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Literature / Thinner

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"When your wife and kids get killed in a plane crash, you don't want to listen to how circuit A fucked up switch B, and traffic controller C had a touch of bug D and navigator E picked the wrong time to go to shithouse F. You just want to sue the shit out of the airline … or kill someone with your shotgun. You want a goat, Halleck. You want to hurt someone. And we're getting hurt. Bad for us. Good for him."
Sheriff Duncan Hopley, on revenge.

Thinner is a 1984 novel by Stephen King, published under his Richard Bachman pseudonym, and the last published under that name before a book store clerk exposed Bachman’s true identity.

Obese lawyer Billy Halleck, charged with vehicular manslaughter after killing an old Romani woman, is acquitted thanks to his connection with the judge. As he leaves the courthouse, the 106-year-old father of the woman places a curse on him that causes him to rapidly lose weight. After learning that the Romani placed a curse on the judge (making him grow hideous scales on his face) and his other friend, a cop that lied on the stand to aid him (leaving his face pockmarked with huge zits), Halleck enlists the help of a former client and mob boss to terrorize the Romani to lift his curse.

Adapted into a 1996 movie, with Robert John Burke as Halleck, Joe Mantegna as the mob boss, and Kari Wührer as a Romani (the ancient one's great-granddaughter, to be precise).

Thinner contains examples of:

  • Accidental Truth: Hopley testified that Billy was sober, deliberately failing to do a breathalyzer on him. Billy was in fact sober during the accident, although he had been guilty of a different kind of reckless negligence.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: In both the book and the film, Billy Halleck gets the Gypsy Curse on himself lifted by forcing the sorcerer to place it inside a pie. Billy feeds it to his wife (whom he hates) before his daughter (whom he dotes on) eats a piece of it by mistake. Wracked with guilt, Billy then eats the pie himself. The movie added a subplot of a man that Billy suspects his wife is sleeping with, who rings the door right at that moment. Billy invites him in so he can have a slice of pie as well.
    • The film also makes it more explicit that his daughter ate a piece of pie and was presumably infected with the curse too if it didn't stop with one victim, while in the book he only suspects it, albeit with good reason, after seeing two plates in the sink.
  • Affably Evil: Richie Ginelli is pretty friendly, if primarily towards Halleck for saving his ass in court. He's extremely vicious towards anyone whom he considers an enemy and goes on a rampage against the Romani to protect his friend and return the favor.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: Lemke's warnings about the curse being transferred "whoever" eats the pie make it a bit unclear if it will just kill the first person to eat from it, or anyone who eats a piece, making it slightly ambiguous whether Billy's whole family dies from eating the pie or just his wife, especially in the movie.
  • Anti-Villain: Taduz Lemke places a curse on the man responsible for his daughter's death as well as the two men who helped cover it up. Any sympathy you had is diminished, however, when they brutally murder a bystander paid to give Richie a signal just to send the protagonist a message.
  • Appropriated Appelation: After the old Romani derisively calls Halleck "White Man from Town", he uses the phrase to intimidate them into taking the curse off.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: The passages supposedly in the Romani language are, in fact, in Swedish, and mostly gibberish.
  • Asshole Victim: Halleck, the judge, and the cop. Dr. Mikey could qualify also, as do the Romani (at least in the movie) once Richie enters the scene.
  • At Least I Admit It: Hopley wearily acknowledges that he's earned Taduz's wrath even as Billy makes justifications.
  • Auto Erotica: Halleck hit the old woman because his wife was giving him a handjob while he was driving. (The movie changes it to a blowjob.)
  • Bait-and-Switch:
    • In the movie, when Richie confronts Gina in the barn, he opens up a mason jar that seemingly contains acid and throws the contents onto her face. After she screams in pain:
      Richie: You scream again, and I'll kill you. You just got a face full of soda pop and baking soda.
