By William Earl
October 27, 2023
Horror Film School is a feature in which talent in front of and behind the camera share the ins and outs of creating the biggest onscreen scares.
“Suitable Flesh,” the newest film from “Mayhem” and “Point Blank” director Joe Lynch, is an unconventional tale. The movie, a modern spin on H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Thing On The Doorstep,” is headed to theaters and VOD Friday, and can best be described as a gory body swap dark comedy styled after ’80s erotic thrillers. It’s a tricky blend of genres, but Lynch and writer Dennis Paoli, who also scripted key Lovecraft adaptations like 1985’s “Re-Animator” and 1986’s “From Beyond,” found it was the best way to modernize the work. Add a game cast led by Heather Graham and “Suitable” successfully walks a tricky tightrope, partially due to Lynch’s interest in blending ideas like the movies of his youth.
“I’ve had tone issues my entire career because I grew up in the ’80s, where tone in genre movies, especially horror, was having a bit of an identity crisis,” he says. ” I grew up with the splatter movement, where you had movies like ‘Re-Animator’ or ‘Return of the Living Dead’ or ‘Evil Dead 2,’ where the filmmakers were able to infuse humor into it.”
A taste of the film’s wild spirit can be felt in the expertly produced red band trailer:
Given that Lynch nails the tricky tones of horror and comedy, he spoke with Variety about how to make both work.
DON’T be afraid to let the audience have fun
Lynch tries to keep fan enjoyment front and center.
“It’s tough when you’re a filmmaker and someone comes up to you after watching a movie and says, ‘It was really fun,’” he says. “Sometimes that comes across like you didn’t have anything nice to say. But I cherish that. I like some dark shit, but most of the movies that I’ve loved in the past are when the audience can be taken on a bit of a roller coaster ride.”
DO find a lead who can hold on for a wild ride
Graham is a versatile actor who has played parts in horror movies (2001’s “From Hell”) and comedy (1999’s “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me”) alike and is no stranger to surreal, tone-shifting drama, as a player in the “Twin Peaks” universe. But it was an early role in 1989’s “Drugstore Cowboy” that first convinced Lynch that she had the “glint in her eye” to play the lead in “Flesh.”
“Heather revels in the offbeat,” Lynch says. “Her acting rhythms do not play by the rules at all. I knew that she could relish in some of the other characters she would have to play by body-swapping. The part that we worked the most on was the alpha character that she was playing, which was Dr. Elizabeth Derby. There’s a version of this that she could have just played kooky the entire time, but she has to play so straight that by the time things start happening and bodies start swapping, the audience knows who’s who in a way that isn’t confusing. Also, we needed someone who wouldn’t be afraid of the sexual side of it too, because that became a major component.”
DON’T be scared of developing new ideas on the fly
Although Lynch was working from a dynamic script, some of the central tenets of the shapeshifting Entity were developed as the cast and crew were hanging out, discussing the film and riffing on the themes. One fruitful discussion took place when co-star Barbara Crampton had the team over for drinks at her Airbnb in the days before shooting.
“I wanted to make sure we bonded everybody together,” Lynch says. “We needed to have little tells that the Entity would have. There was a moment that was born from one of those riff sessions where one of the characters says “dandy.” Something about that old line felt like something no one would say anymore. So we took that word and popped that in somewhere earlier too. All the actors knew the rhythms of this mischievous Entity and we formulated it together. It became the way it spoke, the way it gesticulated. On set, I was quality control of the Entity and making sure that we weren’t going too big or too small, and we were always staying in the pocket with those characters. We can allow ourselves to chew a little scenery because you know what that character is relishing at this moment.”
DO use the editing process to make sure all of your moments land
Lynch knew that to properly balance frights and laughs the film would have to go through a particular metamorphosis in the editing bay.
“I’ve been in situations where the tone of the film is firmly established, reconfigured, reorganized in the editing process,” Lynch, an editor himself, says. “If you’re lucky, you have actors who will give you that kind of variety with what takes you pick, what you leave in, what you leave out. But when a director is working with their editor, they need to be open to new possibilities, the happy accidents, the things that you might not have expected on the day that you captured on film or video.”
DON’T be afraid to embrace the messiness of life
While horror comedies can be something of a whiplash, Lynch embraces the chaos as it relates to human nature.
“My fetishes lie in having things unpredictable, because that’s life,” he says. “There’s no tonal consistency in life. Today is a horror movie. Tomorrow’s going to be a romantic comedy. You never know. So that’s my go-to whenever someone says, ‘You’re tonally inconsistent.’ There was a cut of the film that we did early on that was much straighter with horror. There’s always gonna be multiple versions of a movie. The director just needs to know where that balance is and maintain and protect it.”
Lynch is repped by Anonymous Content and attorney Rob Szymanski.