Shudder Double Feature: Suitable Flesh / Destroy All Neighbors

SUITABLE FLESH is the latest from Joe Lynch, a director who has a certain credibility in my book because his debut was a DTV sequel. I was mixed-positive on WRONG TURN 2: DEAD END (2007) and wrote some things in the review that I now consider out of line, but I definitely respect its joyful spirit toward sequelizing and in many ways outdoing a studio movie I really wasn’t that into. Since then Lynch has directed a comedy that got taken away from him, the Salma Hayek action vehicle EVERLY, the gory outbreak-in-an-office-building movie MAYHEM (which I liked but apparently didn’t review) and the Frank Grillo/Anthony Mackie car chase buddy movie POINT BLANK. But now he’s returned to horror with a sacred task: to manifest an unfinished project of the late great Stuart Gordon.

I didn’t realize it from the name, but it’s one of those unfulfilled ambitions we read about for years – here’s an example of Gordon talking it up while promoting STUCK in 2008, but using the title of the H.P. Lovecraft story it’s based on, “The Thing on the Doorstep.” The script is by Gordon’s regular collaborator Dennis Paoli (RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, CASTLE FREAK, DAGON) and it’s produced by RE-ANIMATOR/FROM BEYOND/CASTLE FREAK star Barbara Crampton.

Crampton is also in the cast, playing Dr. Daniella Upton, who in the opening scene goes to visit her friend and colleague Dr. Elizabeth Derby (Heather Graham, LOST IN SPACE) in a padded cell in a psychiatric hospital. Elizabeth is really going through some shit, and you can see why these people who don’t know they’re in a horror movie assume she’s crazy. There’s a horribly mutilated body but she’s telling Daniella it’s not dead, begging her to destroy the brain.

She has to tell her friend how she ended up here, and the movie is that story. One night she’s leaving the office when a harried young man named Asa Waite (Judah Lewis, the main kid from THE BABYSITTER and THE BABYSITTER: KILLER QUEEN) storms in claiming to have had an out of body experience, which she wrote a book about. “As a symptom of schizophrenia,” she clarifies.

He claims his father, Ephraim Waite (Bruce Davison, WILLARD) takes over his body sometimes. Then he gets a phone call from said dad, has a seizure, snaps out of it but starts acting like a completely different person who just got there. Thinking it’s a multiple personality thing, Elizabeth is intrigued.

In his second personality Asa insinuates stuff and then straight up gropes her, to which she says “Excuse me!” but unfortunately not “Okay get the fuck out of here and don’t come back.” Later when she has sex with her husband Edward (Johnathon Schaech, ROAD HOUSE 2, LAID TO REST, THE LEGEND OF HERCULES, ACTS OF VENGEANCE) she doesn’t seem very into it until she starts picturing him as Asa. Then the next day she takes the crazy step of going to Asa’s house and meeting the dad, who seems fairly harmless until she starts asking about his book with the weird Cthulu shit in it and he slashes her palm with a knife.

The dad is dying, but manages to finish an incantation to take over Asa’s body and seduce the doctor. This is a body switching movie and I guess the switch is sexually transmitted? There’s a pretty Shannon-Tweed-movie approach to sex scenes, which is an interesting thing to combine with the Stuart Gordon evil books, severed heads, piles of skin type material it’s also working with. I think the most interesting one is Graham playing Ephraim in the body of Elizabeth, having sex with her husband, and being amazed at feeling sex as a woman. “Oh, it’s better! It’s better!” s/he cackles.

Eddie has no idea what’s going on, of course, but the drunken, freaky sex he’s having with his possessed wife seems to improve what had become a stale, frustrating relationship. When the real Elizabeth is back he’s kind of let down. Some FACE/OFF type shit.

I enjoyed this movie, but there are some aesthetic choices that kept me at a distance for a while. The early scenes have a very clean, brightly lit look that I’ve seen compared to the erotic thrillers it’s somewhat alluding to – I don’t really see the connection, honestly, and I just didn’t think it looks great. More than that I was pretty put off by an overbearing score by Steve Moore (THE GUEST, THE MIND’S EYE). This may be intended as a throwback to the keyboard-pretending-to-be-an-orchestra scores of the Full Moon Video era – I mean, obviously the saxophone during the sex scenes and my precious Digital Native Dance are used knowingly – but I guess that style of score always seems cheap and distracting to me.

