31 Days to Scare ~ Thinner (1996) 

The Facts:

Synopsis: An obese attorney is cursed by a gypsy to rapidly and uncontrollably lose weight.

Stars: Robert John Burke, Joe Mantegna, Lucinda Jenney, Michael Constantine, Kari Wuhrer, Stephen King, Walter Bobbie

Director: Tom Holland

Rated: R

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  Starting with the release and huge success of Carrie in 1976, author Stephen King has enjoyed seeing the profits for numerous adaptations of his work come his way.  Studios began scrambling to buy the rights to his work and bring his tales of terror to life which is how we’ve come to have solid titles like The Shining, Christine, Cujo, Firestarter, The Dead Zone, and Misery in our libraries.  To talk about the good adaptions, you must also talk about the bad and King’s work has produced far more duds than hits…such is the case with Thinner from 1996.

Originally published under King’s pseudonym, Richard Bachman, Thinner hit bookshelves in 1984 and when it was discovered the King was Bachman isn’t wasn’t long before a studio attached themselves to the grim morality tale.  Condensing the 300+ page novel to 90 minute movie, director and co-screenwriter Tom Holland (who also wrote Psycho II and directed Fright Night) removed the, uh, fat from King’s tome and produced a slick but slack horror thriller that is passable entertainment but feels like everything about it was second-hand.

When overweight attorney Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke) accidentally runs over and kills an old gypsy woman and then gets off scott free, he incurs the wrath of a gypsy king (Michael Constantine, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2) who puts a curse and him and others that covered up the crime.  Each person cursed has their own personal hell to endure and Billy’s is that no matter how much he eat,s he continues to lose weight at a rapid pace.  At first, that’s good news for the man that has tried for years to shed pounds and his beleaguered wife (Lucinda Jenney, Matinee) who has kept him on a strict diet.  When the weight loss begins to accelerate, and his friends start dying in horrible ways, Billy must track down the gypsy clan to get the curse reversed.

Arguably, there’s a nice concept at the heart of Thinner and had this been given a bit more money and prestige I’d imagine it could have been a sleeper hit.  The problem is that Holland never quite figures out is how to make his characters (any of them) the least bit sympathetic so we have someone to be invested in.  There’re literally no “good” people to be found, everyone has an ulterior motive to their actions or spits their lines out with such overstimulated venom you have a hard time feeling sorry when they are killed off.

It also doesn’t help the leading man is such a bore.  Burke had infamously taken over for Peter Weller in RoboCop 3 and even under that heavy costume with his face obscured he managed to overact.  He does the same thing here, saddled with a fat suit and unconvincing make-up at the beginning and eventually turning skeletal as he continues to lose fat and muscle.  I’m not sure if the make-up did this to him but Burke has this smile/grimace on his face when he’s heavier that is truly unnerving…and not in the way Holland intended.

If I’ve forgotten to mention Joe Mantegna (House of Games) up until this point he should count himself lucky.  As a tricky mobster client of Billy’s, Mantegna plays up the wise guy role to the point of parody and acts as a silly means to an end in helping Billy connect the dots to the origin of the gypsy curse.  If there’s one actor I didn’t mind, it’s the always reliable Jenney who seems to know she’s in a turkey so opts for such a small performance that it has the effect of letting her scene partners look like they’re overacting.

Not surprisingly, this was a huge box office bomb but it didn’t stop the King adaptations from coming.  It would be three years before The Green Mile would be released and in 2017 there was the one two punch of the remake of IT and the dandy Gerald’s Game for Netflix.  It’s clear the best was behind the King work at that time and while Thinner wasn’t bad enough to make studios think twice about taking a dip in the King swamp it’s prospects of being much better are keenly felt two decades later.

Mid-Day Mini ~ Matinee


The Facts:

Synopsis: A small-time film promoter releases a kitschy horror film during the Cuban Missile Crisis

Stars: John Goodman, Cathy Moriarty, Simon Fenton, Omri Katz, Lisa Jakub, Kellie Martin, Jesse Lee Soffer, Lucinda Jenney

Director: Joe Dante

Rated: PG

Running Length: 99 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: Occupying the softest spot in my critical hard heart, Matinee is a real joy to watch no matter how many times I come across it.  I think Joe Dante’s 1993 love letter to B-movie producers and their schlocky gimmicks is especially effective for anyone that has a love of cinema’s bygone era.  This is a time when film-going was true escapism and if you weren’t dressing up to see a road show presentation of the big movie at the time, you were huddled in a theater for an all day line-up of classic serials, cartoons, newsreel footage, and perhaps a horror film with men in rubber suits.

Matinee takes place in Florida right on the brink of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Army brat Gene (Simon Fenton) is the man of the house while his dad is overseas and keeps a good eye on his little brother Dennis (Jesse Lee Soffer).  An avid movie-goer at the local town theater, Gene is thrilled that uber producer Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman, Inside Llewyn Davis, Arachnophobia, Stella) is previewing his new film Mant! for one day only.  Together with his friend Stan (Omri Katz) and two girls they are interested in (Lisa Jakub and Kellie Martin), Gene is in for an interesting screening when jealous rivals, malfunctioning gimmicks, a feisty theater manager, a tagalong younger brother, and the possibility of nuclear war at any moment threaten to keep the credits from rolling.

I enjoyed that Dante (who started off his career working for Roger Corman, a schlock impresario in his own right) gently lampooned the crazy effects famous B-movie producer William Castle thought up to help sell his movie.  From seats that gave you a shock at the right moment to fake bugs flying in the audience, Goodman’s warm Woolsey (like Castle) thinks that the entertainment doesn’t need to be only up on the screen…it can go into the audience as well!

This is one of those nice bits ‘o fun that they just don’t make anymore: PG rated mostly family friendly entertainment that has a little smattering of something for everyone.  If it’s lost a tiny bit over the years in my older eyes, it’s only because the wonder of being a 13 year old movie nerd has worn off a smidge.  Still, there’s plenty of goings-on to keep you interested and the attention to period detail in the production design is quite fun.

If you can get your hands on a copy of the film it’s worth it to see Dante’s reverential ode to the types of movies that went out of fashion as audiences became more discerning.  It’s the next best thing to actually being there and getting that shock to your seat.

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