I’ve always been a fan of Stephen King, both novels and movie adaptations. I grew up with the popular ones such as Carrie, The Shining, and Pet Sematary, but in the last few years I’ve broadened my horizons on everything he’s been involved with and discovered some ones I really enjoy. Thinner (1996) is one that has become a guilty pleasure of mine as well the novel it was adapted from.
It’s been 20 years since Thinner was first released on October 25, 1996, and it’s still bone-chilling. Yes, that’s right- bone-chilling. Directed by Tom Holland (Child’s Play, Fright Night) with a screenplay written by Michael McDowell (The Nightmare Before Christmas, Beetlejuice) based on the novel by the aforementioned Stephen King, the film made around $15 million dollars at the box office. Critics, though, weren’t fans of this adaptation, claiming it had “no follow-through.” Although I can see why some people aren’t fans of this movie adaptation (as the novel is by far more engaging in every aspect), I have to respectfully disagree with anyone who thinks it’s a terrible film.
As I mentioned, I’m fully aware that the Thinner novel blows the film out of the water. My Mom always told me how the novel gave her nightmares and that was a big deal because she doesn’t scare easily. When I read the story years later, I felt the same way. HOWEVER, I thought the film was exceptionally well-made compared to some of the other Stephen King adaptions, featuring great acting, awesome practical effects, and an overall creepy story with a killer ending!
Thinner tells the story of an upper-class lawyer, Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke), aka the white man from town, whose main love in life is food. Food is everything to him: More than his job. More than sex. More than his family. One night, while driving home after dinner, his wife (Lucinda Jenney) stresses her concern about his weight and how she wants him to live for something more than food. She seduces him with her mouth (yes that’s right, but they’re married so stop judging!) and distracts him from the road causing him to hit an old gypsy lady crossing the street (now you can judge).
When they go to trial, his rich and high society friends rig the system and he’s free to go without a second thought about the truth. This doesn’t please the gypsy father, therefore he takes revenge on them one by one with the legendary gypsy cure! But there’s no such thing as a gypsy curse, right? That’s what they all think until it’s bluntly and painfully obvious to avoid. At least Billy doesn’t have to worry about losing weight anymore, as the pounds are dropping off faster than he can count… will there be anything left of him? (Spoiler alert: Don’t eat the pie!)
Seriously, don’t eat it! The curse going into the delicious strawberry pie is one of my favorite special effects. It makes your stomach turn and also makes you slightly hungry for pie. The other effects I enjoyed were the gypsy cure transformations. Simple, but practical.
The casting in Thinner was perfect. Without the right actors, I don’t think this adaptation would have worked as well. The three memorable characters are Billy Halleck, Richie Ginelli, and Gina the gypsy woman. Robert John Burke plays Billy incredibly well and I loved seeing his transition from an extremely smug and obese man to barely existing, just skin and bones.
Joe Mantegna plays Richie, the bad-ass mafia dude who is Billy’s support system throughout the film. And let’s be serious, who doesn’t love Joe Mantegna?
Then there is the lovely gypsy woman played by Kari Wuhrer. Clearly, she’s unforgettable for a few reasons, but she was pretty bad-ass herself. A fighter and pretty handy with a sling slot!
- The crew originally planned to have far more gruesome FX makeup such as flesh dangling off of Billy’s jaw and cheekbones. Unfortunately, they thought it would be too horrific.
- Robert John Burke, who played Billy, lost 20 lbs for this role. Also, depending on the day, he had to spend around 4 to 6 hours in the makeup chair.
- Joe Mantegna studied Stephen King’s novel to prepare for his role and get inside his characters head. He also narrated the audiobook of Thinner.
- Dino De Laurentiis originally wanted to produce this film in 1986 after completing Maximum Overdrive, which is another Stephen King adaptation. He sought to have Sam Raimi direct it and Scott Spiegel to write the screenplay, but they were too busy with Evil Dead II, which De Laurentiis ending up producing.
- The film is shot in Maine, just like any other Stephen King adaptations.
Overall, Thinner isn’t an award-winning horror film, but it is charismatic and entertaining. It keeps your interest from the beginning until the very end. You want to know how things will turn out and if anyone is going to eat that damn pie! Watch it for fun, but don’t take it too seriously. It may be 20 years old now, but my love for it hasn’t thinned at all!