When “Re-Animator” director Stuart Gordon died in 2020, he left behind a blood-soaked legacy that includes a handful of giddily exploitative horror classics and a legion of genre filmmakers who grew up in the shadow of his low-budget Lovecraft adaptations.

In that light, it would be hard to imagine a more fitting tribute to Gordon’s work than a goofy-smart and gore-happy wad of immaculate trash about an ancient Entity that inhabits the body of an undersexed psychiatrist played by Heather Graham. Lucky for us, Gordon ensured that we wouldn’t have to; based on the Lovecraft story “The Thing on the Doorstep” and written by Gordon’s longtime collaborator Dennis Paoli, “Suitable Flesh” is one of the last projects the late schlockmeister was developing before his death. And director Joe Lynch’s take on the material is every bit as loving and heretical towards Gordon’s memory as you would expect from a true devotee.

This is a film about the continuation of an immortal but ever-evolving spirit, and it makes good on that premise inside and out — entrails and all.

That forward momentum is on full display from the first stirrings of Steve Moore’s lusty score, which make it clear that Lynch has “modernized” the classical — sometimes even retro — soul of Gordon’s work by transplanting it into the body of a seedy mid-’90s erotic thriller. An update and a throwback all at once, “Suitable Flesh” essentially feels like the best Skinemax movie ever made; if not for its high-wire performances, masterful De Palma homage, and galling lack of softcore nudity, this thing could’ve been a perfect late Friday night lead-in to another gripping episode of “Emmanuelle in Space.” More than just a fun milieu for Lynch to exhume on the cheap, that tonality lends itself well to a gender-swapped adaptation about a middle-aged woman who rediscovers her own sexual power.

On second thought, it would be more accurate to describe this as a story about a middle-aged woman whose sexual power is rediscovered for her by the nameless Lovecraftian evil who possesses her body after exclusively inhabiting men for the last several thousand years, but the fact remains that Dr. Elizabeth Derby has forfeited many of the pleasures and possibilities of living in her own skin. A successful and respected fiftysomething psychiatrist whose love life boils down to a few perfunctory thrusts from her long-time husband (a never-hotter Johnathon Schaech, his salty hair now seasoning a rare and beefy dad bod), Elizabeth seems to have accepted society’s dictum that women her age are no longer sexual beings. 

Paoli’s script doesn’t really dig into the character’s mindset (a nuanced psychological study this ain’t), but thanks to the meta-textual edge of Graham’s casting and the breathy repressiveness of her multifaceted performance, it doesn’t really have to. The movie’s porny overtones are strong enough to make “Suitable Flesh” feel like a veritable séance for the faded spirit of Rollergirl, even if Elizabeth is the last person to recognize any of the past lives that she might happen to host over the course of this story — human or otherwise. 

She doesn’t immediately recognize them in other people either, as the good doctor’s unfamiliarity with Cthulu-adjacent demons makes it difficult for her to diagnosis what’s going on when a 20-year-old patient named Asa (a feral Judah Lewis) has a violent episode of some kind after receiving a call from his father (a very fun Bruce Davison) in the middle of a session. Elizabeth is aroused by the primitive mystery of it all, however, and the next thing she knows, she’s paying the kid a house call that climaxes with some vintage softcore sax. 

Like most Zoomers, it turns out that Asa is possessed by an evil spirit that’s trying to make his young body its new semi-permanent home as part of the process of living forever. But something about Elizabeth inspires the spirit to go in the opposite direction and occupy a woman for the first time in its existence (there’s a characteristically wry little moment in which the Entity reflects on the relationship between its gender identity and its predilection for dominance), which leads to “Elizabeth” touching her vagina as if it hadn’t been there before and spicing up her sex life with a little stab-happy sadism. It also leads to all sorts of body-swapping mishegoss as the Entity tries to cover its tracks and kill its previous hosts before Elizabeth’s best friend and fellow doctor Daniella can figure out what’s going on (she’s played by “Re-Animator” star and horror icon Barbara Crampton, whose dual role as an actress and producer is indispensable to how seamlessly this movie completes the baton pass between Gordon and Lynch). 

Much to its credit, “Suitable Flesh” isn’t particularly concerned with the ins and outs of what’s going on or why, as the film wears its lore so lightly that it only registers as Lovecraftian because of the ancient incantation that allows the Entity to move from host to host. Instead, Lynch doubles down on the fun of the flesh itself, as the movie delights in the unadulterated potential that its monster finds in each new skin suit. From the moment a coroner grouses that we “all look pretty much the same on the inside” (“Suitable Flesh” opens with a corpse’s POV shot from inside an unzipped body bag, as all movies should), Lynch sets the stage for a super cheeky and resolutely warm-blooded ode to the uniqueness of our human bodies, which give us so much more than most of us are able to appreciate; not just a capacity for pleasure equal that’s equal to our capacity for pain, but also a singular identity that persists in spite of the fact that we “all look pretty much the same on the inside.”

The Entity is drunk on the power of being reborn as a beautiful high-status white woman who might literally be able to get away with murder, and as the spirit flitters between Elizabeth and Asa over the course of the movie, Lynch’s flexible cast allows him to seamlessly reframe their bodies as vessels or cages. The real body horror at play here isn’t found in the moments when characters are brutally decapitated for laughs (although the practical effects are so wet and juicy that Lynch’s restraint becomes a major point of frustration), or repeatedly pancaked by a car (although the scene in question might include the best use of a rear-facing dashcam I’ve ever seen), but rather in the moments when the Entity threatens to entomb someone in their own skin.

If the gore falls short of the standard Gordon set and the script opts to play things safe even when the material begs to go hog wild, Lynch compensates for those excesses with the control he displays over a story that never loses sight of why Gordon wanted to make it. Every winking iris shot and cheesy cross-dissolve adds to the timeless spirit of a film that knows beauty may be short-lived, but good schlock never dies.

Grade: B

RLJE Films will release “Suitable Flesh” in theaters and on VOD on Friday, October 27.

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