by Patrick Bromley
Joe Lynch has been one of my favorite filmmakers for years, probably since Everly in 2015. Between his starring role on Holliston, his weekly podcast The Movie Crypt, and his incredible body of work that includes Wrong Turn 2, Mayhem, and the best episodes of Shudder's Creepshow series (among others), Lynch means a lot to me. His latest, Suitable Flesh, is bananas in the best way and allows him to fully embrace being weird. It also brings the sex back to horror, something that's largely been missing from the genre (and pretty much every genre) for decades.
Getting to speak with Joe Lynch about Suitable Flesh was as cool as I hoped. Never pass up a chance to talk to your heroes.
Patrick: How much of the movie and/or the casting was born out of your Creepshow episodes? I noticed some repeat players.
Joe Lynch: Great question! Working on Creepshow was a huge part in both the casting and the production mindset I had for Flesh. On the casting front, if I wasn’t working already on the development of Flesh in 2020 during the pandemic lockdown, I don't think I would have thought of Barbara as the evil “Karen” landlord and suggested the casting to Nicotero, who loved it. Plus, knowing we’d likely/hopefully work with each other, I wanted to show my producer on this next feature that I could make my days, shoot responsibly, interact with cast and crew...it was kind of like an audition to prove my mettle on someone else’s dime. Thankfully after our first day on set together, Barbara came up to me and said “Joe, I'm SO excited to work on our movie together -- especially now!” So I guess that worked!
Then a year later when we were casting the film in 2022, having had another great actor-director work experience with Johnathon Schaech on the “Meter Reader” episode for Season 3 a year earlier, it was my partner who said “What about Schaech as the husband Eddie?” We were looking for a specific type for the “doting wife” archetype; not your typical schlub that would seem easy to stray from (at least aesthetically) but more of an idealized Husband type, and, I mean…Johnathon Schaech, how perfect a specimen of flesh can you get in an Alpha Male? And he was a fantastic collaborator on Creepshow because he knew horror, loved horror, and wasn’t afraid to get funky…or put on makeup if needed. And we got along GREAT so it took one text and he was in.
But also from a workflow standpoint, I knew this production was going to be “expedient” and I wouldn’t have as much time as one would hope to get the visual craziness I was going for. Creepshow was a TV series designed to embrace arch visuals and more ambitious visual strategies but also on a strict time and budget -- usually each episode would shoot in 3-4 days TOPS -- and I learned how to shoot quicker than I usually did in the past, so it put me in a mindset of pure cinematic economy and to know EXACTLY what I needed, which was so helpful when it came to Flesh. I never storyboarded more in my life and I'll be the first to tell you I SUCK at drawing but I can trace real well, so during the pandemic I did a ton of storyboards for “The Right Snuff” and “Pipe Screams” so I was 200% prepared and, having felt more comfortable with that, applied the same skills to Flesh where most of the more difficult, “tricky” shots I had boarded so everyone was on the same page and knew exactly what I was looking for without a minute to spare discovering. So yeah, if it wasn’t for Creepshow, we’d likely still be shooting and with a different cast!
Patrick: Can you talk about working with Barbara Crampton as a producer?
Joe Lynch: As an actor, Barbara is fantastic in that she’s always coming prepared, she’s done her homework, knows every line off-book, and has asked all her questions, so when we hit the set, we hit it HARD and she always brought it. But as a producer, she was my biggest champion on set and off, was always protecting me when needed, and was just such a positive force on set that it brought the morale of the crew up anytime she was there, which was every day. I mean, she was the one who first reached out to me and pushed for me to do the film, always encouraged me to go for it even when times were tough. The best thing she did for my own mental health on this was the night before we shot she called me up and said “Look, you’ve been very respectful to Stuart's vision for this, and I appreciate that fully…but don't forget, this is YOUR movie. Make a Joe Lynch movie.” Now, that might not make EVERYONE happy with the results, but that, to me, is a good producer -- not checking their watch at the end of the day or helicopter mom-ing your every choice in the crafting of the film, but truly supporting the weird vision of this dingus director every step of the way and challenging him when needed in the most positive aspects. I’d work with her again on either side of the camera in a heartbeat.
Patrick: I had A.I. on the brain as I was watching Suitable Flesh because it's very much a conversation between a filmmaker who has passed and a new filmmaker bringing their own take to the material. What, in your mind, makes up a a Stuart Gordon movie; what did you need to honor and what did you want to bring to this?
