Tribeca 2023 Review: SUITABLE FLESH, Body Swapping Lovecraft With A Super Sexy Twist
H.P. Lovecraft makes his way back to the silver screen in what is perhaps the sexiest of all adaptations of his work, director Joe Lynch's Suitable Flesh. Those of us raised on Stuart Gordon's Lovecraft adaptations of the 80s and 90s know that the director was no stranger to sexual provocation. Whether it was the collegiate exploration of Re-Animator or the S&M themed id-gone-wild antics of From Beyond, film adaptations of Lovecraft's work have always tended to be much sexier than the source material, but never has lust taken the driver's seat like it does in Suitable Flesh, making this an unusual and novel entry in the writer's cinema canon.
Adapted by frequent Gordon collaborator Dennis Paoli (Re-Animator, From Beyond), Suitable Flesh tackles Lovecraft’s The Thing on the Doorstep, a body swapping adventure, here gender swapped from the original text to great effect. Heather Graham takes the lead in the character of milquetoast psychiatrist, Dr. Elizabeth Derby, who comes across a young man in distress. Asa, played by Judah Lewis, is disturbed by the notion that something/someone is trying to take over his body.
After witnessing Asa convulse and lapse into a completely foreign personality, Derby takes a personal interest, leading to an unusual house call that goes very badly. It turns out Asa may not be as crazy as she thought, but rather a victim of an ancient evil that moves from body to body to stay alive. After a spontaneous, passionate encounter with Dr. Derby, the entity takes the good doctor’s vessel for a spin and decides it may have found a new home, but it needs a longer test drive first, and this puts everyone in Derby’s orbit in danger.
A seasoned horror audience might agree that there are certain expectations set when walking into a Lovecraft adaptation, and Suitable Flesh both sates and upends those wishes in equal measure. Rather than leaning into the monsters and magic or what we’ve come to expect of these films, Suitable Flesh focuses on the desires and intellectual effects of living as an eternal being. There are no tentacles, no goo, and relatively little in the way of gore effects – though, don’t get me wrong, it does deliver when the time comes – but rather the film focuses an exploration of the sensuality and sensation of new flesh.
Suitable Flesh fucks. It fucks a lot.
It fucks in a way that seems shocking these days but would have definitely felt more at home back in the 90s heyday of erotic cinema. It is the kind of film that could’ve been discomforting if it were not for the incredibly game cast who understood the tone of the film and leaned into it. There’s real chemistry here; Graham, Lewis, and Johnathan Schaech – who plays Dr. Derby’s rather doofy, but well meaning, husband – are all here to deliver the goods, and by God, they make it happen. I don’t know that there’s been a sexier horror film in recent years, and I’m here for it.
As brought to the screen by Joe Lynch, Suitable Flesh is the end product of decades of development hell with Paoli and the late Gordon, who had both tried to get it made for years before Gordon’s untimely passing in 2020. Producer, co-star, genre legend, and Lovecraft all-star, Barbara Crampton shepherded the film toward completion, eventually making the most of a supporting role as Dr. Upton, Derby’s colleague at Miskatonic University.
Suitable Flesh explores Lovecraft's mythos in a fascinating way, replacing the visuals of old gods with a focus on sublimated erotic mania, effectively supported by some trippy camerawork from David Matthews. The supporting cast also came ready to play, with genre legend Bruce Davison (Willard) and Johnathan Schaech turning in incredibly committed performances for a low-budget horror that wears its bleeding heart on its sleeve.
The film is reverent of the work to which it owes so much, with tribute paid in the occasional callback to certain establishing shots from Re-Animator and other Easter eggs for the fans. Not only does Crampton play a significant supporting role, but Graham Skipper, who played the lead in the stage production of Re-Animator: The Musical (directed by Gordon), also gets some screen time as a morgue attendant who has an unusual corpse to deal with. It respects the past and looks toward the future, owing as much to Gordon’s work as it does to 90s erotic horrors like Anne Goursaud’s Embrace of the Vampire, a sexy, welcome addition to an increasingly sexless genre film landscape.
- Joe Lynch
- H.P. Lovecraft
- Dennis Paoli
- Heather Graham
- Judah Lewis
- Barbara Crampton