Still, either it improved or my body adjusted to the temperature, because the movie did eventually draw me in and there’s plenty of exciting mayhem, like Elizabeth having to crawl through a morgue while possessing a mutilated corpse. There’s a scene in particular that really delighted me because it was so cool and clever and seemed like probly the first time anyone’s done it. (SPOILER FOR MY FAVORITE PART.) Elizabeth is being chased and manages to get into a car. But her pursuer is undead and is gonna keep coming after her, so she decides she needs to really fuck him up by repeatedly backing into him and squooshing him against a wall. The way Lynch and cinematographer David Matthews (JAKOB’S WIFE, GLORIOUS) shoot it is from the back seat looking forward, so we see her driving but also see the dashboard screen with the rearview camera repeatedly zooming and smacking into him.

Chris McKenna appears in the movie as one of Elizabeth’s patients, and apparently he’s supposed to be his character from KING OF THE ANTS. But I guess I haven’t seen that one since its world premiere at SIFF (I’m pretty sure I wrote the actual first review of it!) so I don’t really understand how it connects. I need to watch that one again. I really liked that one.

If you clicked the link about Gordon above you may have noticed that SUITABLE FLESH is gender-swapped from his version. I heard Lynch say on a podcast that he asked for this before agreeing to the movie, and I think that was smart. Yes, a story about a male psychiatrist seduced by his young female patient would be rejected by some people today – things have changed since POISON IVY – but also it’s still novel for women to play messy, complicated leads, and this gives Graham so much to do. I do think it would be a little more fun if we just got to see her making these poor choices without the narration where she explains that “I know it seems crazy, but I couldn’t control myself… my mind was drawn to him.” But it’s fun to see Graham going to town on such a wacked out role, playing multiple characters in the same body, getting to be the nice good guy, the asshole bad guy, the good guy when she’s lost it and is repeatedly stabbing the bad guy and getting blood all over her face and then getting dragged away by the cops, yelling “Wait, I have to finish!” Screaming, convulsing, panicking, relieved, darkly humorous, sexy, the whole gamut. It’s a good role and she delivers. That alone makes it worth seeing.

In the scenes where Elizabeth in the psychiatric hospital there are two very tall orderlies, played by Lynch himself and Jonah Ray Rodrigues (VICTOR CROWLEY, CHRISTMAS BLOODY CHRISTMAS). While that’s only a cameo, Rodrigues is the star and producer of the second film in our double feature, DESTROY ALL NEIGHBORS. This one is a straight up horror comedy aimed at us aging nerds who enjoy seemingly hopeless artistic pursuits. Rodrigues’ character William Brown is an engineer at a small L.A. recording studio, but his real passion is coming home to sit with headphones and vintage equipment tinkering with his years-in-the-making prog rock album.

His girlfriend Emily (Kiran Deol, “Doctor [uncredited],” SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS) is cool and supportive at first, but will get understandably less patient as the movie goes on. They live in a small apartment with thin walls, and William (but not Emily) is constantly distracted by his neighbors, including “Pig Guy” (DeMorge Brown, THE MORTUARY COLLECTION), because he owns a pig that gets out. William wishes he could be like his bro-y neighbor Alec (Pete Ploszek, mocap Leonardo from TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES 2014 and its sequel), who sold a sci-fi script and immediately decided to move out. That apartment gets snatched up by a new guy who blasts EDM and grunts loudly all night.

William is furious, but not the type to confront him. He complains to Emily, who offers to do it for him, but he stops her. Then he complains to his space case building manager Eleanor (Randee Heller, the mom from THE KARATE KID), but she doesn’t care. So he finally mans up, takes a deep breath and… very gently knocks lightly one time on his wall. Which causes immediate quiet. Then loud footsteps traveling to his door. And he watches through the peephole as the guy spits a huge green loogie on it.

