend doubted me. However, when an Uber pulls up to take Genesis and Bel to a party, there is no denying the insane similarity between the two, the yin and yang on both sides of the patriarchy.
As Evan pulls the girls’ clothes out of the dryer, Bel skips down the hall to let Genesis know the Uber is there. When he goes to track them down, the two are naked in the shower, coercing him into sex despite the fact he says no. Eventually giving in, the three hook up nonstop doing every move in the book. Exactly thirty-seven minutes into the movie, I pause and yell at my girlfriend about my pure genius. Pushed up against a steamy glass pane, Reeves, Armas, and Izzo are entangled together in a series of interlinked arms, limbs, and boobs, an exact replica of the Human Centipede poster.
If you have seen neither movies, nor promotional materials, let me explain. The Human Centipede poster shows three bloodied figurines standing up with their hands pushed against a glass pane, begging to be let out. In The Human Centipede, a movie I highly recommend no one see, Dr. Heiter decides Katsuro, a Japanese tourist he’s captured, will be part “A” in the Centipede.
Prior to capturing Katsuro, Lindsay attempts to escape, ripping an IV out of her arm and crawling up the stairs only to be cornered in the pool. “I have found my B!” Heiter sings, the most uncomfortable position of the centipede setup. As if to further disgrace Lindsay and Jenny, Heiter decides latecomer Katsuro will be at the head of the centipede, driving home how little the female protagonists in this movie matter. Here, a man comes late to the game and is still placed in the position of power, eating like a king without having to swallow anyone’s shit after.
The positioning of men amidst their female colleagues in these compromising situations is telling of why Knock Knock is the matriarchal Human Centipede. Whereas The Human Centipede’s poster is the face of the movie, Knock Knock’s threesome scene is objectively the most important in the movie, setting up the plot to come. Opposed to The Human Centipede, where women can’t speak nor have any agency whatsoever, Knock Knock carefully places Evan in the middle of a sticky situation, taking away his ability to control the situation by those calling the shots.
There is a well-known establishment of gendered behavior in films. Multiple citations exist to decipher this in further detail, the idea that female promiscuity is never rewarded, that, per the book Horror Films: Current Research on Audience Preferences and Reactions by authors James Weaver and Ron Tamborinin, “males exposed to a sexually violent slasher film increases their acceptance of beliefs that some violence against women is justified and may even have positive consequences.”
With anomalies The Human Centipede and Knock Knock, feminine sexuality is power or it is not regarded at all. Human degradation and mutilation undercuts any semblance of fetishisation in The Human Centipede and thus, tools the protagonists could use to give themselves a narrative other than “victim” in this film are nonexistent. There is no reason given for them to deserve this fate, a fate no one deserves regardless of reason. Their sexuality is not a point of the movie whereas that’s all Knock Knock is, a much tamer representation of suffering bestowed upon someone who ultimately cheats on his wife.
The final scene of both films hits home that Knock Knock is the matriarchal mirror we deserve aside The Human Centipede’s patriarchal oppression. As the girls bury Evan alive, leaving nothing but his head exposed, they set up his phone in front of him to broadcast the sex tape they made the night before they’ve now uploaded to Facebook. Shot in Evan’s backyard, the girls gleefully run away sparing his life, leaving him the choice to deal with the damage they have left.
Comparably, The Human Centipede also ends on a shot of Heiter’s beautiful backyard, the one previously seen in a shot where his failed Rottweiler experiment is buried. The camera pans to the sky covering the utter chaos left behind in Heiter’s wake, Jenny has died of Sepsis, Katsuro has killed himself, and Lindsay awaits her own death. The separate outros, in a way, tell of the nature violence unfolds administered by each gender and what prospers from it. Yes, neither of these are ideal situations and both are driven by purely sadistic people, but Knock Knock ends on a note telling of the relatively forgiving nature of women, even ones out for random revenge.
Though both shots document what grows in lieu of destruction, only Knock Knock leaves a message of empowerment women have longed for in the Me-Too era. They’re not going to go out and torture some random man or heaven forbid, someone who has abused them in the past, but isn’t it sort of exhilarating seeing it happen on screen? An idea captured into one movie letting rage flow through female protagonists for all the wrongs done by men?
The similarities between Knock Knock and The Human Centipede are too great to ignore and because of that, the payoff at the end feels like an injustice lifted, told through the eyes of what could have happened if Lindsay and Jenny were driven by a bloodlust thirst to see men suffer and encountered a man like Evan, someone who just wanted to do a kind deed for strangers. In an ideal situation, the man calls the girls an Uber home but sometimes, that situation doesn’t exist. We hear another tragedy on the news of a woman gone missing. Isn’t it, then, a relief to see a feminist version of The Human Centipede stream online when The Human Centipede is, quite possibly, the most degrading movie to ever exist about women?
Both Knock Knock and The Human Centipede exist in the same universe separate from each other, one uplifting female domination while the other pushing women to the absolute bottom of the pyramid. Even in 2020, conversation surrounds Horror for its lack of female domination. With The Human Centipede still receiving coverage ten years later for shocking the world with its downright grotesque representation of a psycho’s dream, it is refreshing to see Knock Knock gift women agency they lacked alongside a movie with shocking similarities.
by Meggie Gates
Meggie Gates is a writer and comedian living in Chicago, IL. Their work has appeared in Bitch Media, Chicago Reader, Consequence of Sound, and Reductress. They’ve had four shows at Second City and just started a substack they’d love for you to subscribe to.