Me and Lil’ Stevie
By Peter Dudar
(Exterior/Night. Establishing shot of a carnival midway filled with bustling activity. Slow pan over the rows of tents where food is being served and games are being played. We see carnival posters fixed to telephone poles, advertising that the Gypsy Carnival is in town for one week only. At the end of the midway we see a tent where an old Gypsy man is seated next to an oversized “fool the guesser” scale. Next to the old man is a beautiful woman, scantily clad, shifting slowly back and forth, as if in the midst of some hypnotic dance. A crowd has gathered around the tent, and a figure steps forth and mounts the scale. He stands there for a moment with his back turned to us. He steps off the scale and turns toward the camera, and we see it is a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King.)
Lil’ Stevie: I told you that you’re up a few pounds. Pay up!
Peter: If I’m heavier, it’s because I’m carrying your wooden butt. What did you eat for breakfast…a piano? Greetings, Constant Viewer. We’re here at the carnival today to discuss Tom Holland’s (CHILD’S PLAY, 1988) adaptation of Stephen King’s THINNER (1996). Now, this film…
Lil’ Stevie: Ahem.
Peter: …is Holland’s second foray into the realm of Stephen King, after directing the 1995 made-for-television adaptation of THE LANGOLIERS. He…
Lil’ Stevie: Ahem, hem, hem, cough, sputter.
Peter: WHAT! What is it, Lil’ Stevie?
Lil’ Stevie: Somebody wants to speak with you.
(Lil’ Stevie pulls his arm out from behind his back, producing a smaller ventriloquist dummy that looks like King with a full beard. This dummy is covered with burns and scorch marks from a previous column. It’s a puppet of Richard Bachman).
Lil’ Richard: I’m Ba-ack!
Peter: What? How can this be? I killed you last time.
Lil’ Stevie: You didn’t kill him…you only pissed him off.
Lil’ Richard: THINNER was MY book. I published it back in 1984!
Peter: Mayhap you did and mayhap you didn’t. But the title credits for the movie specifically state, “Stephen King’s THINNER,” and “Based on the novel by Stephen King.” Which means that you ain’t necessary for this review!
(Peter reaches into his pocket and pulls out a handful of termites. He tosses the insects at Lil’ Richard, who screams in horror. Lil’ Stevie also screams and drops the second puppet on the ground. Peter and Lil’ Stevie watch as Lil’ Richard flails in agony while the termites feast on him.)
Lil’ Richard: Ugh! Not again…
Lil’ Stevie: Nice touch. Where on earth did you get a pocketful of termites?
Peter: (Chuckling) It was supposed to be your Christmas gift. Now, where was I? Oh yes, Holland co-wrote the screenplay with Michael McDowell (TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE, The Movie, 1990), based on the King/Bachman novel. The story concerns William Halleck (Robert John Burke, ROBOCOP 3, 1993), a morbidly obese attorney from Connecticut who apparently has life by the cojones. He is very successful at his practice, has a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife and daughter…
Lil’ Stevie: (singing) “Letting the days go by…let the water hold me down.”
Peter: Same as it ever was! Anyway, the film begins with Halleck defending mafia wiseguy Richie “The Hammer” Ginelli (Joe Montegna from television’s CRIMINAL MINDS) in a case where Ginelli is accused of hiring a hit on a rival. Halleck gets Ginelli off on a technicality, and is considered the hero of the day. His law firm loves him. Ginelli loves him. Things are good in the world of Billy Halleck.
Lil’ Stevie: I just want to point out how beautifully I work some common clichés and metaphors into my story. The Fat-Cat lawyer. The corrupt system. Gluttony being a symbol of success.
Peter: That’s very true. And it’s important for the REAL King’s Wheel of Karma to spin full-circle before the story is over. While Billy’s celebrating his victory, a Gypsy caravan is pulling into town and setting up their carnival right in the town square, just outside his office window. We’re introduced to Tadzu Lempke, the Gypsy King (Michael Constantine, MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING, 2002) and his clan of traveling…erm…entertainers, including his ravishingly hot granddaughter Gina (Kari Wuhrer, EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS, 2002).
Lil’ Stevie: Where do Gypsies come from? Is there like a country called Gypsylvania or something?
Peter: You dope. Gypsies, or people or Romanic descent, have roots of European and Indian heritage. They have no true home country, per se, but rather are of nomadic traditions that concentrate between Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Eastern European territories. Does that answer your question?
(The crowd parts, and suddenly Cher is standing at the front of the tent).
Cher: (Singing) Gypsies, tramps and thieves, we’d hear it from the people of the town. They called us…
(Lil’ Stevie pulls out a pistol and shoots Cher in the chest. Cher immediately turns to dust and floats away in the breeze).
