Movie Review: “Suitable Flesh”

   Directed by Joe Lynch, a filmmaker who I previously discussed with my review of Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (which I found to be a modestly enjoyable slasher film and an improvement over the original film)Suitable Flesh is a film I didn’t have on my radar. However, because I generally enjoy most of the films released on the Shudder streaming service (I most recently praised the holiday horror film It’s a Wonderful Knife) and because I have mostly seen positive reviews for this film, I decided it might be fun to have it as the first film I review of 2024. 

Isn’t that crazy? 2024. Do you feel old? I am only twenty-seven, but, recently I saw a promotion for The First Omen and said to my wife: “Already making another Omen film, are they?” As it turns out, The Omen remake I was referencing as new was released all the way back in 2006 (6-6-6, as a matter of fact). Crazy!

This will be the first film I have ever reviewed on that stars Heather Graham, and that is interesting to think about. I have reviews dating back to 2013 (and that is only the ones I allowed to see the light of day), but I have never talked about a Heather Graham film. Granted, it makes sense, considering how I mostly review horror on The Bib and Heather Graham doesn’t have a whole, whole lot of that in her filmography (just Horns, From Hell, and a lesser known film called Blessed). Thankfully, both Graham and I have made it our mission to change – with her starring in two horror films this year (this, and a horror-thriller called Oracle) and me reviewing this film. 

Judah Lewis from The Babysitter slasher films and horror legend Barbara Crampton also appear in this film, making it a nice crowd of familiar faces in the genre (this will be the sixth Barbara Crampton film I’ve reviewed on The Bib, with From Beyond being the last film I reviewed in 2023).

Although it wasn’t planned in the least, it was a marvelous coincidence that I last reviewed Stuart Gordon’s film From Beyond and now find myself reviewing Suitable Flesh. I honestly had no idea they were so significantly linked before I pressed play on this film.

Not only does the film star Barbara Crampton, but it is actually a bit of an homage to Stuart Gordon in general, a spiritual successor to From Beyond and Re-Animator in some ways, adapting the H.P. Lovecraft short story The Thing on the Door Step.

Early on, I immediately have a feeling of familiarity with the production and the visuals of the film. I soon realized it is because of how much it aesthetically reminds me of Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, another film by RLJE Films that also takes influence from Empire and Full Moon Features (with The Littlest Reich obviously being a lot more of a direct influence rather than an homage). It is kind of neat, in my opinion, the way the company has been adapting and making spiritual successors to late-eighties and early-nineties Charles Band produced films.

As much as I enjoyed the height of Full Moon Features, I can admit faults to the very best of them. As a matter of fact, if you look at practically any review I have ever written about Full Moon, it feels like I have to preface it a million times that I do, in fact, enjoy the films in spite what I may say when I look at them under a critical lens (except for the ones that I don’t).

This film isn’t impervious to the same criticisms, but it also isn’t without many of the same charms I enjoyed. This film, and Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, are a lot like what I wish Full Moon Features would be putting out these days, rather than what they actually are.

   In Suitable Flesh, a psychiatrist played by Heather Graham is visited by a troubled young man played by Judah Lewis. The young man seeks guidance and a helping hand, claiming that “he” wants his body. The deeper meaning behind that statement isn’t clear straightaway, but as the psychiatrist learns more about his situation and digs deeper, she finds herself obsessed with finding answers about a mysterious curse he appears to be linked with.

   If I had to oversimplify Re-Animator and From Beyond, it would be that they are weird, corny, horny, and fun. This sentiment actually applies to a lot of the best of Full Moon / Empire or even eighties horror in general, but especially Stuart Gordon films. Suitable Flesh understands that.

   It also succeeds at certain, smaller details that help to show its understanding of what made a lot of films charming and, even, a little whimsical, such as the playful score, which calls to mind Richard Band and other music from eighties horror. 

   Then again, at the same time, I believe it is important to distinguish that Suitable Flesh does feel like an homage or a relic of a bygone era, whereas those films were, in fact, products of their era, setting their own path. It is, at first glance, a small distinction, but it is also an important distinction. Nostalgia is popular in cinema, and nowhere is it more intimate and prevalent than the horror medium. There is a certain charm to an old-school eighties horror film. The decade was, at least in my opinion, the most influential decade of horror in film. The decade can and is rehashed, and sometimes, the decade is improved upon. It wasn’t anywhere near perfect. The same way a different filmmaker like David Cronenberg can take a late-fifties film like The Fly and make his own creative spin, others have since went onto take influence from the eighties and do innovative and creative things. That in mind, it can never truly be replicated. This film tries to embrace the eighties b-movie schlock of yesteryear, and whether it fails or succeeds, there is an inherent sense of uncanny valley you encounter when the film tries to do that.

As a film, I believe you will find this film checks off the initial three boxes straightaway – the concept is peculiar and unique, and it certainly allows for some of that classic campy acting that we have come to expect from these types of films.

Ironically, my attention was all on Barbara Crampton and Heather Graham, when it should have been on Judah Lewis. Like Crampton in Re-Animator and From Beyond, Graham is tasked by largely playing the straight man, reacting to the high concept. Judah Lewis, on the other hand, is the high concept. He is the eccentric mad doctor played by Jeffrey Combs or the re-animated corpse that tries to go south of the border on Crampton with his severed head. I mean, not exactly, but essentially.

His character is plagued by this ancient curse and, without spoiling it, what it boils down to is that the actor is required to really ham it up and be melodramatic, having to switch from a scared teenager to a more aloof, and, frankly, down-to-fuck antagonist. Whether it is good or not will be subjective, and really, how you decide to look at it, but I can say it is every bit as absurd as the eighties would have made you expect, and I could tell the actor had fun with it.

As a film, Suitable Flesh is a little uneven, and honestly, isn’t as fun as Re-Animator or as, ahem, naughty as From Beyond. At 53-years-old, Heather Graham remains a looker (and so is Barbara Crampton at 65, for that matter), but the sex-scenes aren’t as much sexy as they are kind-of just overproduced and boring to watch. I will admit that, as a teenager growing up, nudity in slasher movies had a certain appeal to me. But, if you think about it, in a slasher film, it was a quick, harmless scene that was rarely drawn out. What we have here is more akin to what you might expect from an erotic-thriller, and, for the most part, I find sex scenes in erotic-thrillers to usually be long, dull and cheesy in a bad way. 

Ultimately, what I wanted most of all was a fun film, and although there is an old-school charm to Judah Lewis hamming it up, it didn’t ever click in a major for me. It isn’t bad! I don’t have any majorly woeful qualms about it. I appreciate the effort, I appreciate it as a throwback to Stuart Gordon and eighties cinema, but I don’t necessarily recommend it to anyone beyond the parameters of a person who’d appreciate a modest throwback to Stuart Gordon and eighties cinema.  

Rating: – 2.5 out of 5.0