With such a large amount of material that could be made into films, it's no surprise that adaptations of Stephen King's works tend of vary in quality. When done right you get something as amazing as The Mist, when they're done wrong along comes Dreamcatcher, and when they're middle-of-the-road we get something like Thinner. Based on a novel originally published under King's Richard Bachman pseudonym it was always a pretty minor King tale but, thanks to the story having a bit of a mean streak at times and a premise that offers up a lot of chances for fantastic effects, this turns out to be a watchable effort - even if it's not one that many people remember.
Lawyer Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke) is pushing three-hundred-pounds and has been put on a crash diet by wife Heidi (Lucinda Jenney) who is understandably concerned about his health. Billy isn't helping things by constantly sneaking food and gorging himself. Not long after winning a case involving mobster-type Richie (Joe Mantegna), Billy and his colleagues notice a travelling band of gypsies have set up in the town square and are offering such things as palm reading and doing tricks to try and make some cash. The sexy and seductive Gina (Kari Wuhrer) catches his eye only for her to spit at him and flip him the bird when she notices.
One evening, after celebrating his latest win, Billy gets the unexpected treat of fellatio while driving home only to accidentally run over an old gypsy woman due to not paying attention to the road. After being let go with no charges, he runs into the deceased woman's husband who curses Billy by running his hand over his cheek and uttering the words "Thinner". This leads to Billy having sudden weight loss despite eating just as much, if not more, than before which at first makes him ecstatic until he realizes about his curse and how it will soon kill him - as evidenced when the judge and lawyer on his hit and run case also become afflicted with different deadly ailments. Can Billy stop the curse before he fades into nothing?
The first thing done right here is bringing in Tom Holland to direct. Here's a guy who made one of the ultimate 80s vampire flicks with Fright Night, gave us the original (and best) Chucky romp Child's Play, and wrote the screenplays for cult movies Class of 1984 and The Beast Within as well as doing a good job bringing back Norman Bates in Psycho II. He brings a steady hand to the proceedings and delivers a mix of horror and revenge flick that might have stumbled more in the hands of a more amateur filmmaker. There's also a decently done cat and mouse chase, pretty cool nightmare sequence, and an EC Comics inspired, and pleasingly morbid, twist in the finale I really appreciated.
Another good choice was casting character actor Burke (Dust Devil, Robocop 3) in the lead. Thanks to the story he's made to go through a lot of physical changes and he does a great job. It also helps that the make-up effects by Greg Cannom (Vamp, Subspecies) are pretty amazing. Mantegna is doing his usual Italian mobster riff and becomes way too important to the plot near the end. Wuhrer certainly makes for nice eye candy and Michael Constantine (sporting more impressive Cannom work) is sinister as the gypsy clan's elder statesmen and source of Billy's curse. King also gets to make a cameo as the town's pharmacist.
So why, after I've heaped on a fair amount of praise, is Thinner simply an entertaining movie and not one of the best King ones? It's hard to put a finger on but there just seems to be something missing. It might be because side characters aren't developed quite enough and I found the shift in the last third to be not as effective as what came before it. It also becomes a little hard to root for Billy when he can be a pretty unlikeable lout at times. As is, this is an enjoyable effort and one of the rare gypsy based horror flicks out there - with the best being, of course, Drag Me to Hell. If you're into King, or want a quickly paced time with stellar effects work, then you should check this out. (Chris Hartley, 11/29/14)
Directed By: Tom Holland.
Written By: Michael McDowell, Tom Holland.
Starring: Robert John Burke, Michael Constantine, Lucinda Jenney, Kari Wuhrer.