The new neighbor is named Vlad, and had I not known I don’t think I could’ve identified him as Alex Winter (DEATH WISH 3). He’s doing a voice and accent, and is wearing special effects makeup to be kind of like a cross between a Russian gangster and Gwildor from MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE. These are random-seeming choices, I can’t really compute what the idea is behind the character, but he makes me laugh. He reminds me of the old Alex Winter comedy stuff like FREAKED and MTV’s The Idiot Box, where he would play really over-the-top characters and loved very silly, broad jokes with special effects and poor taste. Winter didn’t write or direct this, but he is a producer, and is clearly having fun.

He also shows up without the makeup to play a lawyer in one part. I believe he was a divorce lawyer in the recent Steven Soderbergh mini-series Full Circle, so I will assume it’s the same character and this takes place in the same universe.

The horror part of the movie doesn’t seem as logically thought out as the other themes. As far as I noticed it seems to happen for no reason. But it’ll do. It happens after William finally gets pissed off enough to confront Vlad in his apartment. They argue for a while and then Vlad slips on an errant piece of chicken and impales himself. Another accident knocks his head clear off his body. As William tries to cover it up, the body parts are still alive and the head taunts him. Meanwhile, he keeps accidentally causing other deaths, and each of his victims (if you want to call them that) become additional undead companions. Though they’re mad at him they start talking, have more in common than they realized, and it becomes kind of a hang out movie. Hanging out shooting the shit with body parts.

There are some sketch comedy type people in it, including a funny scene with Rodrigues’ old Comedy Meltdown partner Kumail Nanjiani. Thomas Lennon (PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH) plays his boss at the studio, and there’s a little bit of a fictional musical world created. They’re recording an album with a cocky asshole who insists on always being called by his full name Caleb Bang Jansen (Ryan Kattner, who also composed the score with Brett Morris). He’s a bigshot because he had a song on the O.C. soundtrack. There’s also a good gimmick where only after William accidentally runs over a homeless guy he knows named Auggie (Christian Calloway, “Homeless Man [uncredited],” BABYLON) does he recognize him as his hero “Swig” Anderson, bassist for Dawn Dimension, whose old Rockin’ in the Fifth Dimension instructional bass video he watches every day and quotes the way assholes quote The Art of War. Luckily he gets a chance to tell Swig how much he means to him as he attempts to dump his body in the woods.

It’s not constant laughter or anything, but there are some good ones. You ever notice how in movies when people get impaled they almost always pull the thing out, even though you should leave it in until you can get medical help because it’s holding the blood in? I always notice that, so I appreciate the part where he accidentally stabs a neck with a record shard, frantically says “It’s okay! I’ll take it out! I’ll take it out!” and then when he does and it starts spraying blood he says “I’ll put it back in! I’ll put it back in!”

Another one that got me is how Eleanor wants to help with the album but he brushes her off saying she wouldn’t be into this type of music. But then later when she’s found horribly electrocuted a cop notes that she’s wearing a Dawn Dimension t-shirt. “Guess she was into prog rock,” he says. Whoops. When a puppet of Eleanor as a barbecued skeleton starts accompanying William everywhere, that’s when I thought yeah, this is a pretty good one. And that was confirmed when the climax involved a police stand off at the studio as he tries to record the final tracks for his album. Vlad plays drums holding the sticks with his intestines.

Rodrigues, who I I know from podcasts and standup, has a comic/public persona that meshes well with the character. He has the right kind of dorky charisma to pull off a delicate balance of making his rambling about the philosophy of prog rock funny but also a little endearing and relatable to our own niche interests. In the end it feels like a warm and affirming movie even though (SPOILER) he’s serving consecutive life sentences for murder. At least he finished his album, right? It’s also a huge success, but he really doesn’t seem to care about that, and that makes this nice. Part of lovable BILL & TED’s dream and destiny is to be famous rock stars, but this one is sincere in its philosophy of making what you love for yourself and a few people who will get it. Of course I can get behind that.

