In the terrifying realm of Stephen King movies, there are great flicks and bad flicks. But some movies are just so damned entertaining you don’t care if they’re good or bad. Legendary horror filmmaker Tom Holland gives King fans his delectable horror/comedy version of Thinner. Its silliness my be offputting for some, but humor lends to the horror with Robert John Burke delivering a heavy performance. Scream Factory’s new special edition looks and sounds great offering up hours of excellent bonus features to sweeten the treat. Recommended
With dozens of film adaptations and countless student/amateur efforts, Stephen King has maintained a stranglehold on horror cinema for nearly fifty years. Filmmakers ranging from George Romero to Stanley Kubrick to Rob Reiner have had a hand in bringing King’s best creations to life. Some are better than others. Some are more controversial than others. Even the bad ones can bring some sort of entertainment value to the mix. Then you have entries like Tom Holland’s Thinner which borders on the absurdity of true horror and tongue-in-cheek black comedy that the “Good or Bad” debate doesn’t really apply - it’s just entertaining.
Thanks to some incredible practical makeup work, Robert John “RoboCop 3” Burke is transformed into Billy Halleck, rotund criminal defense lawyer extraordinaire. Topping three-bills, Billy doesn’t exactly fit into small spaces very easily. Hounded by his wife Heidi (Lucinda Jenney) to drop the pounds, he’ll soon have his chance. During a little mobile automotive-induced fellatio, Billy doesn’t see an old Gypsie woman step out in front of his car killing her instantly. During the inquest, Billy’s pals Judge Rossington (John Horton) and Police Chief Hopley (Daniel von Bargen) fix it so their favorite girth-challenged lawyer doesn’t see any jail time. But the woman’s ancient father (Michael Constantine) enacts his form of justice cursing Billy to become “thinner.” Within days Billy’s weightloss goals become a horrifying reality without any means of stopping the drop.
In the class of simply “entertaining” Stephen King movies, I’d throw Thinner in with the likes of Firestarter, Graveyard Shift, and Sleepwalkers. These aren’t the prestige films like The Green Mile, Misery, or Dolores Claiborne but they’re not the genuine terrors of The Mist or the 1989 Pet Semetary. Nor is this film isn't a genuine misfire the likes of The Dark Tower or the various The Children of the Corn remakes and sequels. Thinner is just fun. Tom Holland may have had a sharper edge for Horror/Comedy with Fright Night and Child’s Play but you can feel the same energy in this film. The comedy doesn’t always fit the horror, but there are equally hysterical moments and horrifying sequences.
Working like a dog to make the film fly is Robert John Burke as Billy Halleck. Slapped with tons of prosthetics - as much as sixty pounds worth in some scenes - we watch him literally disappear into the role. He may be a lawyer, but he’s a likable guy. He’s good to his wife and daughter and loyal to his friends. He even busts his oversized ass to ensure justice serves his actually innocent mobster client Richie (an always fun Joe Mantegna). As his weight drops we see the shift from bemusement to worry to terrifying desperation. On the flip of the coin is a terrific turn from Michael Constantine as the gypsy leader Lempke. Slathered in his own skin of great makeup work, he plays the centennial elder gypsy like a terrifying version of Buddy Hackett. I also have to take a moment to single out the late Daniel von Bargen. He may not get a lot of screen time, but his final scene is another great indicator of his range as a performer under his own impressive gory makeup effects.
Not as tight and terrifying as the original Richard Bachman-published novel, it may deviate in some places, but overall I enjoy this movie. It’s not a source story that’d be very easy to make into a movie and stay deadly serious. The flirtations of humor are forgivable considering the premise. And sticking true to the page, the film would probably barely scratch longer than an hour instead of a more theatrically-friendly 92 minutes. Considering how many great short stories King has written that don’t quite work as feature films, I’ve always thought someone out there needs to produce a full-throated horror series dedicated to just the novellas and shorts. Thinner would be a great candidate under those circumstances.
As is, I say Tom Holland did what he could by trying to please King and his loyal fans but also make something that would appeal to an audience that can’t be bothered to pick up a book. It’s a tough balancing act and overall I think this one succeeds more than it fails. It could have been tighter. It could have been scarier. But Burke is excellent and the dark ending is still as pleasing as ever.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Stephen King’s Thinner packs on the physical media pounds with a new Collector’s Edition Blu-ray from Scream Factory. Pressed on a BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a eco-friendly case with identical slipcover artwork. The disc loads to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
Thinner previously appeared on Blu-ray with an okay, but not impressive release from Olive Films. The transfer was all right and the audio was decent, but no bonus features so it wasn’t very memorable. Now about eleven years later Scream Factory is giving this one a run and for the better. It might be the same master as the 2012 release, Scream didn’t elaborate on the vintage of the transfer, but with a better encode and a higher bitrate, fine details in the great makeup effects, costume details, and production design are much more appreciable. I also felt black levels looked better than the old Olive disc. Especially for the fireside confrontation between Billy and the Gypsies and then later when Billy comes home to his wife, the flickering orange shadows were much cleaner and less gloppy. Film grain is apparent throughout without looking too noisy or intrusive. A 4K release of this would be a fun one, but considering it was a bit of a box office bust with a limited fanbase, that might be a tall order to upgrade. But then who knows, stranger things have arrived on the format.
On the audio side, Thinner comes in with two solid options, a DTS-HD MA 2.0 and DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. Of the two I liked the 5.1 best, but both are great options. Dialog is clean and clear throughout without issues. The soundscape is nice and active, giving some feel for immersion. Some stretches feel a bit more front/center focused, but in big lively scenes like the gypsy camp or the big car crash nightmare, the surrounds feel very active and engaged. The score by Daniel Licht is nicely prioritized as well. The 2.0 track is solid in its own right, but I definitely prefer the 5.1.
In true Scream Factory form, the disc comes packed with new and archival extras. You’ve got three great audio commentaries to dive into on top of new cast and crew interviews. Then you have some vintage featurettes to chew away at as well. Considering the past Blu-ray omitted extra features of any kind, this is a nice little feast of bonus material. The new interviews are pretty interesting and dashing through the commentaries, the new track with Mantegna and producer Mitchell Galin might cover some of the same ground as the Tom Holland/Mantegna track, but it's an interesting engaging listen. Likewise, a Lee Gambin track is always worth the time. At about 45 minutes the new interviews are interesting and worth the time, but the best featurette is the archival piece focused on the makeup effects.
Tom Holland’s adaptation of Thinner might not be the best of the Stephen King flicks of the ‘80s and ‘90s, but it’s a damned entertaining one. Leaning into the comedy and the horror, the film hinges on the great performance from Robert John Burke and the excellent makeup effects. Now getting its second Blu-ray release, Scream Factory gives the image a little more wiggle room with excellent audio options. Sweetening the pie is a great selection of entertaining and informative new and archival bonus features. Fans aiming to complete their King collection will want to keep an eye on this one. Recommended