“Thinner” was the 25th book by Stephen King (boy, I’d love to meet his agent) to be adapted to a full length film. The book was under one of his pseudonymous Richard Bachman novels with the same name as this film. Remember the old adage; “You can never be too rich or too thin”? Well, obviously, whoever said that haven’t seen or read the tale behind “THINNER” (1996). I wouldn’t complain about becoming too rich; but thin like this, count me out. Part horror film, part morality tale and part action drama, "Thinner" is also part guilty pleasure.
William “Billy” Halleck (Robert John Burke) is an obese big-shot attorney who had just won a defense case for mobster Richie Ginelli (John Mantegno) who now holds him in high regard. Given a lot of credit for his victory by his associates, Halleck is treated to a nice victory dinner that evening. On the drive home, Billy is being treated by his wife Heidi (Lucinda Jenny) to dessert when he hits an old woman accidentally. However, Billy with all his connections, is barely given a spanking and avoids a manslaughter charge in a small proceeding that is a mockery of a trial. Lucky for Billy that his friends are looking out for him; unluckily for him the old woman that he had killed accidentally is the daughter of Tadzu Lempke, a 106 year old king of the gypsies. Tadzu now wants revenge upon all those who had wronged his family and wishes Billy to become thinner…
Most King adaptations are either good, mediocre or really bad; “Misery”, “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Shining” were good, but honestly most King adaptations are pretty mediocre. “Thinner” may not be the best and I haven’t read the book so I really cannot judge how well this movie is faithful to its source material. I would assume that it is pretty close although most of the adaptations were never written by King himself. The film’s screenplay is written by Michael McDowell and the director, Tom Holland. The film isn’t so much about scares and foreboding atmosphere, it plays more like a morality tale that questions what is right and what is wrong. Is it wrong to use one’s connections to avoid jail time or is it wrong to seek justice through the use of extreme means? The film does ask the correct questions, as a ‘curse’ is definitely evil but was it necessary? I all depends on how you think.
It was clear that Billy wasn’t at fault and it was an accident but the injustice was that he never went through a real court proceeding. The judge hated gypsies and was more than happy to make the proceedings a lot easier for Billy. There was a red flag when Billy and an associate were checking out Tadzu’s granddaughter Gina (played by luscious Kari Wuhrer) that these group of people dabbles in the occult, as she seemed to know what they were talking about although they were a few stories up. I guess this scene serves as a quick characterization and makes Tadzu’s reaction that much more credible. Well, we also get to see Kari Wuhrer’s black panties so there is one acceptable plot device.
The horror elements of the film actually come from Billy’s accelerated lost of body weight; Billy would try to gorge himself to try and gain some of the weight back. Some of the make up effects on our obese Billy may seem rather obvious but I would have to say that they were nicely done. I remember the feeling I got out of watching David Cronenberg’s “The Fly”, as the longer I got into the film, the more I dreaded how Billy would look like in the next frame. Billy Halleck was becoming too thin no matter how much he ate. During these sequences, the make up effects were more polished as Billy began to look more like a ghoul than a human.
Now as soon as the movie somewhat abandons its horror elements, it becomes a sort of a revenge flick with action that opens up several plot holes and gaps. Richie “The Hammer” Ginelli (nicely portrayed by Mantegno) is your ruthless mobster and he knows a thing or two about gypsy curses; the way he sprang into action for Billy was very entertaining although the film could have used better dialogue to portray this character. I liked the approach to the getting the curse lifted as each action grew more severe than the other; but what I found it hard to buy into is the fact that the gypsies gave up too easily. I guess the old man didn’t want his granddaughter to be subjected to such danger. I would have wished that the movie would have brought in Gina’s reaction to the old man’s decision. The film also has the stereotypical “dream” sequence that has plagued most of King’s movie adaptations. It wasn’t bad but it sure didn’t help the film any.
The film does have its touches of black humor about eating but does not go too far enough to make its point. The subplot with Billy’s wife Heidi and a certain Doctor “Mikey” was touched on but never given a solid answer. It may have been just paranoia in Billy’s part but there is evidence that the two were playing whoopee with one another. (after all, Mikey likes to touch Heidi’s thighs) This is where we get to the film’s resolution as another question of morality springs into play; would you wish your misfortune to be suffered by another or should one just accept his fate?
“Thinner” may not become a classic but it is also a lot of fun. Stephen King himself plays a cameo as the doctor Banjor and sexy vixen Kari Wuhrer adds a lot of ‘zing‘ even for her limited screen time. It is the ultimate tale of eating to death or eating to stay alive; it may also be a ghoulish satire about losing weight if you see it from a lighter viewpoint. I really liked this film the first time I saw it, but this second time, I can really see its faults. A lot of the film’s flaws come from its failure to exploit its potential for torture and dread, even its black humor was touched upon but abandoned in favor of a run-of-the-mill chase thriller that forgets the movie was meant to be an occult thriller. The film’s concept was presented but never fully followed through.