The Movie Waffler New to Shudder - SUITABLE FLESH | The Movie Waffler

New to Shudder - SUITABLE FLESH

A psychiatrist endangers herself when she becomes obsessed with a troubled patient.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Joe Lynch

Starring: Heather Graham, Judah Lewis, Barbara Crampton, Bruce Davison, Johnathon Schaech

Suitable Flesh poster

Perhaps the reason H.P. Lovecraft remains the most influential (caveat - after taking a lead from Arthur Machen, that is) but least filmed scary writer is the essentially abstract nature of his horror cosmos. Lovecraft heroes are driven mad by the confounding nature of what they witness: an interdimensional spectacle so beyond the veil that the twisted insights bestowed breaks their very understanding of reality. To depict vistas of such terrifying mien that audiences go mad from the revelation is quite a feat for any filmmaker; if the best Cthulhun representation the dictated visual set can muster is a rubber/CGI monster, then best leave such cosmogonic displays to the page and the outer reaches of the imagination (not that there's anything wrong with a Kaiju but it is hardly the stuff of existential destabilisation). Genre cinema's great white Shoggoth (the monstrous denizens of Lovecraft each have names like craft ales), Del Toro's In the Mountains of Madness remains in development Kadath, yet Lovecraftian has since become a by-word for creature features with a cosmically grandiose theme: he is more imitated than successfully adapted. And so maybe, too, it is the insular, paranoid nature of the original stories, relating damaged paranoia via a lexis of dread, which makes them difficult to translate to screen. It's not like Poe, whose iconography of black cats, elaborate torture instruments and decaying interiors lends itself so perfectly to cinema: the desperate psychologies of Lovecraft characters are Poe's terrified protagonists pushed further into insular paroxysm.

Suitable Flesh review

Yet where Poe had Corman, Lovecraft has the cinematic duo of the great Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli (also writers of my favourite monologue in all of cinema: Meg Tilly asking her husband where he's gonna go in Body Snatchers). Gordon and Paoli's adaptations took the rank seeds of Lovecraft's stories and cross pollinated them with '80s VHSthetic producing Re-Animator, From Beyond, Dagon (perhaps the most faithful adaptation) et al, and in doing so approximated a Lovecraft cinematic canon. Scripted by Paoli and directed in Gordon's absence by enthusiast Joe Lynch, Suitable Flesh is a fun version of Lovecraft's The Thing on the Doorstep, wherein the masculine focussed mind swaps of the original are here relocated to inter-gender substitutions, as Heather Graham's psychologist does battle with a patient, Judah Lewis's bad-wizard Asa, when the latter seeks a new host for its immortal soul.

While the premise is used to tentatively explore contemporary notions of gender identity, the look, feel and general tone of Suitable Flesh is comfortingly retro, with over-lit televisual sheen and deliberately histrionic performances (Graham is great, and I loved seeing her again), along with the ever-welcome presence of Barbara Crampton. Director Lynch's unadulterated passion for this sort of material is undeniable, and here he lovingly recreates those formative sensations of finding a Gordon film on late night TV or somewhere at the back of the video store, an experience akin to discovering a weird, eroticised soap opera.

Suitable Flesh review

Your reception of Suitable Flesh may depend on your tolerance for this sort of self-referential repackaging, although it would be unfair to suggest that Lynch is merely mining the nostalgic pleasures of genre gone by. Following M3GAN, Suitable Flesh is this year's most subversively queer genre film, from Graham's amazing power suit wardrobe, through its campy sex scenes, to the literalising of transsexuality. During the course of the film, via occult transference, Asa not only ends up commandeering Graham's body but Crampton's, too (I mean, imagine being either of those women! Talk about a suitable flesh). The presumptively male essence loves being a tall, beautiful woman and, furthermore, enjoys having sex with her hot male paramour: the future is female, the screenplay elucidates. You have to laugh at notorious ultra-phobe Lovecraft (a man who was seemingly terrified of everything, notably female anatomy) being reinterpreted this way, and how once again cultural and sexual dialogues are so vividly explored within horror's genre frameworks. Graham's doctor encounters not just an otherworldly evil, but then faces up to the transferable nature of identity and self-perception.

Suitable Flesh review

None of the above should really serve as a spoiler to those who have been paying attention during the opening, by the way, and one of Suitable Flesh's issues is that it takes a little long to get to the place where the audience expects it to from the first scene. At times, too, the heightened hospital setting recalls Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, surely not as intentional a homage as the repeated mise-en-scenes of Gordon's work. Nonetheless, when Suitable Flesh hits its stride – evil Heather Graham, a genuinely exciting denouement - its sexy, gaudy thrills are manifest.

Suitable Flesh is on Shudder now.

2023 movie reviews