Cinema/TV, Film Notes

FrightFest Review – Suitable Flesh

FrightFest Review – Suitable Flesh

Joe Lynch’s Suitable Flesh homages the clutch of H.P. Lovecraft-derived films Stuart Gordon made with producer Brian Yuzna (and, often, mini-mogul Charles Band).  Dennis Paoli, screenwriter of Re-Animator and From Beyond, adapted HPL’s ‘The Thing on the Doorstep’ as a Gordon project (a while ago, before Multiple Personality Disorder was renamed Dissociative Identity Disorder) and Lynch enters into the spirit of things by plunging into the kinky sex (a Gordon addition to Lovecraft) and hard-to-kill-even-after-much-splattering aspects of the tale.  Gordon and Paoli always turned Lovecraft inside-out, and if you know the story it’s even thematically appropriate that the film gender-flips several key characters (though that does mean we lose Asenath Waite, one of Lovecraft’s very few female characters – but there’s a qualification to that) though I think the sexual dynamic of the piece as actually less perverse than the original (and a class element is dropped).

The great Barbara Crampton, a mainstay of the series since that ‘head’ scene in Re-Animator, has what initially seems a secondary role (as Dr Danielle Upton) to whitecoat diva Heather Graham (as Dr Elizabeth Derby).  However, as identities switch, Crampton plays as many variations as Graham and the last reel becomes a sexually charged clash of horror divas in the bland corridors outside the morgue of the Miskatonic U hospital facility (where Re-Animator took place).  Cinematographer David Matthews doesn’t much go for the Mac Ahlberg ‘80s violet light look and the gruesome effects are lower-key – more nasty than grand guignol – but score has echoes of Richard Band’s Psycho/Disco remix.  One element the film doesn’t carry over is brevity: this runs 100 minutes, whereas Charles Band always used to insist on trimming until the piece was well under ninety and moved at a rocketship pace.  This allows for Graham, in particular, to play with more nuance – what happens to Elizabeth Derby is more disturbing than horror comic (even if Graham occasionally channels Ellen Barkin in Switch) – but also lets the story get tied up in knots as the farcical who’s-in-who’s-body carousel (yes, there are a lot of remarks about being ‘in’ bodies ‘but not like that’) goes round and round.  Johnathon Schaech gets space to sketch in a vivid, instantly sympathetic secondary character (the shrink’s unemployed husband) – so you know he’s going to suffer for it later in the film.

‘The Thing on the Doorstep’ was an early instance of the body-hopping parasite/demon/alien story (cf: The Hidden, Fallen).  Because he made up a religion (which Lynch evokes but doesn’t go overboard on) rather than used Catholic imagery, Lovecraft isn’t often thought of as a key writer in the possession sub-genre, but it’s a theme he returned to often (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward).  Suitable Flesh is in the slightly invidious position of presenting situations which come from the 1933 story or are Paoli’s clever extrapolations from it but which feel familiar from any one of a hundred movies in which the whole cast have to adopt a particular tic (a contorted hand) and play a particularly nasty character (Bruce Davison sets the tone as a vile old ivalid but Judah Lewis matches him as his shirtless buff bipolar son) as a new body is taken over by the discarnate ancient baddie (it’s called Kamog) who gets from host to host by mumbled Necronomicon ritual (it works over over cell phones) and could presumably show up in recast sequels till the end of recorded time.

Here’s the FrightFest listing




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