Opening in theaters and On Demand beginning October 27th is the new horror film ‘Suitable Flesh,’ which was directed by Joe Lynch (‘Knights of Badassdom,’ ‘Point Blank’).
Moviefone recently had the pleasure of speaking with Joe Lynch about his work on ‘Suitable Flesh,’ Dennis Paoli’s script, adapting H. P. Lovecraft, the themes he wanted to explore, balancing the movie’s different tones, Heather Graham’s brave performance, and working with producer and actress Barbara Crampton.
Please Note: Some adult language and ideas below.
Moviefone: To begin with, can you talk about your first reaction to screenwriter Dennis Paoli’s script and the challenges of adapting an H. P. Lovecraft story?
Joe Lynch: First impression that I had with Dennis Paoli’s script was, “This is cool. It feels a little old-fashioned,” and he’ll be the first person to admit that as well. It was a script that was written 15 years ago, and when I got it, it felt a little outdated, especially in the progressive element and time that we are in now, where I think casting two older men and one younger woman would’ve felt a little bit passé in the Me Too movement. I mean, as a filmmaker, you always have to think about the modern purview. The modern purview at the time was the future is female, which is why I wrote that into the draft. But that was something that I was a little scared of because that was the pitch that me and my writing partner had. We said, “What if we flip the genders.” Thematically, it needed to be more than that, and they embraced it. They were like, “We really like this idea. Let’s run with it.” So there was that. What’s it like adapting Lovecraft? I mean, Dennis did the heavy lifting, to be honest. He was the one who kind of cracked the code on how do you tell this type of story. Lovecraft is known to be very verbose, and if you’re going to take a modern sensibility to this, you can’t have a lot of people walking around in corsets and buggies and having that vernacular that would be indicative of the ’20s or ’30s. You needed to take the essence of all of the things that he would write. One of the things that Lovecraft did for this particular story that Dennis kind of harnessed onto was a more film noir-ish element, which is the art of a character telling a story. Then you have voiceover in it because this is being recounted in the modern form, but the whole movie essentially, except for the bookends, is one long flashback. That was something that I think Dennis kind of cracked in terms of making sure that was a structural part that felt very Lovecraftian. If you go back and read the story, it is someone recounting this tale. It’s actually a different character retelling the story, but we felt like it needed to be, “Let me tell you my story because I’m not crazy.” That was something that I felt was incredibly important to harness in terms of the Lovecraftian elements. Then we thrust it into the modern age and added a lot of modern elements, cell phones and horniness and all that good stuff, too.
MF: What were some of the themes that you were excited to explore with this project?
JL: Look, I had a lot to say with this movie, both personally, just cinematically in terms of the way that the world has gotten less sexy, it’s gotten less free with its eroticism. It feels like the pendulum has swung in a very conservative form. Whereas I grew up, and for better or for worse, everything I learned about sex, I learned from watching movies. But a lot of the eroticism that I think audiences really embraced from the ’70s, when the ratings code eased up a little bit and the New Hollywood kind of blazed in with their own ideas of sex to the ’80s, when it got commercialized to the ’90s, when independent cinema really opened up all different avenues of sexuality. Then we kind of got a little stale post-9/11 and post the studio system and the indie world kind of falling apart a bit. Sometimes for good reason, especially when you hear about some of the horror stories of what it was like to make those movies. I can understand why it is harder and harder these days to get people aroused, cinematically. Plus, with the advent of the internet, you didn’t have to sit through half a movie to see these two beautiful people get it on, hopefully with a good reason story-wise and character-wise. You can just go on the internet and type in a couple of keywords now. So, those themes. But also, gender identity, sexual fluidity and body authority, there were all of these themes that I was so excited to just infuse. The second you say theme, a lot of people get really bored. So I wanted to make sure that we still took them on a fun ride and an exciting ride, especially once they’ve earned through watching the first hour of more erotic thriller histrionics and then you just literally hit the gas at the end. I wanted them to go on that wild ride but then look back and go, “Oh, I didn’t even think about that. Wow.” Or maybe they walk out and go, “What would it feel like if I was in this position or I had someone come steal my flesh?” Those are things that I like to call “way-homers.” It’s like that really bad joke that your dad told and then driving home from Thanksgiving dinner, you go, “Oh, yeah!” That’s some of the themes that I want to come to light after you enjoy the movie.
MF: The movie not only has horror and supernatural elements, but it also is an exotic thriller, a melodrama, and has comedic moments. Can you talk about balancing all the different tones of the movie?
JL: It’s a really good question. And you know what? I’m the worst person to ask because life is a tonal rollercoaster. My life in the last few months alone has been a romantic comedy, a horrible found footage horror film, a melodrama and an action film, all rolled into one. That’s life though. Life today could be a horror film, tomorrow it could be a comedy, and the next day it could be ‘The Notebook,’ who knows? But when you’re dealing with a story like this, I mean, the closest cousin or relative to this movie is Stuart Gordon’s adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘Re-Animator.’ It’s even set in the same hospital. I grew up in an era where the splatter film was becoming pretty relevant in at least the genre lexicon. For those who don’t know, splatter takes horror and comedy and puts it into the blender, hits puree and you get this very red smoothie that blends humor, horror, melodrama all into one bouillabaisse. That’s kind of when it came to some of the filmmakers that we were watching, and some of the films that we were watching, that if a lot of horrifying things happened in this film, we needed to make sure that there was enough sugar to make the medicine go down. Especially when you have something as bombastic as a body swap movie. I’ve had some critics ask, “Where’s the tentacles? This is a Lovecraft film.” I felt like there’s only so much you can do before you lose an audience to the supernaturality of the story that you’re telling. I felt like as long as we ground this enough, we’ll hopefully enrapture the audience to put themselves into Elizabeth Derby’s shoes, or Asa’s shoes, or even Johnathon Schaech’s shoes, who plays the hapless wife that is usually played by a woman. We wanted to make sure that that tone was realistic enough and grounded enough, but then just enough of a wink to the audience to go, “We know this is crazy, you know this is crazy, so let’s have fun.” That’s the kind of tonal rollercoaster I wanted the audience to go on. By giving them enough hints that they know that they can take it seriously, they can think it’s sexy, but also have fun with it and think it’s funny too, once you have that license and know all of those tones are in there, that’s where I feel like we earn that last third of the movie because you never know what tone is going to come next, if anything.