    • Subverted when he pulls out a second jar with real acid, pulls off the lid and places it on her head, telling her to be very still. He spills a few drops on the floor to prove that he's not pulling the same prank twice.
  • Body Horror: The curses. Given that Halleck is the main character, we get to hear exactly what the Thinner curse entails — a weight loss of two pounds a day. Great if you are a morbidly obese man, as Billy is when the novel begins. Not so much when he starts to lose too much weight. Protruding bones, headaches, brittle hair, jaundice, heart arrhythmia... which all happen to be symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa. Despite not having an appetite at all (it's left up in the air whether or not it's a side effect of the curse, or Halleck's own guilt), he eats like a horse anyway because when he once skipped a meal, instead of losing two pounds, he lost three.
    • The other two curses, while shown in less detail, are still scary as hell. Judge Cary Rossington develops a severe condition where his skin grows scales, while Police Chief Duncan Hopley develops giant zits all over his body that makes him look like "human pizza."
    • The ultimate result of eating a slice of the cursed pie. In the book, Lemke warns Billy that whoever eats it will not only take on his withering curse, but it will be five-fold stronger. In the film, it is mentioned that the curse will be stronger, but we also get a chance to see exactly how when Billy gives his cheating wife a slice... The pie completely desiccates her body and turns her into a bizarre corpse-pie mishmash. Which Billy then kisses. And then eats, nibbling on a bit of crusty lip that Billy espouses as delicious... But then reminds himself that he probably shouldn't have too much of.
  • Brats with Slingshots: Gina Lempke, great-granddaughter of Tadzu Lempke, is highly skilled with a slingshot, and even performs with it for money. She uses it to shoot a ball bearing through Billy's hand when he comes to the Romani camp to demand the curse is taken off, and it's strongly implied she killed Frank Spurton, the man Richie hired to spy on the Romani, with it.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Halleck's doctor tells him at one point that he's "starting to sound a little like a Stephen King novel". (King originally published that book under his Pen Name Richard Bachman and made this reference to throw people off.)
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: A threatening message is sent to Halleck written in chicken's blood.
  • Creator Cameo: Stephen King appears as Dr. Bangor, who owns the pharmacy outside where the accident happened.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: The movie pushes the ending towards this with the added subplot of Dr. Mikey, who Halleck suspects his wife is cheating on him with. After the original ending, he's just about to tuck in to a piece of pie, Dr. Mikey knocks on the door. ...And he invites him in for a piece of pie.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Billy Halleck is cursed to rapidly lose weight even if he consumes eight thousand calories in one day, which is awesome at first because he was originally overweight and at high risk of heart problems. However, once it gets to the point where Billy is rapidly approaching the underweight category and is again at high risk of heart problems, the "Awesome" element is dropped entirely.
  • Daddy's Girl: Billy's daughter Linda. Billy notes to himself that Linda goes to her mother with questions like how many calories are in a piece of German chocolate cake, but when she has questions about sex, religion, and similar difficult subjects, she goes to him.
  • Dead Animal Warning: Twice:
    • In taking revenge against the Romani, Richie kills their dogs with cyanide "treats".
    • In revenge for this, Gabe tracks down his henchman, kills him, gouges his eyes out, and stuffs a dead chicken in his mouth with a note mocking them saying that they won't remove the curse on Billy.
  • Death of a Child: Poor Linda doesn't make it thanks to Billy's pie, which was intended for his wife. Unless Billy ate the pie himself to save her.
  • Did Not Think This Through: After Billy tells the Gypsies that if they don't take the curse off he will subject them to "the curse of the white man from town" they laugh, dismiss his threats and refuse to remove the curse. Given that they already knew he was a rich lawyer with sufficient connections to escape a vehicular manslaughter charge it may have been prudent to take him a bit more seriously.
