The future is female in director Joe Lynch’s twisty new horror film, Suitable Flesh. The zany excess of this slimy erotic genre flick could only have hatched from the collective insanity of Lynch (Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, Mayhem) and screenwriter Dennis Paoli (Re-Animator, The Dentist). Ahead of its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival, RLJE and Shudder acquired worldwide rights to distribute, and I could honestly not envision a more perfect home for such a wild take on H.P. Lovecraft. Based on the short story “The Thing on the Doorstep,” Lynch and Paoli inject their own dark comedy sensibilities into an old school crowd-pleasing gory gem.
Heather Graham plays Dr. Elizabeth Derby, who has a seemingly perfect life, and a very successful practice. So how exactly did she end up in a psych ward? Liz spills her version of the truth to her doctor Danielle (an excellent Barbara Crampton, Jakob’s Wife, Re-Animator), with the key being Liz’s unpredictably erratic patient, Asa (Judah Lewis, The Babysitter, Summer of 84). Needless to say, Asa’s extreme personality disorder diagnosis is far from his only problem. Liz becomes obsessed with Asa, haunted by intense sexual thoughts of him at night even as she makes love to her hunky husband, Ephraime (Johnathon Schaech, The Doom Generation, 2008’s Prom Night). It is never too late for a sexual awakening.
Liz goes down a rabbit hole trying to figure out more about Asa—his dying father (Bruce Davidson, Willard 2003, Lords of Salem) claims Asa has been missing. Our viewpoint on the past timeline occasionally gets interrupted by Liz and her doctor sharing scenes together. Graham and Crampton, who also produces, know exactly what type of campy performances to give. Lewis cements his scream king status per his seductive turn as the wicked Asa. With both Babysitter movies, Summer of 84, and I See You under his belt, Lewis continues building up an impressive resume as a scream king. Liz’s recollections take the audience on an outrageous journey filled with patient hypnosis, bone-cracking orgasms, blurred gender lines, billowing clouds of smoke, and disturbing body horror.
Disclosing anything more narratively would rob Suitable Flesh of its innumerable surprises. The further Lynch’s film careens towards its shocking climax, the more concise its fiendish and downright hilarious goals become. Lynch’s masterful but tragically unseen gem Chillerama proved he understood what makes the horror genre so great; with Suitable Flesh, Lynch remains unafraid to color outside the lines of depravity and good taste. Quite frankly, they simply do not make many movies like this one anymore. Genre fave Brian Yuzna acts as producer, whose own features Society, Return of the Living Dead III, and of course both Dentist films remain among my favorite late 80s/early 90s horror projects. A crew comprised of people with a passion for this genre results in Suitable Flesh feeling like a love letter to the kinds of depraved psycho-sexual curiosities that helped push horror into the taboo mainstream in major ways.
Bad luck comes in threes, but when it comes to Suitable Flesh, the first time’s the charm. Judah Lewis, Heather Graham, and Barbara Crampton are able to tap into sides of themselves we have not yet seen, backed up by assured direction from Joe Lynch. Gory practical effects, bubble-style fade to blacks, and several split diopter scenes give the film an extra bit of fun personality. An epically entertaining throwback to sleazy 80s greats, Suitable Flesh absolutely cannot be missed.
Suitable Flesh screened at 2023’s Tribeca Film Festival. Look for it on Shudder later this year.