I imagine almost everyone would like to discover a magic diet that works like a charm, making the premise of Thinner a potent "be careful what you wish for" scenario. Growing bigger and bigger just doesn't capture the imagination quite as vividly; the combination of a good thing gone wrong and the helplessness of being unable to stop shedding pound after pound makes for an appealingly unsettling premise. It helps, too, that the producers have hired Todd Holland, who executes the concept with the right balance of horror and a wicked sense of humor. It's suggested that Thinner's failure at the box office was due to a lack of likable characters, but I don't think you should have to like Billy. Bad things are supposed to happen to horror movie characters, so the audience can be creeped out by what's happening to Billy without necessarily hoping for a happy ending.
Before Thinner, my only experience with Robert John Burke was the all-time disaster RoboCop 3, so I was pleasantly surprised by his performance here. Before he's cursed, Billy isn't so much a bad guy as he is an oblivious one, coasting through an easy life and still complaining about the little things. As his body disappears, so does his pleasant facade, revealing a bitter jerk who continues to blame everyone around him for the mess he's gotten himself into (much like Alison Lohman in Drag Me to Hell). His shrinking figure is assisted by Greg Cannom, who does a nice job of bulking Burke up and then peeling it away. Then again, I can't help but think of a film like The Machinist and feel that authenticity is even creepier; the make-up chair is a commitment, but Burke himself only gets so thin.
Unfortunately, if you're gonna make a movie that's basically a modern moral fairy tale, you've gotta have a good payoff, and Thinner can't even make it 60 minutes before its hold over the viewer begins to wear off. Billy, whose condition is beginning to get dire, basically drops out of the movie for ten or fifteen minutes after he calls in Genelli to help convince the gypsies that they should take the curse off of him. Genelli's mobster scare tactics suddenly shift Thinner from horror to action, and without Billy even being present for it, it's not a particularly interesting change of pace.
There's also the fact that Thinner gets unusually sexist as it goes along, with Billy beginning to suspect his wife is cheating on him with no evidence whatsoever. He begins to blame her for the accident (despite the fact that she was pleasuring him at the time), as well as revealing some sort of repressed anger for being forced to go on a diet in the first place. There's probably a way to make this section play the way it was intended, as a resolution that illustrates the many ways Billy hasn't learned his lesson, but it's missing some stylistic touch that would push it from sad cruelty into dark comedy. Then, of course, there's the film's fairly infamous re-shot ending, in which Burke visibly goes from makeup-thin to actual thin, and the film tries to jump over or ignore Billy's last horrible mistake. (I also think it's a missed opportunity for a big, gory special effects moment.) For awhile, Thinner is meaty, bloody fun, but it's all skin and bones before the credits roll.
The Video and Audio
Audio is only Dolby Digital 2.0, which may be a disappointment, but dialogue, effects, and music are all rendered really nicely on this stereo presentation. It may not pack the surround punch of a 5.1 mix, but it sounds fresh and clean for what it is. No subtitles or closed captioning is available on the disc.