Horror has changed a lot in the last couple of decades. Thanks to Jordan Peele and A24, the genre evolved from goofy fun to serious cultural criticism. That’s not to say that there weren’t smart horror movies before — or that there still aren’t plenty of silly splatter fests today — but it’s impossible to deny the fact that the vibes have shifted.
In that context, it’s hard to imagine a movie like 1985’s Re-Animator succeeding today. Not only does the cult-classic debut from prolific horror director Stuart Gordon achieve levels of camp that would make modern audiences cringe, but there’s also an unfortunate (if arguably unforgettable) depiction of sexual assault that involves a reanimated, decapitated head and a beautiful young woman. So maybe it’s best that Re-Animator remains a product of its time. But in what feels like a stroke of luck for fans of the movie, a spiritual sequel just arrived.
Suitable Flesh was written by Dennis Paoli (who penned the scripts for many of Gordon’s films, including the H.P. Lovecraft adaptations Re-Animator and From Beyond) back in the ‘90s and dusted off after his old friend’s death in 2020. It’s produced by Barbara Crompton, who starred in both of those movies and also plays a supporting role here. Joining that ensemble is director Joe Lynch and Heather Graham. Together, they deliver one of the best horror movies of the year — while still falling short of the original film that started it all.
Based on the Lovecraft short story “The Thing on the Doorstep,” Suitable Flesh stars Heather Graham as a psychiatrist named Elizabeth Derby who starts seeing a new patient with an intriguing condition. In their first session, Asa (Judah Lewis) incoherently rants about how his father wants his body. Asa then seems to experience a seizure, only to stand back up a second later a completely different person, one who makes inappropriate advances at his doctor.
Smelling an exciting case study, Elizabeth is intrigued — and more than a little turned on. She winds up visiting Asa’s home, where she has a disturbing run-in with his father (Bruce Davison). Tension mounts slowly, but before too long the movie reveals its true plot: a primordial body-hopping demon who’s preparing to make the move from father to son, before setting his sights on something new: a female body.
With a gruesome decapitation (one that feels like a direct nod to Re-Animator) serving as a starting gun, the movie quickly begins a full sprint through its second and third acts. The demon hops bodies haphazardly, giving multiple cast members a chance to flex their acting muscles (Graham shines, in particular, swigging brandy as the demon discovers the joys of inhabiting a female body). The entire thing climaxes in a frantic and bloody showdown at the hospital where a possessed Elizabeth faces off against her colleague (played by Re-Animator star and Suitable Flesh producer Barbara Crampton) in a showdown that involves a bloody, living corpse, giving Graham the opportunity to wildly wave a gun around while her eyes dance in their sockets.
While the opening scenes of Suitable Flesh can sometimes feel like a Lifetime movie with their bland, colorless sets and flat acting, it doesn’t take long for the story to ramp up. The camp and horror of Re-Animator are still here, even if director Joe Lynch can’t capture the visual flair that defined Stuart Gordon’s neon-soaked films.
The special effects, another Gordon hallmark, are also lacking here. While there are buckets of fake blood and one delightfully disturbing decapitated talking head, they can’t overcome an even bigger flaw. The crux of the movie relies on the demon’s forcibly swapping bodies with whomever he wants. This is clearly visualized in the film to help guide the audience, but unfortunately, it seems very little effort was put into those special effects. Whenever it happens, the camera simply shakes violently while actors do their best to mimic a seizure. The addition of the sound of cracking bones doesn’t do much to help either and the entire experience feels more nauseating than thrilling. It also gets old fast, which is unfortunate since we see some variation of this same thing about a dozen times throughout the film.
But if you can see through the questionable VFX, Suitable Flesh is a joy to behold. And hiding under all that sex and blood, it might even have something interesting to say, too. In taking a story from famed misogynist (and racist) H.P. Lovecraft and giving it a kick-ass female lead, the movie subverts the author’s original worldview. Once the demon spends a little time living as a woman and finds it to be better than life as a man, the creature comes to a revelation. Having lived for so many centuries, it’s forgotten its original form and begins to wonder if its unstoppable ambitions could be those of a woman.
The entire thing makes for a great monologue — one of many in this 99-minute thriller — and the fact that Lovecraft probably would have hated it only makes the moment that much sweeter.