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Suitable Flesh Review [2]

October 27, 2023 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Suitable Flesh Heather Graham Barbara Crampton Image Credit: AMP & Eyevox
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Suitable Flesh Review [2]  

Directed by: Joe Lynch
Written by: Dennis Paoli

Heather Graham – Elizabeth Derby
Judah Lewis – Asa Waite
Bruce Davidson – Ephraim Waite
Johnathon Schaech – Edward Derby
Barbara Crampton – Daniella Upton

Image Credit: AMP and Eyevox

Running Time: 99 minutes
Not Rated

Stuart Gordon was the preeminent filmmaker in terms of bringing the works of H.P. Lovecraft to the screen. The man behind Re-Animator, From Beyond, Castle Freak, Dagon, and the Masters of Horror episode Dreams in the Witch-House had a deep love of the famous horror author’s works and a passion for bringing them to the screen. Gordon arguably did more for the modern proliferation of Lovecraft in popular culture than any other person, a legacy that has contributed to the rise of cosmic horror on both the big and small screen.

Gordon sadly passed away in 2020, but his legacy continues in Suitable Flesh. Director Joe Lynch and writer Dennis Paoli (a regular collaborator of Gordon’s) take one of Gordon’s final projects, an adaptation of Lovecraft’s “The Thing on the Doorstep,” and give it a deliriously fun spin. The Heather Graham-led body swapping horror film arrives in theaters today and leans hard into Gordon’s aesthetics while providing Lynch’s own unique, twisted spin on what that might look like in 2023.

Suitable Flesh stars Heather Graham as Elizabeth Derby, a psychiatrist who finds herself at the start of the film in a padded room of her own. She’s apparently killed someone in a gruesome manner, and her colleague and friend Daniella Upton (Barbara Crampton) wants to know what’s going on. She asks Elizabeth to start from the beginning.

That brings us back to the end of a long day when Elizabeth is met at her office by a young man named Asa Waite (Judah Lewis) comes to her office. Asa is from nearby Miskatonic University and is desperately afraid about how someone is after his body. Midway through the impromptu and ill-advised session, he receives a phone call and has a seizure, after which his whole demeanor changes.

Elizabeth believes he is suffering from extreme personality disorder, but also finds herself oddly obsessed with and even attracted to him. A visit to his home reveals Ephraim Waite (Bruce Davidson), a callous and vulgar man who threatens Elizabeth. Despite the clear warning signs, Elizabeth finds herself unable to stop thinking about Asa and she quickly becomes wrapped up in him – both figuratively and literally. Elizabeth must try to figure out how to save herself from a supernatural threat while also trying to help Asa, who at times is very much not what he seems to be on the outside.

Lynch is a big fan of both Gordon and Lovecraft, something that is made clear in nearly every frame of Suitable Flesh. Paoli’s script plays on the dark humor of some of Gordon’s most classic adaptations of Lovecraft’s works and contains numerous connections to those films. But crucially, you don’t have to be a Re-Animator or From Beyond aficionado to appreciate what’s being brought to the table here. The references are there for those in the know to see, but they work perfectly fine on their own as quick character references or visual callbacks. Similarly, while this is clearly set within the world of the Cthulhu mythos – a book in Ephram’s possession makes that as clear as day, for example – those who are new to the author won’t feel lost with what’s going on here.

For the first few minutes, Suitable Flesh is a bit unsteady as it tries to find its footing. That’s always going to be the case when a film leans into camp sensibilities. But once Elizabeth encounters Asa, it finds its groove and we’re off to the races. That’s due in no small part to Graham’s fierce dedication to the role. She takes center stage with a full-throated performance that makes Elizabeth a complex yet sympathetic character to follow.

She also very much understands the assignment of what Lynch is going for. The director takes a number of cues from the erotic thrillers of the 1990s and Graham is more than game to go for broke. She appears to be having the time of her life, which goes a long way toward making this plenty of fun.

It helps that Graham has fantastic chemistry with the whole of the cast, all of whom do excellent work. Judah Lewis has, much like Graham, a tricky role in that they play multiple personas. Lewis is as on point as Graham throughout, nailing the physicality of his performance in an easily distinguishable way while not being so overt that it breaks the bounds of believability that other characters don’t seem to notice. And Crampton (who produces as well) gives a top-notch performance as Dr. Upton, bringing a grounded touch to the often-loopy proceedings.

The final act is when Lynch really gets to go all out, and it’s a joy to watch. There’s plenty of good stuff for horrorhounds before then, including a fantastic beheading sequence backgrounded by burning curtains that holds nothing back. But once things return to the “present” of the opening scene, all bets are off. The rapid-fire turns that come one after the other are almost too much, but Lynch and his cast keep it moving steadily forward. It provides a go-for-broke energy that feels very much earned by what came before, leaving us off with a series of sequences that it’s easy to imagine Gordon would be proud of.

Suitable Flesh is available in theaters and everywhere you rent movies starting October 27th.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Joe Lynch knocks it out of the park with Suitable Flesh, a film that honors Stuart Gordon's legacy while also charting its own path. Heather Graham in particular shines in this body swap horror adaptation from H.P. Lovecraft's bibliography. Lynch doesn't skimp on the blood, sex or pitch black humor, and a strong supporting cast adds to the fun to make this a must-watch for horror fans who don't mind a bit of knowing camp mixed in with their body swap horror.

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Suitable Flesh, Jeremy Thomas