"Suitable Flesh" (2023)

by Joseph Perry and Mike Imboden

In our “The Good, the Bad, and the Verdict” film reviews, Joseph and Mike give their thoughts on a slice of cinema. For this installment, it’s Suitable Flesh — from the mind of H.P. Lovecraft and directed by Joe Lynch.

A psychiatrist becomes obsessed with one of her young clients with multiple personalities.

The Good
Joseph: Suitable Flesh combines the frenzied minds and wild talents of director Joe Lynch (Mayhem; Point Blank) and screenwriter Dennis Paoli (Re-Animator; From Beyond), working from the H.P. Lovecraft short story “The Thing on the Doorstep” with a nod to director Stuart Gordon (also Re-Animator; From Beyond). As you might guess from the names involved, this is one insane outing. Genre-film legend Barbara Crampton — who shined in the Gordon/Paoli vehicles Re-Animator, From Beyond, and Castle Freak — gets a nice role as psychiatrist Dr. Danielle Upton that affords her a good deal of always welcome screen time as her character attempts to help her good friend and fellow psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Derby, played to the hilt by a very game Heather Graham. The married Derby develops a sexual attraction to a patient named Asa (Judah Lewis), who initially comes to her for help escaping some nasty business involving his father (Bruce Davison in a fun performance in which no scenery is safe from being chewed). Lewis and Graham — among others; I don’t want to spoil anything here if I can help it — get to display a wide variety of characterizations as possession and body-hopping occur, and we get a super third-act showdown that should find viewers smiling and cheering along.

Mike: At the risk of having my horror fan card pulled I have to admit that I’ve never been a huge fan of H.P. Lovecraft.  I like Re-Animator enough, I guess, and I’m sure there’s stuff inspired by his work that I enjoy, but… I don’t know, I don’t see myself sitting down and reading a bunch of his works.  Thankfully, aside from a few references and visuals (that I caught), I don’t think you need to be a fan to enjoy Suitable Flesh.
Crampton and Graham are great, and while I can’t say if it pushed them to their limits, they certainly got to stretch their acting legs, so to speak, and deliver expansive performances.  It was particularly nice to see Crampton get such a major role as it seems like the last few movies I’ve seen that she was featured in had her in somewhat limited roles.
The story itself is fun - sort of like an amped up horror version of Freaky Friday - which leads to some racy encounters between Graham and her character’s patient played by Judah Lewis.  Of course everything comes to its inevitable showdown which features some memorable scenes involving some fisticuffs (does anyone say “fisticuffs” anymore?  If not, they should), a clever use of a car’s backup camera, and enough finger pointing to make that Spider-Man meme happy.

The Bad
Joseph: Sex scenes with actors partially clothed often induce laughs on their own, but add musical cues straight out of 1990s erotic thrillers and you have another level of hilarity or eye-rolling, depending on your viewpoint. Gordon’s Lovecarft adaptations usually ran lean and mean at a heck of a fast clip, but affairs are a bit longer here. Corniness and shlock have their moments here, too. Lewis is good but struggles a bit, not seeming quite evil enough at times and not quite disturbed enough at others.

Mike:  My biggest, and possibly only real gripe with this was that… let’s call them “the possessor” - the possessor’s abilities seemed to be a bit fluid, increasing or decreasing in scope when needed.  This made for some odd scenes in which I found myself wondering why they didn’t just do something extreme instead of letting some run away.  Also - and this is maybe where the lack of Lovecraft lore on my part factors into things - I would have liked a little more explanation as to how things were happening and why, in one scene, we were specifically shown some blood from a dagger get onto a page of a book but was never explored or mentioned again.  

The Verdict
Joseph: If you are in the mood for some zaniness in the Gordon/Paoli camp — and for some of the film, I do mean camp — Suitable Flesh doesn’t disappoint. Crampton and Graham are a blast, the special effects don’t quite reach the level of Gordon’s Lovecraftian adaptations but are impressive on their own merit, and the schmaltz feels a tad too deliberate at times, but this is a fun movie that most fear-fare fans should find amusing.

Mike:  Suitable Flesh was a fun, if not downright crazy, experience.  Body swap films always have their hooks and feature plenty of “character experiencing something new” moments, and this doesn’t cut any of that short.  Barbara Crampton and Heather Graham - heck, everyone involved - offer up some great performances with a few people being forced to stop and turn on a dime with their facial expressions, body language, and delivery.  Aside from a bit of inconsistency on behalf of the villain’s attitude and approach to things, there’s not a lot here to kvetch about.  There’s a wild and clever use of a car’s backup camera, and plenty of blood to make gore enthusiasts happy.
While you don’t need to be a rabid H.P. Lovecraft devotee to enjoy this, fans will probably find a little extra to take away from the proceedings.  The rest of us can relish in the whole Jason Goes to Hell/Freaky Friday thing going on.

Suitable Flesh, from RLJE Films and Shudder, will be available in theaters and everywhere you rent movies on October 27, 2023

Suitable Flesh will be in UK Cinemas from 27th October and available on Digital Download from 27th November, from Vertigo Releasing.

Suitable Flesh
Directed By: Joe Lynch
Written By: H.P. Lovecraft, Dennis Paoli
Starring:  Heather Graham, Judah Lewis, Bruce Davison, Barbara Crampton
Run Time: 1h 40m
Rating: NR
Release Date: October 27, 2023