Suitable Flesh Movie Review

Written by Stuart D. Monroe

Released by RLJE Films and Shudder

suitable flesh poster large

Directed by Joe Lynch
Written by Dennis Paoli
2023, 98 minutes, Not Rated
Released on October 27th, 2023

Heather Graham as Dr. Elizabeth Derby
Barbara Crampton as Dr. Daniella Upton
Judah Lewis as Asa Waite
Bruce Davison as Ephraim Waite
Johnathon Schaech as Edward Derby
Hunter Womack as Mace Jr.

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Thank you, God – another H.P. Lovecraft film to feast our eyes on! Perhaps the trickiest writer to adapt, old H.P. presents a ton of roadblocks in his original material, but he also presents a wide array of opportunities to change the time period, setting, and even gender. No one knows this better than the legendary screenwriter Dennis Paoli (Re-Animator, From Beyond, Dagon), a man who collaborated with the late, great Stuart Gordon on many Lovecraft adaptations that have become staples of the genre. Along for the ride on many of those imaginings was the ageless Barbara Crampton (often with Jeffrey Combs leering alongside her).

While we don’t get the man forever synonymous as Dr. Herbert West for director Joe Lynch’s (Everly) take on the classic Lovecraft short story “The Thing on the Doorstep", we do get Paoli and Crampton. Wasn’t it Meatloaf who said, “Two out of three ain’t bad”? That dude knew what he was talking about.

Dr. Elizabeth Derby (Heather Graham; Boogie Nights) is a successful psychiatrist in Arkham, Massachusetts. Her patients are becoming a bit of a bore, and her husband Edward (Johnathon Schaech; Prom Night remake) isn’t satisfying her needs in the bedroom. Her life explodes into full color when a deeply distressed young man named Asa Waite (Judah Lewis; Summer of 84) shows up at her office in mid-session with no appointment and what appears to be multiple personalities. He claims “he” is taking over his body and forcing him out before suffering a violent seizure, then transitioning into a lecherous and aggressive force of nature. The extremity of the case (and the lechery) are alluring to Dr. Derby, and she becomes more involved than is professional for a practicing psychiatrist. Once she digs deeper, however, she finds a physically and mentally ill father named Ephraim Waite (Bruce Davison; Itsy Bitsy, Ozark) who terrorizes Asa. Her not-so-professional curiosity soon becomes an illicit affair following a horrifically violent event and a fire. She’s losing herself. Not only that, but there seems to be something to the bodily takeovers. Who or what is the malevolent force taking over Asa? What are all the strange, arcane symbols in that unholy-looking book? And can she stop herself from being overtaken by it?

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The tale opens with Dr. Derby in a padded cell at the Miskatonic Mental Hospital, having killed Asa in an apparently rather gruesome fashion. Her story is told to her best friend, Dr. Daniella Upton (Barbara Crampton; Re-Animator, Castle Freak). The narrative plays out in extended flashbacks with trips back to the present where Dr. Derby insists that Asa isn’t dead and his brain must be destroyed to stop it. This back-and-forth narrative device serves the story well. Interspersed throughout are frequent iris shots to change scenes, which lend to the Creepshow-esque feel. When you throw in various Re-Animator Easter eggs and that titular Miskatonic setting, the result is vintage Dennis Paoli writing that stands on its own two feet, not as a heavy-handed homage but instead as a worthy entry into the upper tier of the Lovecraft pantheon of films. The psycho-sexual thriller aspect is simply icing on the cake.

Speaking of that, Suitable Flesh is a very sexual film that flips the usual formula of male-dominated desires upside down and turns the reins over to the ladies. It’s Heather Graham’s best role in years. She gets to play multiple characters (or personalities, if you will), and does so with aplomb. As the straight man to all this madness, Johnathon Schaech is sublime and brings a surprising amount of understated comedy to the proceedings. Barbara Crampton again proves why she is THE O.G. of horror in the 21st century. I don’t want to spoil anything; there’s just so much transference and role-switching going on that at times, your head will spin.

Don’t worry, gorehounds, this is still the guy who gave us Wrong Turn 2: Dead End and Mayhem directing a resurgent effort from Dennis Paoli. There’s plenty of wet work to go around (in more ways than one), and Suitable Flesh features a supreme decapitation and what is maybe the best use of a backup camera ever on film (it will undoubtedly be aped). Paoli’s screenplay toys with classic sexual thriller elements before turning into one of his leanest and meanest yet while Lynch’s direction and use of jarring, shaky-cam seizures and violent physical performances keep you disoriented and immersed in the uncertainty of just who is the real monster.

Suitable Flesh picks up speed like a big diesel engine, starting off slowly (but with a horny, throaty purr) before you find yourself going full blast and the body switching, visceral violence, and tri-sexual self-satisfaction are running at a breakneck pace that’s evocative of those old Lovecraft films of the ‘80s and early ‘90s. It’s a four-course meal for Lovecraft aficionados that satisfies deeply and perversely.

We grew up with H.P. Lovecraft by way of the masterful pairing of Stuart Gordon (to whom the film is dedicated) and Dennis Paoli; now we get the pairing of Joe Lynch and Dennis Paoli. I’m thinking there needs to be more of this in the future.

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Movie: 2.5 Star Rating Cover

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Stuart D. Monroe
Staff Reviewer
Stuart D. Monroe is a man of many faces – father, husband, movie reviewer, published author of short horror, unsuccessful screenwriter (for now), rabid Clemson Tiger, Southern gentleman, and one hell of a model American who goes by the handle "Big Daddy Stu" or "Sir". He's also highly disturbed and wears that fact like a badge of honor. He is a lover of all things horror with a particular taste for the fare of the Italians and the British. He sometimes gets aroused watching the hardcore stuff, but doesn't bother worrying about whether he was a serial killer in a past life as worrying is for the weak. He was raised in the video stores of the '80s and '90s. The movie theater is his cathedral. He worships H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Clive Barker. When he writes, he listens obsessively to either classical music or the works of Goblin to stimulate the neural pathways. His favorite movie is Dawn of the Dead. His favorite book is IT. His favorite TV show is LOST.
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