Joe Lynch: I gotta admit, I had A.I. on the brain -- and not the AI that we're all fighting around. You know which version we're talking about. That's actually one of the first things that popped in my head was that goddamn teddy bear, who I love, and the final 10 minutes of A.I. You have two filmmakers that I old in incredibly high regard, and knowing that Spielberg was such a devotee, a disciple of Kubrick, that if there was anyone who Kubrick was going to entrust with this particular story -- if it was Eyes Wide Shut, I'd be like "Shut it down, dude..." -- but for A.I., Spielberg had lineage in that, like when Joe Mazzello was originally going to be cast after Jurassic Park. You knew that there was a back and forth between these two [filmmakers], and when Spielberg took the reins, I was like "Good, that's the person to do it."
Now, the resulting film -- and you can read my Letterboxd review -- I've seen it again recently when it was on Criterion, and my feelings are that it still felt like late '90s/early 2000s Spielberg/Janusz Kaminski when, I hate to say it, but when I watch a Kubrick movie, I want the Kubrickian aesthetic. I want the Larry Smith shooting and the very wide depth of field and the almost robotic direction to the actors. There are certain things that, from a directorial standpoint, Kubrick brings to the table that were not in A.I., at least for me.
This is a long-winded way of saying that I felt the same kind of responsibility that I know Spielberg did. At the same time, I wouldn't be surprised if Kubrick in his ghostly form would be perfectly happy with how A.I. turned out, because it's not like someone was trying to type in an A.I. version of what A.I. should be, where what the algorithm spits out are the Kubrickian shots and the robotic acting. This was how Spielberg, in a game of cinematic telephone, was told about this story and this was how he filtered it at that time. I felt the same kind of responsibility with Suitable Flesh knowing that we were this close to getting a version of it through Stuart's eyes.
Between us (and everyone else who's reading), I don't derive a lot of my cinematic fetishes from Stuart Gordon. As an actor's director, as a tonal director, Stuart is second to none in my eyes. But if you look at a lot of his films, I don't think you get the same kind of visual charge out of them -- and maybe this is his DP Mac Ahlberg making the choices like using purple in From Beyond or the fluorescent look in the Re-Animator films. But I like a very expressive camera. I jones for a camera that's a character. Those are the things that I dig. Those are my kinks. For a movie that's all about fetishes and kinks, that's what I wanted to express using the camera and not just be beholden to everything that Stuart would have done if he was going to do this. Aesthetically, certain things like certain colors, the way that the hallways look in our Miskatonic was emulated from Re-Animator. It's supposed to be the same building. I was using those influences to influence the production design. I was using a lot of the way I felt he directed actors, in a...I wouldn't say arch, but a slightly more heightened fashion, but also at the same time never winking to the audience. Those are the things that I derived most from Stuart.
From there, because I'm a big De Palma fan and a big Verhoeven fan, Claire Denis, Barbet Schroeder, Adrian Lyne, David Lynch of course, all of these directors that were using erotica in a lot of films from the '80s and '90s, those were my people for how I want to visually present this version of the story that's being told by the main character. I kept thinking "Well, she probably watched a lot of Basic Instinct and Sliver and The Last Seduction and Dead Ringers," shit like that. I wanted to visualize as she's visualizing it, that she's telling the story as a late night 10 o'clock erotic thriller from the '80s or '90s.
To go back to what you were saying about A.I., it was a lot of responsibility. But I knew that at the same time, and this was something that was really big, was that the night before we shot, Barbara [Crampton] called me up and said "You have been so great at honoring Stuart this entire time, but I think he'd be the first person to tell you make it a Joe Lynch film." And that's what I did, to the best of my ability.
Patrick: One of my favorite moments in the film, the thing that has made me laugh harder than anything this year, was the Fangoria cover moment: Judah Lewis saying "Too much?" And "too much," to me, isn't just the mission statement of Suitable Flesh; I think it speaks to who you are as a filmmaker. All of my favorite directors, and you're somebody I absolutely count among them, people like De Palma or Tobe Hooper or you, make a cinema of excess. "Here's the line, now I'm going to go way past the line." I feel like you've been doing that since Wrong Turn 2. Is that something you're conscious of as a filmmaker? Or is it important to you?
Joe Lynch: Goddamn you, Bromley, why'd you have to ask a good question like that?
