Suitable Flesh

Director: Joe Lynch

Writers: Dennis Paoli, H.P. Lovecraft (based on the short story, “The Thing on the Doorstep”)

Cast: Heather Graham, Judah Lewis, Barbara Crampton, Bruce Davison

Producers: Barbara Crampton, Bob Portal, Inderpal Singh, Joe Wicker

Cinematographer: David Matthews

Editor: Jack N. Gracie

Cert: 18 (TBC)

Running time: 100mins

Year: 2023

What’s the story: Institutionalised psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Derby (Graham) recounts a tale of possession and demon body-hopping to her disbelieving friend Dr. Danielle Upton (Crampton). Derby swears her schizophrenic patient Asa (Lewis) is not what he seems. But although Derby appears dangerously deluded, is there something to her story?

What’s the verdict: For anyone who writes off Joe Lynch as a director of overheated schlock, we refer you to 2017’s Mayhem. Starring Steven Yeun and Samara Weaving, that “Office Space meets 28 Days Later” belter is proof Lynch has great films inside him.

So he chooses not to direct great movies? Suitable Flesh is not a great movie, or even particularly good. It is a messy grab bag of Lovecraftian story beats, sub-Red Shoes Diaries soft-core fumbling, bargain basement dialogue, and outrageous bloodletting because the fans demand it.

Some of it is shocking, often unfortunately shocking. Like Dario Argento on a bad day (yes, Giallo bad). At times it all feels like a camp revue of The Entity featuring performances most charitably described as, erm… enthusiastic. The suspicion could be this was intentional, but does that make it better?

Lynch calls Suitable Flesh a love letter to both HP Lovecraft and departed horror director Stuart Gordon. Gordon’s 1985 Reanimator and 1987 From Beyond are perhaps still the best and most widely seen credited Lovecraft adaptations (okay, Color Out of Space too). Gordon knew how to navigate his movies through tonal shifts. Lynch has never met a tone he didn’t like, so sticks all of them in this film. Frequently in the same scene. Often in the same shot.

Watching Graham grinding on various cast members, you may think this the brainchild of a hormone-hijacked teenager after a formative viewing of Boogie Nights. But penning the script is Dennis Paoli, who wrote Gordon’s Reanimator and From Beyond, the latter of which did the whole liberation-through-kinky-demonic-possession thing better than what we have here.

And yet… like the joys of madness that arise from staring into the gaping maw of Cthulhu, watching Suitable Flesh ultimately induces an hysterical, irresistible distemper. Yes, much of this movie is bad. Yes, the bluesy sex-scene serenading saxophone score may be ironic commentary on 90s thrillers, but is just as cheesy. Yes, Heather Graham often seems under-directed while wrestling with a ridiculous character, whose ethics and motivational logic melt faster than a chocolate chastity belt as she jumps the bones of her young patient.  Yes, Judah Lewis is too awkward to play the bad boy demon, and too self-aware to play the broken Asa.

And yes, Malignant did all this barnpot 80s horror malarkey far better, playing like the film Argento should have delivered between Phenomena and Opera.

But still the pleasures remain. Lynch knows how to conjure impressive visuals, and bursts of brilliance here remind you the director of Mayhem is calling the shots. He homages canted angles from The Entity and split diopter shots from Dressed to Kill, but brings his own flourishes. Including an invisible edit as Graham’s character has a wardrobe change walking from one room to another that is worth the price of admission (or most likely rental… okay a stream on Shudder).

In the final twenty minutes Suitable Flesh realises the potential of its premise and flies high. Graham, an actor at her best when playing unhinged, is let loose and devours the scenery, ably supported by horror legend Barbara Crampton as her BFF-turned-demon slayer. The demon body-swapping echoes Fallen, the dead won’t stay dead, and the film achieves a giddy zenith of hysteria and gore as the demon ping-pongs between various vessels.

Suitable Flesh then… It ain’t In the Mouth of Madness. It ain’t Reanimator. It’s often bad. Frequently laughable. Always deranged. I can’t wait to see it again. And can we have a sequel soon please?

Rob Daniel
Twitter: rob_a_Daniel
Letterboxd: RobDan
Podcast: The Movie Robcast

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