I truly wonder what someone unfamiliar with the influences of Suitable Flesh would think of this film. Those who have a soft spot for messy 80s horror will likely be tickled by the movie, but if you have no idea what that would entail, this could be a befuddling experience. That sets up an interesting dynamic in what is close to a B movie. It’s exclusionary, almost to the point of being a bit snobby about it, but it’s so clearly affectionate for that era. By embracing the seediness of it all, the flick becomes a bit more than the sum of its parts. I was tickled by it, but your mileage may vary.
Suitable Flesh is all over the place, mixing body horror, body swapping, eroticism, and even some campy comedy. None of it on its own is especially gripping, but the combination, almost seemingly put together at random, does work. Now, is it just making you feel like it’s a lost film from the 1980s? Sure, but that still is an effective way to hawk its wares.
After a prologue that we’ll eventually return to in the third act, we meet our protagonist properly. Psychiatrist Elizabeth Derby (Heather Graham) is finishing with a patient when teenager Asa (Judah Lewis) manically knocks. She can’t initially figure out what he wants, but it eventually becomes clear that he’s disturbed, claiming that his father is controlling him. She witnesses what she thinks is a manic episode or a seizure, before his personality completely changes. When he leaves, she should leave well enough alone, but of course, she immediately becomes obsessed.
After talking to her husband Edward (Johnathon Schaech) and colleague/friend Daniella (Barbara Crampton) about the young man, diagnosing him with extreme personality disorder, she takes action. Taking a visit to Asa’s home, she meets his crude father Ephraim (Bruce Davison), who unnerves her greatly. The more she digs into this whole situation, the more she realizes that something supernatural is at play. Then, things get weird.
Heather Graham gets a rare central role these days, and while she’s nothing spectacular, she’s solidly compelling. Judah Lewis and Graham get to chew the scenery at times, and that’s fun. Barbara Crampton joins in later on, but it’s centered largely on the two of them and their escalating interactions. In addition to Bruce Davison and Johnathon Schaech, supporting players include Giovannie Cruz, Jonah Ray, Graham Skipper, and more.
Director Joe Lynch and writer Dennis Paoli, adapting no less than H.P. Lovecraft, lean in to their genre influences. It’s almost cheesy at times, but intentionally so. Lynch could nearly be expanding on a V/H/S style short, minus the format, while Paoli is trafficking in familiar territory, having penned Re-Animator, for example. It’s gory, sexual, and pretty out there, but you find yourself fairly compelled to see what happens next.
Suitable Flesh works more than it doesn’t. A campy mix of psycho-sexual chaos, you just have to go along for the ride. If you fight it, you’re going to have a trying time. If you let it just wash over you, you’re going to mostly enjoy what you find. Assuming you’re looking for something different, horror-wise, this is certainly an intriguing option.