Suitable Flesh review: Heather Graham camps it up in horny body-swap horror

Chris Tilly
Heather Graham in Suitable Flesh.RLJE Films.

Movies based on the work of HP Lovecraft frequently fall into two categories – scary, and horny. Suitable Flesh is knee-deep in the latter, being a twisted tale of desire, sex, guilt, death, and something that isn’t of this world.

Writer-director Stuart Gordon and actor Barbara Crampton made two of the great Lovecraft adaptations in the 1980s. Re-Animator was a Frankenstein tale as gory as it was funny, while From Beyond took the author’s work into an edgier, more erotic realm.

Article continues after ad

Before his death, Gordon planned to adapt another of the author’s novellas in the shape of The Thing on the Doorstep – and even wrote a script. Tragically, that wasn’t to be.

But together with horror helmer Joe Lynch, Crampton has resurrected the project, putting a very modern spin on both Lovecraft and Gordon. The result is as horny as horror gets.

What is Suitable Flesh about?

Heather Graham plays Dr. Elizabeth Derby, a successful therapist who specializes in hypnosis. She has a thriving practice at work and a handsome husband at home. But when Suitable Flesh begins, she’s locked in a psych ward, for a murder Derby claims she didn’t commit. But a body in the same hospital suggests otherwise.

Article continues after ad

Elizabeth says she’s still in danger, asks if the body has been cremated, and states that “If he does it again, it’s forever.” This prompts doctors to speculate that she’s a paranoid schizophrenic.

But the troubled therapist has a story to tell and recounts her torrid tale to Dr. Dani Upton, played by Crampton herself. What follows is an hour of warped melodrama that knows exactly what it is, with the script winking at the audience with every perverted twist and turn. What comes after is 20 minutes of horror that truly takes no prisoners.

Article continues after ad

Taking your work home

It all kicks off with a student from the Miskatonic University visiting Elizabeth with what he claims are serious mental health problems. In the blink of an eye, he then transforms from a sweet and unassuming kid to a foul-mouthed a-hole – then just as quickly back again, suggesting multiple personality disorder.

But during their session, there’s clearly a spark between the pair, and when she leaves the office, Derby can’t shake him from her thoughts. So the doctor takes her work home, claiming to her hubby that this new patient could be the subject of a major case study. She then thinks about him during the bad sex they had that night.

Article continues after ad

Elizabeth investigates the patient further, which brings her into contact with his deeply unpleasant father, a book that features illustrations most foul, and talk of possession and reanimation. What starts out a story of sexual obsession, turns into a body-swap horror where no one is who they seem.

David Lynch and Brian De Palma influence

Irony underpins these scenes, and there’s a heightened reality to the dialogue and performances that means some sequences feel like Twin Peaks and others like a daytime soap opera – only with more sex.

Article continues after ad

The color palette only adds to that trance-like quality, with lashings of purple and blue making Suitable Flesh feel like a pastel dream. Alongside a score that could’ve come from a soppy tragi-romance.

But while David Lynch is clearly an influence on the work of his namesake Joe, so too is Brian De Palma. Through the use of split-screen and diopters in telling the story in ostentatious fashion, and via a bravura scene involving a reversing car that harks back to De Palma’s greatest set-pieces as well as his most gory.

Article continues after ad

Heather Graham goes for broke

The film impresses visually throughout, but there’s also much bubbling beneath the surface of this flesh. The film swaps the genders of characters from the source material, and sexual politics are in play throughout.

Elizabeth Derby is a character exploring both her femininity and desires, embarking on a kinky journey rarely scene in horror. Or cinema in general, for that matter. But Suitable Flesh goes there, and goes there in style, as men possess her, and she possesses men.

Article continues after ad

Which is a gift for the cast, who clearly revel in playing their own characters, as well as each other’s. Especially in the final few scenes, where Graham in particular goes for broke and lets rip in enjoyably over-the-top fashion.

The Verdict: Is Suitable Flesh good?

Suitable Flesh isn’t for the faint-hearted or those of a nervous disposition. There’s sex. There’s violence. And there’s something evil lurking within its frames.

It doesn’t always work. The possession ‘rules’ are a bit too convenient at times. While there are moments where it feels like we’re laughing at the movie rather than with it.

Article continues after ad

But more often than not, Suitable Flesh is a blast; silly, self-aware horror that never takes itself too seriously, and doesn’t expect the audience to either. So if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief – and go on this flashy, fleshy journey with the filmmakers – it’s a deliciously dark delight.

Suitable Flesh score: 3/5

With Suitable Flesh, Joe Lynch has crafted a fun-filled horror that’s worthy of Stuart Gordon, and demands to be played alongside Re-Animator and From Beyond as part of the ultimate HP Lovecraft trilogy.

Article continues after ad

Suitable Flesh screened at FrightFest and Fantastic Fest, and is in theaters and available everywhere you rent movies from October 27, 2023.

Related Topics

About The Author

Chris Tilly is the TV and Movies Editor at Dexerto. He has a BA in English Literature, an MA in Newspaper Journalism, and over the last 20 years, he's worked for the likes of Time Out, IGN, and Fandom. Chris loves Star Wars, Marvel, DC, sci-fi, and especially horror, while he knows maybe too much about Alan Partridge. You can email him here: chris.tilly@dexerto.com.