I think part of it stems from I grew up watching a lot of horror movies -- and again, this is just my kind of cinematic fetish -- I like to be affected by watching something. I don't like to just complacently let something wash over me, whether it's watching Airplane! or Top Secret where you can't help but laugh at the absurdity of everything that's happening on screen, to A Serbian Film, where you can't help but go [cringes] "Ohhhh, ugh, my god." There's something about the kind of films I grew up watching and still watch today that push the limits because I like to be provoked. I like to see where that line is as a viewer and go "Yeah, go ahead, push it over." I want to be challenged. I like cinema that challenges me.
One of the films that really challenged me in the last few years was a Paul Verhoeven film called Spetters. It's this fantastic early film that everybody hated when it first came out, but it has a very provocative and scandalous homosexual rape scene where the way it's shot is exactly how it should be shot. What's even more provocative is this wonderful scene between two lovers after they've had sex and the woman in bed is just stroking the man's penis. It's not done for sex, it's not done for titillation at all. It's just a conversation, and that's what makes it provocative! You'd never see that in a film these days. This is a movie that came out in the early '80s! That really blew my mind. I was watching going "Dear god, why am I shocked and...not appalled, but if anything turned on by the fact that here's this casual conversation between two people. In the background, you can almost see Verhoeven going "What, too much?"
That's just a joke that I had to myself, the "Too much" line. It's one of those moments that my writing partner and I put in. It wasn't in the original script. But you need a coda for these completely crazy moments like that. In the original script, the way that it's written I think he stabs once or twice and then cuts the head off. I'm like "Nope!" He's got to stab and stab, and then he's got to work the gristle. He's got to really saw that fucker off. I don't know this for sure, but from what I hear, it's incredibly hard to cut someone's head off. You've got bone, you've got sinew, you've got muscle, tendons. It's not as easy as lopping it off. It takes some work! I felt like if I'm going to show every cut and I'm going to put poor Bruce Davison through the ringer and have him sit there and get his neck slowly sawed off -- you hear it and you see the glee in Judah's face, and then the eyes open up and all that shit happens -- it's the perfect coda to that moment. I needed the audience to know that. I needed them to know "I can laugh a little bit too." That's a Stuart Gordon moment: knowing where that line is and throwing the little zinger that allows the audience to know this is entertainment. This isn't an endurance test. That, to me, is indicative of what Stuart would have done.
Patrick: This is not a good question, but was the backup camera gag in the script or was that something you came up with?
Joe Lynch: That was something I've had in my back pocket for 15 years and I've been waiting for the right time to use it. What happens in the original script is very close to what happens in the story: the falling down and the stabbing and the yanking and the GLAVEN. We can't just do that. We've got to decimate this little fucker. That's where I went "Wait a second...hold on...[reaches into back pocket]...Backup camera!" I wrote it in and had to protect that son of a bitch from getting taken out constantly just for budget or time. When we shot it, it ate up the whole night because I had to get it right. It had to be one shot. Even up into post, I had some people saying "You can't leave that shot the way it is." I had to fight the entire time until the first time we showed it at Tribeca and it played the way it is, with the final mix and the final color and the VFX. It was the last visual effect that was put in. And when it played, it played like gangbusters. I got a lot of apologies that night. That was something I've been dying to use. I'm so glad it worked out.
Patrick: You're obviously doing your part, but why do you think it's important to bring eroticism back to cinema? What role does it play in Suitable Flesh?
Joe Lynch: Honestly Patrick, I guess I'm old school when it comes to portraying eroticism in the arts, especially cinema. Maybe it’s a a good thing or just time-stamping my age, but I miss having to earn on-screen sexuality in stories like movies and even TV because you’re invested in the characters, the story, the how’s and why’s people become physical with each other. To me, sex in cinema should “thrust” (sorry) the story forward, the characters should change, because sex should be treated with respect in those forms, not just be something totally titillating with no context or consequence.
Because of the times, between technology making porn so available and less interested in plot and character to “single serving friend” the viewer's desires or even how many don't want to deal with how to shoot it respectfully to all involved, those scenes have been falling our of favor, but I still think, if in the story for the right reason and have the proper character arc resonance, we should embrace it if the audience wants it. Not EVERY audience, but I think this movie has at least shown there is a taste of the cinematic carnal out there still. There’s a time and a place for all these kinds of festishes. I know Suitable Flesh isn’t for everyone -- we knew that going in -- but for those looking for this kind of film that delivers what it should and does it respectfully to the artists, the overall story and the audience, let the sexy times commence I say! And hopefully more filmmakers with the right story embrace that like we did too.
Suitable Flesh is in theaters and on VOD on October 27.