Saturday, March 21, 2020

Movie Reviews: Thinner

directed by Tom Holland
Although many of the films adapted from Stephen King's works have not worked out that well, until recently anyway, this film, adapted from the short story of the same name, was always something I liked.

Although it has a definite eighties movie vibe, it, like the similar film Graveyard Shift, was a nineties movie. It is a definite skill set to make a film look cheap but in a cool Saturday afternoon sort of way. 

This film stuck closely to the source material. And I think it was the better for that. As several movies inspired from King's work did, this one featured the author himself in a small cameo. I don't know why but I always forget that King is a tall man, standing about about 6'4". 

Although this is a body horror film, with many characters undergoing some unpleasant and dangerous physical changes, it's more than that. It's really a film about the wages of sin being visited upon the rich, powerful and prejudiced for their crimes against the poor and ethnic outcasts. Although the underdogs here are not really nice people they don't bother anyone who doesn't bother them first. The same can't be said of the protagonists.

Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke) is a genial, morbidly obese upper class lawyer. If there's anything remotely starchy, fatty, or sweet within 20 yards of Billy, he's going to eat it. In part because of his non-threatening demeanor and boyish name, (not William or Bill but Billy) most people who know Billy like him. 

This includes Billy's wife Heidi (Lucinda Jenney) a perky go-getter who monitors Billy's weight and tries to cut back his food intake and his new client, the suave, affable, debonair and soft-spoken Richie Ginelli (Joe Mantegna), a ranking member of the New York Mafia who is apparently expanding his interests into New England. 

Richie is known as the Hammer, and it's not for his carpentry interests. BTW, King wrote this story under a pseudonym but sharp eyed fans must have known it was King not only for the style but for the fact that Richie Ginelli's name and nickname are very similar to a minor background character discussed in The Shining.

Anyhow, Billy successfully defends  Richie from a murder charge. The grateful "businessman" explains that he considers Billy a friend for life. 

A group of Roma (Gyspies) have entered town, running a circus, card games and other activities. Billy's friend, Judge Rossington (John Horton) doesn't like Gypsies and prevails upon the police chief (Daniel Von Bargen) to run the Gypsies off of public property. 

While Billy and Heidi are driving home from a celebration of Billy's court victory, both of them, but especially Heidi are in the mood for whoopie. 

Heidi initiates something that will make Billy feel good. Although he's driving, Billy is far more interested in watching his wife's ministrations than the road while Heidi can't see the road. Billy hits the aged daughter of the spavined Gypsy King, Tadzu Lempke (Michael Constantine). She's dead. Ooops. 

Of course the fix is in. Rossington and the police chief collude at the coroner's inquest to absolve Billy of all responsibility.  After all, the dead woman was just a Gypsy. Maybe now the Gypsies will take the hint and clear out of town. Billy will be free to continue both his rise in his law firm and his gluttony.  Or maybe not. After the inquest's completion, Tadzu walks up to Billy, touches his cheek and whispers "Thinner."

Billy, who was topping the scales at close to 300#, finds that he's starting to lose weight. First it's like a pound or so a day. Billy's happy about that. But the weight loss doesn't stop. In fact it accelerates each week. Something isn't right. Billy learns that that Rossington and the police chief have issues of their own and have dropped out of public view. Heidi urges Billy to visit her friend, Doctor Mike Houston (Sam Freed). 

Mike can't explain Billy's weight loss, even after batteries of tests. Billy worries that Mike's medical interest in Billy's condition is dwarfed by Mike's male interest in Heidi. 

With his weight loss reaching unhealthy levels, Billy asks his "friend" Richie if Richie knows anything about Gypsy curses.

This movie moved quickly. It gains energy from Kari Wuhrer's turn as Gina Lempke, the va-va voom vamp of the Gypsy group and the apple of her great-grandfather Tadzu's eye. 

The married Gina is quite well aware of her effect on non-Gypsy men and equally cognizant of the prejudice that her folks endure. She can be just as dangerous and vengeful as her male relatives. Most of the film's twists and turns are obvious before they're revealed but the trip is still fun. This has modest violence. 

With the exception of a memorable tease scene by Wuhrer, there's not much sex appeal either. The fatsuit wasn't convincing but most of the other special effects were decent. Expect a cheesy but fun horror movie that hearkens back to old EC comics/Tales from The Crypt/The Whistler storylines and you'll be okay.

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