Lil’ Stevie: I hate this carnival.
Peter: No more interruptions, m’kay? Well, just like in Cher’s song, the town-folk (Judge Rossington, in particular) look down on the Gypsies and want them gone. Obviously these people lack some sort of moral turpitude and do not belong among all the decent upper-crust citizens, and Judge Rossington wants them gone as quickly as possible. Of course, the Gypsies prove him right that very evening, when Tadzu Lemke and his kin go to the pharmacy to pick up medication for his rotting nose, and his kids start shoplifting to the horror of the store owner.
Lil’ Stevie: KING CAMEO! Stephen plays the pharmacist, aptly named Dr. Bangor!
Peter: While this is happening, Halleck and his wife Heidi (Lucinda Jenney, WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, 1998) are driving home from a celebratory dinner. Heidi has been complaining about her husband’s weight problem for ages, out of concern for his health and the role model she wants him to play for their daughter. On the drive home, she decides to “continue the celebration” by…erm…performing certain “wifely duties” on him. This, of course, distracts Halleck as he tries to navigate the car.
Lil’ Stevie: Tadzu’s daughter leaves the store and steps out into the street, and WHAMMO! Billy runs her down and kills her.
Peter: Of course, the system is broken, and Billy escapes the incident without even getting any points on his driver’s license. Judge Rossington handles the legal proceedings, Chief Hopley conveniently skips the breathalyzer test, and the whole ordeal is ruled to be an accident.
Lil’ Stevie: But the Gypsies want justice for their dead kin. Tadzu Lempke approaches Billy after the hearing, brushes the large man’s cheek, and whispers one word. Thinner.
Peter: A gypsy curse! Billy Halleck begins losing three pounds every day. At first, the loss is welcomed after all the struggling with his weight. Billy goes and buys a whole new wardrobe, continues to play golf and associate with the other town bigwigs, and continues with his incessant (and now shameless) eating habits. But after a few weeks slip by and he’s down fifty pounds, the concern over his sudden weight loss grows into outright fear.
Lil’ Stevie: And rightly so. The storyline very much resembles Richard Matheson’s THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957), where fear of dying and fear of the unknown blend together in one dark, terrible nightmare.
Peter: And Billy isn’t the only one to be cursed. Both Chief Hopley and Judge Rossington have also been cursed with their own respective ailments by Lempke. As Billy races to figure out how to save himself, he’s forced to witness the tragic deaths of his friends, which compound the terror of what he’s going through. He realizes just how much the system which he plays a part in is broken, but he continues to try and justify to himself that Lempke’s daughter’s death was an accident. Only now he’s devising a notion that his wife is complicit (she WAS distracting him), and it looks as if she is having an adulterous affair with Billy’s doctor. All of this is beginning to drive him into madness as his body slowly withers away.
Lil’ Stevie: So he calls his mafia buddy, Richie, to help him out. Billy tracks the Gypsies to Maine at the end of the carnival season, and Richie joins him in trying to convince Lempke to remove the curse on the “White Man From Town.” Blood is shed, and eventually Billy comes face to face with Lempke, who finally removes the curse and places it inside a pie. Lempke instructs Billy that he has to pass the curse on to someone else if he is to be rid of it forever. Or else…
Peter: Indeed. Overall, THINNER is a very good adaptation of the novel and an above-average (underrated, in fact) horror film. The uncredited star of this movie is the special effects that turn actor Robert John Burke from grossly bloated to gaunt and skeletal through the movie’s progression. The story of Billy’s plight is interesting and terrifying. The characters (particularly the Lempke clan) are fun and very well cast. And Joe Montegna’s performance is priceless. This film is definitely worth the price of admission.
(The old Gypsy man in the tent stands up and shouts at Peter and Lil’ Stevie)
Lempke: Hey, Mister. You just won a free pie. You should eat your own pie, mister!
(The young girl dancing beside the old man takes the pie and rushes down to give it to them).
Lil’ Stevie: Aren’t you a hottie? White Man From Town says, “Take it off!”
Peter: Oh, no thank you, Miss. We’re not hungry today. I wouldn’t know what to do with it.
Lil’ Stevie: I’ve got an idea. There was this one time, at band camp…
Peter: On second thought…
(Peter takes the pie from the girl and smashes it in Lil’ Stevie’s face).
Peter: I’ve been cursed with you long enough. Thanks for joining us, folks. And be sure to check in next month for our Second Annual Holiday Turkey Shoot.
© Copyright 2012 by Peter N. Dudar