Heading into its debut at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival there was a lot of talk about Suitable Flesh being the film that would finally elevate director Joe Lynch (Mayhem, Everly) from cult status to the genre stardom that had been predicted for him since his first feature, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End.
And there was plenty of reason to believe it. The script, based on H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Thing on the Doorstep” was written by Dennis Paoli who also adapted Re-Animator and From Beyond for their director, the late Stuart Gordon. Brian Their star, Barbara Crampton was in the cast and Brian Yunza was among the executive producers. It was easy to see why so many people were eagerly anticipating Suitable Flesh.
Dr. Elizabeth Derby (Heather Graham, Horns, The Last Son) is in a padded cell in the facility where she once used to work. She stands accused of killing one of her patients Asa Waite (Judah Lewis, The Babysitter, Summer of 84). She tells her friend and fellow psychiatrist Dr. Daniella Upton (Barbara Crampton, Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls, Alone With You) that his corpse needs to be cremated ASAP. In flashback, she explains why.
Elizabeth thought she was living the dream, a successful practice, the author of respected works in her field, and a perfect husband (Johnathon Schaech, Day of the Dead: Bloodline, Arsenal) to go home to. Then Asa showed up at her office, seemingly desperate for help. After a violent seizure, he seems to manifest an entirely different personality, possibly that of his father Ephraim (Bruce Davison, Condor’s Nest, Willard).
For some reason, this leads to an out of the blue, spontaneous bumping of uglies between the two of them. This turns out to be a very big mistake because now she’s involved with an interdimensional pervert with a fondness for jumping bodies in more ways than one.
It’s a pity Stuart Gordon didn’t get to make Suitable Flesh, it would have been the perfect project for him. But, for the most part, Lynch does a surprisingly good job with the material. He does a wonderful job with the film’s violent scenes, but anyone who’s familiar with his work would expect that. And if you’re watching it to see some excellent practical effects you won’t be disappointed. There’s a decapitation that’s one of the best bits of gore I’ve seen this year.
The performances from the leads are also first rate. Heather Graham makes several situations seem a lot more believable than they otherwise should be. For his part, Judah Lewis manages to handle switching between multiple personalities almost seamlessly. Barbara Crampton handles the supporting best friend role well, it’s not a big part but it gives her much more to work with than the cameo parts she’s been getting lately. Speaking of cameos, watch for Graham Skipper (Dementia: Part II, Wolfman’s Got Nards!) as a pathologist.
Unfortunately, Suitable Flesh falls apart when it comes to the sins of the flesh. No, you haven’t heard wrong, there is plenty of sex in this film. But the way it’s portrayed leaves a lot to be desired, especially in a film that compares itself to Re-Animator and From Beyond. When you’re making a film about an unearthly sexual predator and leaning on connections to those two in your marketing and on your poster people having sex with their clothes on is not going to cut it.
Indeed there’s no nudity to speak of here, let alone anything even close to Re-Animator’s most (in)famous scene. Whether that was due to the performers involved, the director’s choice, or studio interference I can’t say. But regardless of the reason it tends to neuter what should be some much stronger scenes. And that’s a shame because I thought the film’s climax was going to go down much differently.
Despite that shortcoming and an ending you can probably guess before the film even starts, Suitable Flesh is an enjoyably bloody and spirited bit of entertainment. It might not be the breakthrough that Lynch was hoping for, but it is his best film so far.
RJLE Films will release Suitable Flesh in theaters and on VOD and Digital Platforms on October 27th.