GUILTY PLEASURES – “Thinner”

With “Guilty Pleasures”, I revisit some horror flicks that fans have almost unanimously derided and labeled “unlikeable”, but are ones that I inexplicably get a kick out of. This time around, it’s Thinner.

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Successfully adapting a Stephen King work for the big screen has to be harder than learning a creole language over the weekend. Hell, even Stephen King himself couldn’t adapt his own work! He wrote the screenplay for and directed Maximum Overdrive, (which was based on his own short story, Trucks) and it was still a huge disaster. And yet as loud and clear of a message that is, warning optimistic directors to just “turn back now!”, they still continually try and fail to bring King’s written words to jumping, animated life. There are a few success stories, sure — but the batting average ain’t great.

Enter Thinner, a film that was unanimously jeered by critics and moviegoers alike, and one that barely made back its budget of (a mind-boggling) $14 million.

Now, the opinion of critics or how much money a movie makes are never great factors in deciding if a movie is at all good or even worth your time. But it’s pretty clear from the start of Thinner that the general public was pretty on point with their judgements of this movie. Even for a fantasy-horror film based on a Stephen King story, there is a lot wrong with Thinner.

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The first (and perhaps most glaring) issue: Robert Burke’s acting is jaw-droppingly over-the-top. You might remember him from Dust Devil, or from taking over the role of Officer Murphy in RoboCop 3. I’ve only seen him in a few roles, usually tiny bit parts, so I don’t know if the dude always plays it up. But when his 300-lb lawyer character is inflicted with the Gypsy curse, and he starts dropping the pounds, his character becomes so unnecessarily insane and hammy, it almost feels like you’re watching a different movie altogether. Perhaps he was going for something super meta by having his starving character “chew the scenery”, but I think that would be giving him far too much credit.

One of the other issues I have with the movie is the make-up. For a movie centered around a heavy-set guy shriveling up to a meager 100 pounds, you’d think the make-up effects would be outstanding. Unfortunately, they’re not. They’re not even “good”, they’re just kinda…okay. I’m not saying it had to be The Nutty Professor (1996)-level good. I mean, for a movie with such a large budget, you’d think they’d be able to achieve something a little more realistic, but the effect they pull off is almost the equivalent of stuffing a pillow under your shirt and tucking your chin into your neck. I remember seeing a special on TV before the movie came out — maybe it was an HBO First Look, I can’t remember now — and it played up how great the make-up was and how important it was to the film. They talked about how Burke lost a bunch of weight prior to filming to make his final transformation even more jarring. But look at that picture above. That’s him in his final stage of “thinner”-ness. That’s as emaciated as he gets in the film. He looks like a normal dude with not-so-subtle shading under his cheekbones. It’s just awful, man.

The last thing that hurts the movie is every single character is utterly detestable. Billy the overweight lawyer, his wife, his daughter, their doctor, their friends, their friend’s friends. Everyone is loathsome.

In the book Creepshows: The Illustrated Stephen King Movie Guide, author Stephen Graham Jones says that the movie’s critical failure and near financial failure was based on the fact that the “mean-spirited film did not have one single likable character.” This is something I always say: it’s impossible to like a film when there’s no one to root for. There is absolutely no one to root for in the movie.

BUT. Yet. Alas. I still watch it every now and then. I love talking about how terrible it is with my friends. Perhaps in some sick way I get a kick out of Robert Burke’s overacting, and it’s this affinity for all the camp that allows me to ignore all the Swiss cheese logic and lackluster production values. I can’t explain it. It’s like a dirty secret. I will vocally and publicly lambaste this movie, but will also happily watch it with a scrunched-up nose from the privacy of own home, lights out and blinds drawn.

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I’m not the only one who feels this way. The dudes over at TortureVision do a hilarious play-by-play of everything awful about the movie, and you can listen to it over at their site. I highly recommend it.

And one final reminder before I go, like a hazard sign attached to an electric box: do not attempt to adapt any work from Stephen King, under any circumstances. Serious (ego) injury or (box office) death may occur.

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