Thinner (1996)

  • Time: 92 min
  • Genre: Fantasy | Horror
  • Director: Tom Holland
  • Cast: Robert John Burke, Joe Mantegna, Kari Wuhrer


A fat Lawyer finds himself growing “Thinner” when an old gypsy man places a hex on him. Now the lawyer must call upon his friends in organized crime to help him persuade the gypsy to lift the curse. Time is running out for the desperate lawyer as he draws closer to his own death, and grows ever thinner.

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  • In the mid 1980s, fans of the horror genre were introduced to an up and coming director that showed promise in his career. That man was Tom Holland. Moviegoers will remember him best for directing two films that now have a cult status; that being Fright Night (1985) and Child’s Play (1988). Other than this and directing a few episodes to TV shows, Holland hasn’t done much else. He did go on to make one more horror film before he was diagnosed with Bells-Palsy (putting him out of Hollywood’s spotlight for a decade), and that film was this, based off of horror novelist Stephen King’s best selling novel (one of them at least) of the same. Unfortunately, several viewers do not find this to be that entertaining. It’s weird because this film does have its flaws but it’s not a harrowing experience to sit through. This may also be one of Tom Holland’s lesser appreciated projects but that’s not saying a lot considering there are ton of other films that have bottom of the barrel quality.

    Adapting Stephen King’s novel was also director Tom Holland and Michael McDowell (the writer of Beetlejuice (1988) & The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)). The story is about Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke), a gluttonous 300lb obese lawyer whose all about himself and food. One day after winning a big case, he accidentally kills the daughter of gypsy witch doctor Tadzu Lempke (Michael Constantine) in a drive by. Angry that Halleck was not properly prosecuted, Lempke places a curse on Halleck that rapidly sheds his weight at an alarming rate; to a point where it continues no matter how much he eats. Not realizing until it’s too late, Halleck looks to find Lempke and have him remove the curse. Meanwhile, Halleck suspects his wife Heidi (Lucinda Jenney) is cheating on him with his friend Mike (Sam Freed). The issues that arise among these plot threads are convenient twists that get placed throughout the running time. How is it that Lempke knows certain pieces of information when he was never around? How does he have the power to curse people?

    Moments like these feel strangely placed more than proper timing. There are also a few continuity errors that don’t make a whole lot of sense either. One minute someone is irreversibly damaged; a scene later that exact thing that was damaged turned out being completely fine. Lastly for those who are really looking for some nasty imagery, this isn’t that kind of film. As a whole, the movie just isn’t that scary. This is one of the tamest “body horror” genre films and it’s still rated R. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t entertain though. It’s just that because the plot device is thrown into the light so quickly, there isn’t much to be scared over, especially with all the plot contrivances that occur. However if one can get past that, the actual experience is quite the captivating thriller. Seeing Halleck go from a whopping 300lbs to less than 150 is shocking. The makeup effects were done by Greg Cannom, the same man who worked on A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), Dick Tracy (1990), The Shadow (1994) and The Mask (1994).

    The acting is acceptable by all cast members too. Robert John Burke as Billy Halleck was fun to watch. Taking into account he could have dropped out of acting after the critical and financial flop that was RoboCop 3 (1993), he demonstrates he’s still a credible actor. Burke also had a number of good scenes that show just how deranged his character becomes. Michael Constantine as Lempke isn’t that deep in motivations but is good at being a crusty old man, with a wicked sense of humor. There’s also appearances from Howard Erskine (a court judge) and Daniel von Bargen (a police officer) playing friends of Halleck. Bethany Joy Lenz as Halleck’s daughter and Lucinda Jenney as Heidi act like an ordinary family as well. There’s also a gangster named Richie Ginelli (Joe Mantegna) who knows Halleck and uses his connections to help him out. If there’s one thing to say about anybody else other than Burke, it’s just that his or her characters aren’t that engaging. They can act but their character arcs aren’t as magnetic as Halleck’s.

    Plus like many of his other adapted books, author Stephen King himself has a small part in the movie as a store clerk. Behind the camera to this picture is cinematographer Kees Van Oostrum. Van Oostrum has a lengthy filmography but the two projects he might be best known for are Ronald F. Maxwell’s war epics Gettysburg (1993) and Gods and Generals (2003). Even though this film does not have any epic scope, many scenes are competently lit and confidently show the troubles of the bloated lawyer. The music was another added bonus. Composed by Daniel Licht, the same composer to the impressive score to Hellraiser IV: Bloodlines (1996), the film score to this feature is a great listening experience. Licht composes a memorable main title motif for the movie using majority strings and tambourines to emphasize the gypsy context of the plot. There’s also a few tracks involving the piano with unsettling tunes that are cued when Burke’s character begins having emotional bursts of anger. It’s a film score that should not be overlooked.

    Not all of it’s characters are inviting enough to be fully captivated (even though the cast can act), there are a couple of storytelling issues in the script and the overall feeling isn’t that scary. However, it still has some thrills thanks to the makeup effects, notable film score, camerawork and a compelling performance from Robert John Burke.

    Points Earned –> 6:10

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