STEPHEN KING WEEK: Thinner (1996)

Adapting Stephen King isn’t always easy. There are folks that have done it well and others that have really done a horrible job. Few folks get multiple chances, but one of them is Tom Holland (Fright NightChild’s PlayPsycho 2), who made this and The Langoliers.

Unlike most movies, there is not a single person that you’ll truly like or get behind here. It’s a mean-spirited tale about some mean-spirited people. It’s a lot like life, I guess. And yes, I realize that this is a Richard Bachman book, but just about everyone knows that that is really King by now (see our review of The Running Man for more).

Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke, who took over the role of RoboCop in the third installment) plays a corpulent lawyer who defends just about anyone, including Richie “The Hammer” Ginelli (Joe Mantegna, Joey Zaza himself). There’s a ton of practical appliance makeup here to transform Burke into the various stages of Halleck’s weight loss.

After celebrating getting the mobster acquitted in his case, he rides home with his wife Heidi (Lucinda Jenney, The Mothman Prophecies). She chides him for eating so much and says that he should be obsessed with better things, like sex. As she goes down on him while he drives, he slams directly into an elderly gypsy woman.

Billy knows how to play the system, with the police lying on the stand for him and Judge Rossington taking care of his case. Long story short, he isn’t punished.

As he leaves the courtroom, the 106-year-old gypsy patriarch, Tadzu Lempke (Michael Constantine, who also played Windex-loving Kostas “Gus” Portokalos in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which is kind of ironic) touches his face and says, “Thinner.” Soon, he’s losing so much weight that he needs all new clothes.

Fearing he has cancer, his wife sends him to Dr. Houston. Billy hates Houston, as he’s convinced his wife is having an affair with him. They — and a later clinic — can find no scientific reason why he’s losing the weight.

He’s not the only one dealing with a curse. Judge Cary was cursed with the word “lizard” and he’s now turning into one. And the police chief who lied on the stand is becoming a leper.

Billy tries to get the gypsies to remove his curse, but they only increase it. And Galina (Kari Wuhrer from TV’s Remote Control), Lempke’s great-granddaughter, shoots him through the hand with a slingshot. He vows that he will bring the white man’s curse down on all of them.

This instigates a war between the mob forces that Billy has defended and the gypsies, with dogs poisoned, men killed, fake acid thrown in faces, kidnappings and more.

Yet Billy can barely even walk, as the curse has reached its final stages. In an attempt to end the violence, Lempke agrees to remove it and mixes Billy’s blood into a strawberry pie that he must get someone else to eat, as the curse must be transferred. Billy takes the pie to his wife, who eats a slice and dies a husk of a person. But he ignored the old man’s warnings, as he wanted Billy to just eat it himself so he could die clean. Now, Billy’s daughter has also had some, so he’s doomed her. But at least he gets to take out the doctor he hates by offering him a slice.

The producers must have really been hell for writer-director Holland, as they made him do ten rewriters of the script before they agreed to let him start filming. They also convinced him to change the original ending from the book, where Billy just eats a slice himself once he realizes he doomed his daughter.

But that’s not all. Amazingly, Holland was stricken with Bells-Palsy during the filming of this movie. The effects would have been minimized if he’d gotten a steroid immediately, but the producers made him keep working. It took a year and a half for him to recover and his career suffered as a result.

This is a quick moving, down and dirty film. It’s a perfect Sunday afternoon cable film — do people still do that? I do.

If you have the CBS All Access app, you can watch Thinner online. Otherwise, it’s available on nearly every platform and is an easy DVD to find.

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