  • Downer Ending: Both the film and book versions end with Billy's wife and daughter eating the cursed pie. While Billy intended to curse his wife, he did not mean to have his daughter eat it. Wracked with guilt, Billy decides to commit suicide by eating a piece of the pie as well. The film version goes further, as Billy invites a man he suspects has been cheating with his wife to have some pie along with him...
  • Dream Sequence: Billy is plagued by nightmares, one of which takes up all of chapter 7.
  • Driven to Suicide: The judge and the cop eventually both kill themselves. So does Halleck at the end, probably.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Mobster Richie Ginelli adores his Italian mother and loves to keep her around.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • After having his clan be terrorized by Ginelli, the old Romani decides to relent because of this:
      Tadzu Lemke: Then your friend comes. He poisons dogs, shoots guns in the night, uses his hands on a woman, and threatens to throw acid in the faces of children. Take it off he says-take it off and take it off and take it off. And finally, I say okay as long as he gets out of here! Not from what he did, but from what he will do-he is crazy, this friend of yours, and he will never stop. Even my 'Gelina says she sees from his eyes he will never stop. "But we will never stop either," she says, and I say, "Yes, we will. Yes, we will stop. Because if we don't, we are crazy like the town man's friend."
    • In the film, Billy himself also objects to some of Richie's actions, at one point asking him not to murder Gina Lemke despite her seething hatred of him.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Averted, but Lemke suggests this to Halleck when giving him the pie. The pie would transfer the curse from him to whoever ate it (since it now contained the curse), and lift it from him. But Lemke suggests he eat the pie himself rather than make someone else suffer for him. "Why not eat your own pie, white man from town? You die, but you die strong."
    • He feeds some pie to his wife, whom he despises and planned to pass the curse to; but eventually he does eat some of the pie, out of guilt after realizing he accidentally let his beloved daughter get some.
  • Facial Horror: The story contains three examples:
    • Judge Rossington, who grows scales all over his body from his curse, which causes him to look like a humanoid lizard.
    • Sheriff Hopley, whose face becomes covered in horrific, massive zits and pustules, making it look like he's rotting alive.
    • Taduz Lemke himself, whose nose has been eaten away by cancer.
  • Fat Bastard: Deconstructed. Billy Halleck is a seemingly nice guy with a good marriage and is a doting father (his daughter in fact prefers Billy to her mother). However, he is clearly aware of his firm's tie to The Mafia and is, in fact, good friends with a man who may be the head of the local mob family. After the accident, he doesn't deliberately use his connections to get him out of trouble, but he does nothing to dissuade them either. There is blame enough to go around, but no one is willing to accept the consequences of their actions.
  • Fat Suit: Burke had to wear one to play the obese lawyer at the beginning.
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: Defied by Richie Ginelli. After Billy's disastrous first encounter with the Romani, Richie surveys his emaciated friend and immediately concludes that he's been cursed. The mobster says that while he may be an atheist, he's also willing to face facts:
    Ginelli: Some guys don't believe what they're seeing, especially if it gets in the way of what they want to eat, drink, and believe. [...] The definition of an asshole is a guy who doesn't believe what he's seeing.
  • A Friend in Need: When his wife fails to believe he is cursed (and in fact conspires with a local doctor to commit him to a Mental Institution should he return home), Billy turns to Richie Ginelli, a Mafioso who he is acquainted with. Richie sends Billy a doctor, then shows up himself to wreak havoc on the Romani until they agree to lift the curse. He dies for his troubles but accepted that fact beforehand.
  • Gallows Humor: After Halleck becomes emaciated: "You finally found a diet that works!"
  • The Ghost:
    • Billy employs private detectives to track down the Romani camp, and later those same detectives are looking for Billy for his wife, but none of them ever appear in person, we just see their reports and have Billy consider ways to evade them in his head.
