The plot is simple. Billy Halleck, a vastly overweight lawyer, is being, um, entertained by his wife while he’s driving their car. Because he’s not paying attention to what he’s doing — he’s paying more attention to what his wife is doing — Billy runs down and kills an elderly Gyspy woman.
With a little help from his friends, a judge and the police chief, Billy’s absolved of any wrongdoing — which really makes the dead woman’s father angry. He puts a one-word curse on Billy, “thinner,” and Billy starts losing weight. He spends the bulk of the novel trying to track down the old man and persuade him to remove the curse.
It’s a good novel, written with King’s usual attention to character and dialogue, but in a style that’s just different enough that it doesn’t sound like a Stephen King novel. The movie, made in 1996, was directed by Tom Holland (Child’s Play and the original Fright Night), and it’s pretty faithful to the book — not just its story, but its tone of increasing desperation and creeping insanity. The only major difference from the book is that Holland shows us the collision, the hearing, the acquittal, and the cursing, all of which have already happened when the novel opens.
Robert John Burke, who stepped into Peter Weller’s metal shoes in 1993’s RoboCop 3, plays Billy Halleck, and he plays him very well, especially considering he spends most of the movie wearing one makeup prosethetic or another. He starts the movie as a nearly-300-pound Billy, and if you didn’t know you were looking at a man in “fat makeup,” you wouldn’t know, if you follow me there. By the end of the movie he’s skeletal, with protruding cheekbones and hollow eyes.
You’d think, with the brilliant special makeup effects (Greg Cannom, an Oscar winner for other projects, did them), Burke wouldn’t have much actual acting to do, but actually he does. He has to take Billy from a likable overweight guy to a much thinner, muich darker, much crazier guy. And he does it brilliantly, too, giving probably the best performance of his underrated career.
If you haven’t seen Thinner, you really ought to. Here’s a look at the original trailer (yes, that’s King himself you see for a split second):