APRIL 5, 2011
I sometimes have strange reasons for why I haven’t seen certain movies, but my reason for not seeing Thinner until now is particularly odd – I was upset that they didn’t shoot it in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, which is where parts of the book took place. When I was a kid I went to OOB pretty much every weekend in the summer, and my mom still goes up there on weekends to relax (usually with my niece in tow). Instead, most of the film was shot about 100 miles up the coast, in Camden, Maine. Well screw you, Tom Holland!
Luckily, they at least mention it – if you look closely at one of the ads for the carnival where the evil gypsy it says it’s happening in Old Orchard, so there’s a nice consolation prize. Still, it’s kind of silly – on the commentary Holland says that they hired a carnival to film, but Old Orchard has a little mini theme park called Palace Playland that’s always there, and not being used in the off-season when they were filming (late 1995). Oh well.
Of course, none of this matters – is the movie any good? Eh, it’s decent. It’s not one of Stephen King’s (or even Richard Bachman’s) best novels by any stretch, nor is it a particularly cinematic one. It’s just about a guy getting thin, but there’s no real mystery to it – we know exactly who caused it and why, so it’s not like D.O.A. or something where he has to solve his own impending death. And peculiarly, we don’t even see any of the other deaths on-screen (the gypsies cursed everyone involved with the accident and subsequent coverup – the cop who looked the other way, the judge who sided with Billy, etc), nor do we spend a lot of time with the other folks. At one point the judge shows up and he looks like a lizard, but we hadn’t seen him since he first started showing signs of a problem (some ugly skin on his chest). It might have been a good idea to switch the perspective a bit, and maybe build some set-pieces out of the others guys’ impending doom.
Instead, we’re with Billy for pretty much every frame of the movie, which means we’re also looking at his not-entirely convincing fat makeup for far too long. Greg Cannom is a great FX guy and rightfully deserves his back to back Oscars (Dracula and... er, Mrs. Doubtfire), but I am of the opinion that it’s impossible to make someone look fat but not look like they are just wearing makeup. Eddie Murphy/Rick Baker’s work in Nutty Professor was a bit more realistic (particularly on certain members of the Klumps), and that was SUPPOSED to look a bit silly. The “skinny” makeup is far more believable, but obviously, the movie’s almost over by the time Billy reaches that stage.
Plus it’s just a more psychological, internally based story, not a visual one. It’s all about this guy’s feelings of guilt and resentment swirling around in his head, his paranoia about his wife possibly having an affair, etc – but the movie can’t really convey those things (even a great actor without the hindrance of heavy makeup would have trouble). He’s supposed to be our hero, but it’s very hard to feel bad for him without ever really getting into his state of mind (and that the gypsies aren’t exactly evil doesn’t help – they’re just following an “eye for an eye” type rule). Again, this is where a mystery element would have helped, because even if we didn’t love the guy we could at least want to join him on his search for answers.
But, you know, it’s watchable. It doesn’t drag too much, and Joe Mantegna is clearly having fun, playing a Mafia-type who owes Billy a favor, which he repays by, amongst other things, taking an Uzi to the gypsy camp and shooting everything BUT gypsies. He Maine scenery is quite nice (ah, to go back to a time when movies were shot in the location where they took place!), and King’s cameo was a nice surprise; I thought he had stopped doing that sort of thing by the time this was shot (indeed, it was actually his final cameo for a theatrically released adaptation). You can also spot Josh Lucas in a quick role as a male nurse, nearly a decade before toplining such classics as Stealth and Poseidon.
But most importantly, it ends with a cursed pie. There are a handful of words that just make me laugh without even the need for context, and pie is one of them. So that the entire climax revolves around a pie, and people saying pie over and over, is just pure bliss to me. Especially when the old man introduces it, because it takes a while for him to get to the point, so you're just sitting there like "OK, why is this old gypsy crone carrying a pie around?". In fact, if the entire movie was built around cursed pies, I think it would be a lot more fun, which is another issue I had with the movie; the tone shifts from almost light-hearted comic horror, to dark thriller, and then back to pitch black comedy by the end. I can't recall if the book had the same issue, or if this was just the result of reshoots (test audiences hated the ending, apparently), but the unevenness doesn't help matters.
And Republic clearly feels the same sort of “eh, fine” way about the film – just look at this awesome main menu!
Those buttons are straight out of the out-dated beginner’s Photoshop book I bought for like 2 bucks in 1999! At least they’re not lying about the “director’s narration”, because that’s pretty much what Holland does half the time, but the rest of the time he and Mantegna are providing fun anecdotes about the shoot, praising the makeup and local actors, and briefly discussing the testing process for the film (the ending was changed, though it’s still kind of a downer). Mantegna even recalls the scene they were shooting when the OJ verdict was announced, which I liked because it’s one of the few “where were YOU...” events that I can distinctly remember (in my sophomore math class, trying to sneak a listen to the radio broadcast on my walkman because our bitch teacher wouldn’t let us go watch on TV like most other classes). The other feature is the featurette, which focuses on the makeup, which everyone seems to think is totally believable. Again, it’s nothing against Cannom, it’s not BAD makeup, but it’s just one of those things that never look right to me, and it’s kind of a problem when the movie hinges on buying that this overweight guy suddenly became an Iggy Pop-ian skeleton.
It’s a shame Holland never got a chance to direct one of King’s better efforts; both Fright Night and Child’s Play are wonderful and energetic blends of horror and comedy, and I think his sensibilities would have been perfect for some of King’s kookier novels, such as "Regulators" (another Bachman effort) or "Needful Things". Or the two could have collaborated on an original film project; certainly Holland is a better filmmaker than Mick Garris (Sleepwalkers is, I believe, the only original script that King wrote for a theatrical release). But this was another box office dud for Holland following a couple of others, and he seemingly retreated back to TV after this and never returned, which is a crime, if you ask me. Recently he’s been directing short films; hopefully it’s to warm up for a return to features. The other heroes of the 80s (Carpenter, Craven, Romero, Gordon) are still at it, I think it’s about time he joined them.
What say you?