Suitable Flesh review: Heather Graham is possessed by a randy demon in this winning horror throwback

The ‘Boogie Nights’ star is at her campy best in a film that plays like ‘Basic Instinct’ if it was about an ambisexual hell beast

Adam White
Thursday 26 October 2023 16:00 BST
Suitable Flesh trailer

Nothing is more screamingly Nineties than Boogie Nights star Heather Graham bonking to the dramatic wail of a saxophone as curtains waft sensually around her. It’s just one of the many nods to cinema past in Suitable Flesh, a gooey horror throwback that answers a question only the bravest screenwriters would dare ask: what would happen if Basic Instinct lost Sharon Stone and replaced her with a body-swapping, ambisexual hell demon who smokes rollies and rips people’s heads off?

Graham, having the most on-screen fun she’s had in years, is Elizabeth Derby, one of those archetypal X-rated thriller psychologists with a hit book on multiple personality disorders and a doctorate in stifled sexual urges. Her libido is reawakened by the arrival of a mysterious college student, Judah Lewis’s Asa, who claims to be possessed. Soon enough, the demon within him is alternating between having sex with Elizabeth and taking over her body, the suddenly dangerous doctor wrecking erotic havoc at home and in the workplace.

Suitable Flesh stems from Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2, Knights of Badassdom), a director with an obvious love of gore, dutch angles and conveying sexual ecstasy by spinning his camera around like it’s stuck in a washing machine. There are flashes of HP Lovecraft – this is a loose, gender-flipped adaptation of his 1933 short story The Thing on the Doorstep – but the film is otherwise steeped in tributes to Stuart Gordon, the late king of scuzzy, made-for-VHS horror. Gordon’s films, which included Re-Animator and From Beyond, were made expressly for the Fangoria Magazine crowd, horror die-hards lured in by gory practical effects and hand-drawn poster art.

Here, that manifests in a splurge of self-parodic fun. Necks are torn out, breasts are gratuitously exposed, and the film’s closing set piece sees its female protagonists alternating between sapphic flirtation and violent throttling.

Once Elizabeth is consumed by evil, Graham begins to draw out every line of her incredibly camp dialogue as if she’s being paid by the syllable. Playing Elizabeth’s best friend, Barbara Crampton – a Gordon veteran and regular on the horror convention circuit thanks to credits that include Chopping Mall and You’re Next – is dolled up in a “sexy doctor” ensemble presumably borrowed from a costume shop. The name of cult filmmaker Brian Yuzna – best known for directing 1989’s Beverly Hills satire slash veritable intestine party Society – beams proudly from the producing credits. In a crowded field of dour horror, it’s a relief to find something so knowingly silly.

Dir: Joe Lynch. Starring: Heather Graham, Judah Lewis, Barbara Crampton, Bruce Davison, Johnathon Schaech. 18, 99 minutes.

‘Suitable Flesh’ is in cinemas from 27 October, and available on digital download from 27 November

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