Thinner (film)

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Promotional film poster
Directed by Tom Holland
Produced by Mitchell Galin
Richard P. Rubinstein
Screenplay by Michael McDowell
Tom Holland
Based on Thinner 
by Stephen King
Starring Robert John Burke
Joe Mantegna
Lucinda Jenney
Michael Constantine
Kari Wührer
Bethany Joy Lenz
Music by Daniel Licht
Cinematography Kees Van Oostrum
Edited by Marc Laub
Spelling Films International
Distributed by Paramount Pictures (US theatrical)
Release dates
  • October 25, 1996 (1996-10-25) (U.S.)
Running time
92 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $14 million (estimated)
Box office $15.3 million (domestic)[1]

Thinner (marketed as Stephen King's Thinner) is a 1996 American body horror film directed by Tom Holland and written by Michael McDowell and Holland. The film is based on the Stephen King novel of the same name and stars Robert John Burke, Joe Mantegna, Lucinda Jenney, Michael Constantine, Kari Wührer and Bethany Joy Lenz.

The film screened alongside Michael Jackson's short film Michael Jackson's Ghosts in select theaters around the world.


Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke) is an obese, upper-class lawyer living with his wife Heidi (Lucinda Jenney) and their daughter Linda (Bethany Joy Lenz). Billy recently defended an underworld crime boss named Richie "The Hammer" Ginelli (Joe Mantegna) in court. The town Billy lives in is currently hosting a carnival, which is run by gypsies whom the town seems to have prejudices against.

While driving one night, Billy accidentally runs over an elderly gypsy woman named Suzanne Lempke (Irma St. Paule) with his car (Heidi was distracting him by performing oral sex on him). The death is ruled accidental, and no charges are filed against him. Outraged by the injustice, Suzanne's 106-year-old father, Taduz Lempke (Michael Constantine) curses Billy by touching his face and saying the word "thinner". Billy begins to lose weight rapidly, regardless of how much he eats. Heidi, concerned, brings in Dr. Mike Houston (Sam Freed), with whom Billy suspects his wife is having an affair.

It is revealed that the man also cursed Judge Cary Rossington (John Horton) and Police Chief Duncan Hopely (Daniel von Bargen), who helped him avoid punishment in court. Judge Cary's curse was "Lizard"; he is now growing scales all over his body, eventually heading to the Mayo Clinic for help. His wife, Leda (Elizabeth Franz), furiously blames Billy for what is happening to Cary. Duncan becomes mutated with large boils and ends up committing suicide. Billy continues to lose weight and calculates that he only has a few weeks to live. Because only Lempke can remove the curse, Billy intends to search for the gypsy carnival but learns it has moved.

When Heidi continually mentions Dr. Houston, who is also repeatedly visiting their home, Billy is convinced of her affair, and he also blames Heidi for the accident because she was distracting him, which caused the incident. He finds the gypsy camp and tries to reason with Lempke, but the old gypsy king is unconvinced, and in a rage he increases the effects of the curse. He then forces Billy to leave after his great-granddaughter Gina (Kari Wuhrer) uses her slingshot to shoot a large ball bearing at Billy which goes directly through his hand. Billy uses the dripping blood to feign a curse he has now put on the Gypsies as an act of vengeance. After being informed that Cary committed suicide, Billy enlists Richie Ginelli's help; Richie pays a local man named Frank Spurton (Josh Holland) to track down the gypsies and himself kills off the gypsy camp's dogs, leaving behind a message demanding Billy's curse be removed. Gina and her husband Gabe kill Frank in retaliation, refusing to obey the demand.

In a vengeful response, Richie opens fire on the gypsy camp before pushing Gabe out into the open to be accidentally shot by his fellow gypsies. The next day, Richie lures Gina away to kill her but Billy stops him. While balancing acid on Gina's forehead, Richie gives her a message for her great-grandfather to meet them in two hours.

Lempke arrives at the meeting to find Billy emaciated and near death. Convinced that only by lifting the curse can he prevent further attacks on his people, he explains that he cannot remove the curse but it can be transferred to another. He mixes Billy's blood into a strawberry pie while chanting a gypsy spell. He states that the pie must be consumed by an unsuspecting person causing painful but rapid death, but he urges Billy to die with dignity by eating the pie himself. As he begins to recover, Billy calls home and informs his daughter that he will be home in a few days. He also urges Linda to spend the night at her friend's house so that he and Heidi may have the evening to themselves. When he arrives home he tells Heidi that he has a surprise for her which happens to be her favorite, strawberry pie. He tells her to have a piece which she delightfully accepts while he heads to bed, exhausted.

The next morning, he awakes to find Heidi's desiccated corpse next to him. Initially gleeful to be free of the curse and of his disloyal wife, he goes downstairs and finds to his horror that Linda, who came home the night before after he went to bed, had eaten some of the pie for breakfast. His guilt compels him to take Lempke's suggestion to eat a piece himself. As he is about to do so, Dr. Mike arrives. Surprised to see that Billy has come home, the doctor grows uncomfortable as he struggles to explain his presence there so early in the morning. Nevertheless, Billy invites him in for a piece of pie, which Dr. Mike accepts. The ending shows Billy closing the door with an evil smile as Dr. Mike enters.


Critical reception[edit]

Thinner received generally negative reviews from critics. The film holds a rating of 16% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 18 reviews.[2] James Berardinelli gave the film two stars out of four, writing: "Thinner could have been an opportunity to examine the ethics of a slick lawyer who refuses to accept responsibility for his actions. ... Unfortunately, questions of morality are of secondary importance to a film that emphasizes its Death Wish aspects."[3] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a D rating, writing: "Like too many Stephen King movies, Thinner is all (emaciated) concept and no follow-through."[4] A more positive review came from Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle, who called Thinner "one of the better Stephen King-derived movies."[5]

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."


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