I am happy to report that the tradition continues with Suitable Flesh. Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli believed that this re-imagining of the Lovecraft story “The Thing at the Doorstep” would be a terrific way to get back into Lovecraftian storytelling. Starting in the late nineties, they pitched it to various Hollywood producers for the better part of a decade. The script was well received by most who read it, but multiple executives rejected it. Why? Too much sex. Sadly, the project languished in limbo. Sadly, Gordon would not be around to add to his legacy, as he passed away in the pandemic.
Fast forward past the pandemic, and Enter Barbara Crampton. She revived her horror acting career when most women’s acting careers wane, but now she is a successful producer of genre films through AMP. Her association with Gordon and Paoli is long and meaningful, and she carries the torch for this film. She took to this project with gusto and was so excited that she wanted to be in it. Too Sexy? Nope. Just sexy enough. Barbara was going to make this happen.
Crampton knew exactly what this movie could and would be. She selected Joe Lynch (Mayhem) to direct this film. She actually upgraded the level of talent usually assigned to these films. A-list actress Heather Graham was brought on board to be Elizabeth Derby a psychologist, and Judah Lewis (The Babysitter) was brought on to play the troubled Young man Asa Whaite. Derby instantly analyzes Asa, who seems to have a dissociative identity disorder. This arouses the psychologist’s curiosity. Diving deeper, there is something additionally more there. Derby senses something powerful in this meek youngster and she is dying to discover what it is.
It turns out, Asa has bigger issues. His father, Ephraim Waite (Bruce Davison), a cruel and scheming sorcerer, has been dabbling with an evil tome that will allow him to escape death by body-hopping into a younger host. You know it is an evil tome when there are images of Cthulhu in it. Ephraim possesses Asa intermittently. Enough successful possessions will make the switch to his son’s virile young body permanent. All he has to do is chant his horrid curse, and the switch is on. Eventually, the spirit of Ephraim Waite switches his target on Dr. Derby and is determined to possess her instead, using the youthful body of Asa and the raw charisma of Ephraim to seduce and overpower Elizabeth. Guess what? Lots of sex ensues! After all, what better way to possess someone than to get under their skin, right?
Eventually, one of the body swaps occurs when Asa and Derby are far apart, shocking the good doctor into a panic. Will Doctor Derby find a way to stop from becoming the next in line of the dread Waite curse? Daniella (Crampton) might be be able to piece together the puzzle in time to help. It is unlikely that her handsom but dim husband, Edward will. As we understand from the original wraparound
At its core, this is a body-swap movie, like Split, Jumanji, and Face/Off. This movie relies on the actors to convincingly portray more than one character, often gender swapping the identities and giving broad body language and face acting to convey the change in character. The whole acting troupe delivers. Lewis, Davison, and Graham all show off their acting prowess, these acting tricks adding to both the comedy and the horror of the situation. Consider Freaky Friday, as a comp but make it truly Freaky!
Layering on top of this is copious sex and gore. I can hear the cheers of die-hard Gordon franchise fans. Note that despite the quantity of sex on screen, there is almost no frontal nudity in the film. Perhaps this is a nod to trying to still get this past the censors (Or as a favor to Heather Graham). The gory and sexy bits add to this movie and are not detractions. After all, it is an erotic thriller… with sorcery! There isn’t a ton of gore and violence in this movie, but when it arrives, it is savage and cathartically entertaining! The conclusion to the film highlights all the drama, connecting all the plot threads while destroying the bodies. Squish!
Heather Graham, at 53, is still an absolute stunner. She’s retained her beauty and seems to be having the time of her life performing in this role. She also looks like she could be Barabara Crampton’s sister, who similarly seems to have found the fountain of youth. It’s a lot of fun when both of them are on the screen at the same time. How often do you get an erotic thriller with a 50-year-old lead as the sex symbol? Joan Crawford would be proud.
On the opposite end of the age spectrum, Judah Lewis proves ready for more prime-time roles with some terrific multiple-personality acting. For instance, he switches from scared youth to swaggering alpha to woman in a man’s body easily and believably within minutes of screen time. Veteran character actor Johnathon Schaech is clumsily endearing as Edward Derby, Elizabeth’s husband. Edward stumbles through the wild body-swapping antics and provides us with a clueless foil about the events unfolding around him. In a way, he is the audience proxy.
My main criticism of this film is that the cinematography sometimes felt static or flat. There didn’t seem to be a lot of texture in the visual presentation. I expect a little more vibrancy in my Cosmic Horror. A smaller concern was that it took me a while to disentangle when Ephraim and Asa were swapping minds and bodies. I suspect that may be more of a me thing than a script thing.
Revel in all the Lovecraftian Easter Egg Lore: Miskatonic University. Arkham Asylum. Ephraim Waite. Cthulhu. An evil tome. It’s all here. Most importantly for fans of H.P. Lovecraft, this film faithfully adapts the tale “The Thing at the Doorstep”. In a modern twist, the producers gender-swapped the leads, with Edward Derby becoming Elizabeth Derby and Asanath Waite (Edward’s wife) becoming Asa Waite. Full credit to Dennis Paoli for scribing a modern version of this tale. Paoli brings in several gender-fluid ideas that were highly coded at the time of Lovecraft’s writing. Paoli also told me that he and Gordon always wanted to make the quiet Lovecraft themes big and bold. The sex and grotesqueness that was subtext on the written page become explicit on the screen, and for that, we all can be thankful.
I interviewed Dennis Paoli posted so check out his insights of Suitable Flesh Here! You will not want to miss his terrific storytelling. Dennis talks as well as he writes, and that is saying something! No doubt about it, Dennis teaches a master class in Lovecraft translation and gave us one of our best interviews to date!
Suitable Flesh headlined the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and will soon be arriving streaming on Shudder soon. A wide theatrical release is not planned. To reiterate, That is probably because it is Unrated, for lots of sex, and a few moments of gory mutilation.
SuitableFlesh meets the entertainment value of its Empire Film Predecessors and is certainly a cut above in acting performances. Landing Heather Graham is admittedly a huge coup in this sort of film. It’s rare to see an independent horror film get an actress of this caliber and track record to get involved in what is essentially an elevated B-Movie. Here’s hoping that this cinematic baton gets handed off and the legacy of the great Lovecraftian modern adaptations continues on in good hands.
Suitable Flesh will be playing in select UK cinemas starting October 27th!