Film Review: Suitable Flesh

Opening with a shot of eighties horror icon Barbara Crampton as she looms over a body bag with a look of disgust writ large across her face is a good way for Joe Lynch’s Suitable Flesh to immediately get me onside. And across its runtime, Suitable Flesh evokes the spirit and tone of Crampton’s back catalogue with loving aplomb and buckets of blood.

Heather Graham holding hands with Barbara Crampton while in a padded room. Still from Suitable Flesh.

When a patient suffers a seizure in her office and appears to change personalities completely, Doctor Elizabeth Derby (Heather Graham) soon finds herself embroiled in an Eldritch mystery that takes her far from the rational fields of psychiatry and deep into the bowels of the beyond. As she recounts her tale to Dr Dani Upton (Barbara Crampton) from within the padded walls of an asylum, Derby warns of a terrible evil that is intent on claiming not just her soul, but her body as well…

Loosely based on the 1937 H.P Lovecraft short story The Thing on the Doorstep, Joe Lynch has crafted a tale that very much is a throwback to eighties excesses; excesses of big performances, bloody violence and heaps of horniness that occasionally skew the film towards a softcore silliness of the wilder psycho-sexual horrors of the era.

Still from Suitable Flesh.

Lynch has taken Dennis Paoli’s script (itself based on the Lovecraft short) and managed to create a loving homage to some past masters which works well enough on its own as a somewhat silly (though enjoyable) foray into the extremes of Lovecraft. With its wrap around story set in the asylum, it’s hard not to be reminded of John Carpenter’s own Lovecraftian love-letter, In the Mouth of Madness.

At times Suitable Flesh feels like an extended episode of Creepshow (a series where Lynch has really flourished as a talent) and that is no bad thing. The film at one point utilises a fun split-screen effect to hammer home a transformation of sorts, which looks as though it has been plucked straight from the Shudder Original’s bag of tricks. Camp, bloody and filled with dubious puns, all that is missing is the comic book wrap around.

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Heather Graham is terrific as Dr Derby, a woman whose seemingly perfect life is still missing that little spark of excitement, though the spark she finds seems liable to burn her world to the ground. Graham gets to exhibit a wide range throughout the film as she goes through various changes and adheres to the little said adage that more really is more. A big, silly, wild performance that she leans into with admirable gusto, Graham really proves that being evil makes you around 80% hornier.

Heather Graham in Suitable Flesh.

And though she is very much held in reserve, Barbara Crampton is fantastic when called upon. Always an actress who understands the assignment, her Doctor Dani Upton has to display a much more reserved position than we would normally see from Crampton. In her eighties supremacy, you can imagine that Crampton would absolutely fit the Heather Graham role, but Lynch still finds a way to allow her to show more than one side to her stuffy, professorial character.

Less successful perhaps is Judah Lewis as Asa, the troubled young man who brings his supernatural problems to the good doctor’s door. Perhaps a victim of needing to hit those big emotional notes early in the film, I felt a disconnection with the performance which made it difficult to root for Asa’s plight. Though as the film progresses, Lewis is afforded a little more subtlety between the lunacy and manages to wrangle a little nuance from the bloodied mess he becomes.

Still from Suitable Flesh.

And this is a film that is unafraid to get bloody.

Featuring my favourite decapitation scene of the year thus far (maybe we need a year end awards show at The London Horror Society to keep up with them all…), Lynch’s talent as a director really comes to the fore when showcasing some of the film’s barnstormingly grim practical effects; a hilariously grim use of Dr Derby’s reverse parking camera in her car is a particular stand out, and the truly harrowing and gnarly way that Lynch manages to honour the original ending of Lovecraft’s tale is a real showstopper.

Heather Graham being held back by orderlies while screaming. n a padded room. Still from Suitable Flesh.

Whilst there are elements of the final act which sacrifice logic for effect, there is a wonderful and exciting urgency to the madness of the final fifteen minutes. Switcheroo’s, bloody murder and a last act twist of the knife send Suitable Flesh out on a fun, broad and gruesome note.

A film that holds no truck with subtlety, Suitable Flesh is a really fun time that will sate fans of the late Stuart Gordon’s work in a madcap and crazy ride through Lovecraft country.

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

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