Director Josh Forbes came from music videos (including a Carly Rae Jepsen Christmas song?) and did a 2015 movie called CONTRACTED: PHASE II. The writers are Mike Benner (Bob’s Burgers), Jared Logan (The Late Late Show with James Corden) and Charles A. Pieper (a bunch of shorts). Notably the makeup designer is Gabriel Bartalos, an FX legend who worked on the crews for FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI: JASON LIVES and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, did the makeup for a bunch of Frank Henenlotter movies, and I would bet is one of the few to work on the LEPRECHAUN movies and the CREMASTERs. He also wrote and directed that movie SKINNED DEEP that GoreZone Magazine released on video in the early 2000s. You’d probly recognize the cover. Maybe I’ll try watching that. For that one I’ll have to go to Tubi.

This entry was posted on Monday, February 12th, 2024 at 7:33 am and is filed under Reviews, Horror. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

9 Responses to “Shudder Double Feature: Suitable Flesh / Destroy All Neighbors”

  1. i really enjoyed both of these. suitable flesh is probably my favorite lynch movie to date, and destroy all neighbors barely qualifies as horror because at no point does it attempt to be scary (i guess the gore alone is why it gets that tag?) but i thought it was totally hilarious and all the prog rock stuff really worked for me.

  2. I haven’t seen either of these yet but I have seen SKINNED DEEP. It’s not good, per se, but it’s definitely SOMETHING. It’s got some real TEXAS CHAINSAW 2 energy going on. Its cumulative effect is kind of obnoxious but its enthusiasm for packing every second with as much madness and art direction as humanly possible is kind of lovable too. It’s worth seeing.

  3. I liked both of these too.

    As I was watching SUITABLE FLESH I was surprised at how relatively faithful it is to the events of the short story, if not the spirit (old prude Lovecraft sure wouldn’t have approved of the adaptation). Especially for a Gordon project.
    The flat cinematography didn’t bother me because… yeah, it’s totally based on late night cinemax DTV shit. It is a bit too knowing (“Too much?”) but it works.

    As for KILL ALL NEIGHBORS: Any movie that dresses its protagonist like The Great Gonzo for its (prog) rocking finale is all right by me!

  4. I enjoyed both of these, All Neighbors Must Die more because of Jonah Ray portraying a VERY specific type of person (the aging punk rock guy who gets too into prog) that I’m all too familiar with and Alex Winter harkening back to his FREAKED days and having a blast with his character. Though Suitable Flesh is a pretty sweet love letter to Stuart Gordon.

  5. grimgrinningchris

    February 14th, 2024 at 1:04 pm

    Glad you got around to Suitable Flesh, Vern. I knew you’d have thoughts. I’ll post the mini review I did immediately after watching it below. The Chris McKenna thing I don’t think actually really connects. It seems just meant as a Gordon Easter Egg where she refers to him by his characters name and I think he makes reference to some traumatic thing in his past- but not a real connection beyond that.

    I still need to watch Destroy… especially as JonH does con appearances with my producing partner from when I did Evil Dead The Musical as she’s also one of the stars of a movie parodied on his second season on MST. They do comedy workshops and such.

    Anyway… here’s what I’d posted on my socials right after watching Suitable Flesh:

    I’m sad to say that I can’t fully recommend this one. I’m not sorry I watched it, but I’ve been anticipating it for a while – only be be pretty let down.

    A Lovecraft adaptation from the writer of Re-Animator, Dagon and From Beyond (and co starring and produced by one of the stars of two of those), also produced partly by Brian Yuzna (producer on numerous Stuart Gordon joints and director of Society and Faust) and starring Heather Graham, Bruce Davison and the kid from the great Babysitter movies (with Samara Weaving and Bella Thorne). And with a bit part from the star of (and playing his character from) Gordon’s King Of The Ants?
    To say nothing of Gordon himself having handled a good deal of development and pre-production himself before his unfortunate passing in 2020.
    Yeah, I’m gonna be excited!

    But… just… ehhhh…
    This needed a better director and a better cinematographer. This needed Gordon or at least Yuzna in Gordon’s absense. Or half a dozen other up and coming low budget horror directors I can think of offhand.