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MF: Without giving anything away, Heather Graham has an extremely complicated role to play and gives a very brave performance. What was it like working with her and was she prepared for everything that she would have to do in this movie?
JL: We knew that we needed someone who would give no F’s when it came to putting themselves out there and be fearless. I had always been a fan of Heather’s. I think everyone thinks of the post-‘Boogie Nights’ part of her career, but I think of her as my first crush from ‘License to Drive,’ the Corey Haim and Corey Feldman classic. But there was a part that she played in ‘Drugstore Cowboy’ that I remember going, “It’s the girl from ‘License to Drive’ and, wait, she’s playing someone completely different.” Knowing that she had that range was really exciting. Then I just felt like here was someone who I knew would at least be worth discussing to see how game she was in terms of the extremities that we wanted to go to. But also there’s a lot of different characters she’s got to play. Some actors are not into that because they’re like, “Tell me the assignment. Wait, I have to play more than one character? Hard pass.” She was not. Within 15 minutes of our first Zoom call, she was like, “I am so excited to do this. This is the kind of role I’ve been waiting for a while and no one’s given me the opportunity to do it,” and we just went to the races with that. The amount of work she put in, the amount of passion that she put into the role, I mean, she gave us so much every day, without ever looking back. That was the thing, she was fearless, absolutely fearless. That kind of energy fueled everybody else. It’s like a sports competition sort of situation where if you’re number one on the call sheet gets on set and she starts hitting for the cheap seats, you have to do that as well. That fueled everybody else, from Judah and Johnathon, to Barbara and Bruce. Anytime Heather stepped on set, it was like, “Game on, let’s go.”
MF: Finally, actress Barbara Crampton is also a producer on the film. What was it like working with her as both a producer and actress, and with the inclusion of screenwriter Dennis Paoli, did you realize that you were also making a mini ‘Re-Animator’ reunion?
JL: Of course. Oh my God, Barbara’s the reason why I am here talking to you right now. She was the one who fostered the script from Dennis. I’ll print the legend on this one, but she supposedly had talked to Stuart Gordon about this before he died and he had mentioned my name, which is unbelievable that he even remembered me from all of the conversations we would’ve had at the ‘Masters of Horror’ dinners. So Barbara was the reason why I got that email saying, “Would you be interested in this?” Then we just kind of took it from there. Now, as an actor, I got to work with Barbara, this was after she had contacted me, after I was in, while we were working on the script, I ended up getting two episodes of ‘Creepshow.’ When we were casting one of the episodes I was doing called ‘Pipe Screams,’ I was looking for a “Karen.” I’m like, “God, how great would it be to see Barbara Crampton play a Karen in this moment?” I was like, “But also this, is my opportunity to kind of audition saying, ‘Here’s how I work.'” Because at the time, she was only going to produce, she wasn’t going to be in the film, but I wanted to show her I can make my day, I can get cool shots, and I can work with actors. I wanted to prove to her because I was such a fan and I hold her in the highest regard even more now having worked with her. She means so much to me, but I wanted to prove myself to her as a boss. So she worked on ‘Creepshow.’ We had a great time. Watching her act there made me go, “God, I really wish she was in our movie.” Then once we got the cast together, she was kind of like that kid who was off in the corner who wanted to play with everybody at the playground and went like, “Why can’t I play?,” and that’s why she jumped in. She was not supposed to be in this movie. But then to watch her, like when we have those scenes in the basement, we did twenty plus pages in one day. It was just her and Judah going back and forth playing multiple parts. Because when you film something like that in such close corners, you have to shoot everything going this way before you flip the world and shoot everything going that way. So with all the scenes, we had to shoot everything facing one way through the beginning of the day and then do the same thing all over again, shooting the other way for the second half. It was daunting. But watching Barbara Crampton snap into place the second I called action, and then the second I called cut, she’s like, “Okay, that was great.” She would smile and then she’d go, “Hey, do we want to make sure that lunch is prepared for everybody? Hey, do you need anything? Are you good?” She was producing immediately. She is a whirling dervish and she is exactly what the horror genre needs right now. She’s amazing.
“Who do you think you are!”
Showtimes & Tickets
Psychiatrist Elizabeth Derby becomes obsessed with helping a young patient suffering extreme personality disorder. But it leads her into dark occult danger as she… Read the Plot
What is the plot of ‘Suitable Flesh’?
Psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Derby (Heather Graham) begins to helps a young patient Asa (Judah Lewis), who has an extreme personality disorder. She digs further into the situation, and realizes there is something dark and supernatural at play with the patient.
Who is in the cast of ‘Suitable Flesh’?
- Heather Graham (‘Boogie Nights’) as Elizabeth Derby
- Judah Lewis (‘Point Break’) as Asa
- Bruce Davison (‘X-Men’) as Ephraim
- Johnathon Schaech (‘Takers’) as Edward
- Barbara Crampton (‘Re-Animator’) as Daniella