    It’s flat. It’s overlit most of the time and woefully underlit the rest. It needed a grain filter. The story and performances mostly FEEL like a great 80s VHS cult movie- but it LOOKS like lower tier mid 00s Asylum movie minus the CG.
    The content is perverted and trashy and horrific with just a hint of camp. But the direction and aesthetic are just too clean, too bland and too digital. The look reminds me of that pointless shot on digital remake of Cabin Fever. And at about the same skill in overall execution.

    As with most of Gordon’s older Lovecraft joints, it’s modernized and only very loosely based on a Lovecraft story. That’s fine in itself. But Gordon’s movies leaned HARD into just how perverse and pulp Lovecraft’s stuff really was (though modern readers often miss that through the veil of his dense, black flowery prose). They went elbow deep into the psychology, the horror, the supernatural, the dread AND the taboo horniness.
    This one pays lip service to all of those things but pulls back before giving the goods on almost any of it.
    Also, director Joe Lynch seems to be almost as in love with the idea of making a DePalma erotic psychological thriller. With misused and out of nowhere split screens and whirling cameras and Skinemax saxophone sex scenes.
    He wants to make a cross between Re-Animator and Raising Cain and Body Double- with some of that one Denzel movie I can’t recall the name of. On paper that sounds intriguing and I can see where it could work. But this dude doesn’t have the chops to make it work. It all just seems so forced and clumsy.
    You wanna see a GOOD (Razzies be damned) DePalma rip? Watch the misunderstood and maligned Lindsay Lohan movie, I Know Who Killed Me. That director understood at least the aesthetic and color obsessions of DePalma, the gleeful perversion and psychology of DePalma. Even if not the pacing or out-of-control control of DePalma. That movie is totally and wonderfully bugnuts! Total fever dream!

    Lots of bugnuts stuff happens in this movie, but it doesn’t FEEL bugnuts because it all looks like a low effort YouTube video.
    It needed to be WEIRDER. It needed to be MORE perverted. It needed to be GORIER (though, admittedly there are a few GREAT practical gore scenes). It needed to pay more attention to the supernatural elements than just as throwaways to drive the central conceit. And yeah, it really really needed a grain filter to at least approximate a real movie.

    All of that said.
    The leads all do solid work with what they’ve got. Heather Graham and Barbara Crampton both look amazing -and in her role, Graham shows that had the world not been blessed with Margot Robbie, that she would have made an EXCELLENT Harley Quinn 20 years ago (or hell, even today).
    There IS some great, rubber and Karo gore work- just not nearly enough of it and nothing comes close to anything in any of Gordon or Brian Yuzna’s best, craziest stuff.
    There is exactly ONE scene that is truly inspired, directorially, involving a large vehicle and a rear view cam and dashboard monitor- that part was effing AWESOME!

    Maybe 6/10 if I hadn’t been so excited for this and if so many ingredients for something so much better weren’t already there.

    I’ll probably wind up with more to say. This is a fresh wound.

  6. One thing to Joe Lynch’s great credit is that he’s the rare director who reads his reviews and doesn’t seem at all sensitive about criticism. He tweeted out this review happy that it was “mostly positive”! Previously I was mortified when he referenced my review of WRONG TURN 2, where I feel I was personally insulting to him, but he seemingly wasn’t bothered by it. It’s hard to write reviews when it seems likely the filmmakers will see it, but I try to stay honest. Luckily I’ve liked most of his so far!

  7. I hadn’t heard of THE IDIOT BOX before, but thankfully it’s on the YouTube and man, I miss the time when MTV would put anything on the air, not matter if it was artsy in a punk rock/underground way or, as in this case, crazy a fuck! There is an episode where Sinead O’Connor beats the crap out of Alex Winter in the EVIL DEAD cabin. You don’t see that on MTV anymore.

  8. Thinking about it, the Suitable Flesh gender-swap sounds like it’s both innovative for an erotic thriller (which seem to usually go male protagonist, femme fatale) and pretty conventional for a horror movie (Final Girl and male villain).

  9. grimgrinningchris

    February 22nd, 2024 at 4:58 pm

    Technically it’s still a female protagonist and male antagonist. Just in switched bodies.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>