    • In the book (although not the movie) Harry the judge is referred to a lot but never appears in person: with the hit and run and the trial having taken place earlier, off-screen, and Harry having already snuck out of town to a hospital due to his curse by the time Billy wants to see him in person.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Neither the book nor the movie really has a bad guy or a good guy. Billy Halleck is a bit of an asshole but not evil, just a privileged white guy who can't bring himself to take responsibility for his actions, and he is desperate to avoid a painful death through a supernatural curse. Taduz Lemke is, understandably, furious over the death of his daughter, but said death genuinely was accidental, and Lemke consigns three men to agonizing deaths over it, heavily spurred on by the institutional racism he's faced his whole life.
  • Gypsy Curse: Three, to be precise: The titular one, the "lizard" one on the judge, and the mega-acne one on the cop.
  • Hero Antagonist: The Romani act as this to Halleck's Villain Protagonist, however becomes subverted when they murder a bystander paid to give Richie a signal just to send the protagonist a message.
  • Hot Gypsy Woman: Gina Lemke is one. Kari Wuhrer plays her in the film.
  • I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure: After tracking down the Romani camp, Billy and Richie start targeting Lemke's family to force him to remove the curse. In the book, he terrorizes and shoots up the place while making some cold threats against people. In the film, Richie kills his granddaughter's husband and threatens to scar her face with acid. Lemke gives in and puts Billy's curse in a pie (although, in the book, he kills Richie as well).
  • Impaled Palm: Gina shoots Halleck through the hand with a slingshot.
  • Investigator Impersonation: Richie bluffs his way into the Romani's trust with a false FBI ID.
  • Irony: Deliberately invoked by the curses Taduz Lemke inflicts...
    • Lizard - Judge Rossington's curse. This causes him to grow scales all over his body due to his cold-blooded nature as well as making a mocking pun on the idea of the Scales of Justice.
    • Unknown - Sheriff Hopley's curse. The name of the curse was not given, but it gives him horrendous acne. And by "horrendous", we don't mean "looks like chickenpox" - we mean... well...
      Hopley's skin was a harsh alien landscape. Malignant red pimples the size of tea saucers grew out of his chin, his neck, his arms, the back of his hands. Smaller eruptions rashed his cheeks and forehead; his nose was a plague zone of blackheads. Yellowish pus oozed and flowed in weird channels between bulging dunes of proud flesh. Blood trickled here and there. Coarse black hairs, beard hairs, grew in crazy helter-skelter tufts, and Halleck's horrified overburdened mind realized that shaving would have become impossible some time ago in the face of such cataclysmic upheavals. And from the center of it all, helplessly embedded in that trickling red landscape, were Hopley's staring eyes.
      • It could be seen that he helped both the Judge and Halleck save face but could not save his own face as well as his "rotten" nature.
    • Thinner - Billy Halleck's curse. Causes him to drop two pounds a day... until he is erased completely. It's initially a boon due to Halleck's morbid obesity, but he quickly learns that the weight loss will never stop on its own...
      • Additionally, Billy Halleck's doctor was initially advising him to lose weight to prevent his getting a heart attack. Once Halleck loses enough weight, he actually comes closer to dying of a heart attack than he ever did when he was overweight.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: The entire story. Originally Billy gets away with little more than a slap on the wrist thanks to his connections, but it turns out the old Romani that touched him actually gave him a devastating curse that causes him to waste away to nothing. And it wasn't just Billy who got cursed. The judge and police officer who helped him get away with it also get their just desserts with karmic curses...
  • Karmic Twist Ending: Halleck gets the Romani to remove the curse from him. The Romani places it into a pie and tells him whoever eats it will be cursed in his place - or he could eat it himself, which would kill him, just a lot less painfully than starving to death would. He takes it home for his wife to eat, as he now hates her for giving him the handjob that caused him to run over the woman. She does... but so does his daughter. Oops. Guess he'll have a piece himself.
    • The film adds Billy offering some pie to Dr. Mikey for having an affair with his wife.
  • The Mafia: Halleck's friend Richard Ginelli is an Italian mob boss who uses his connections to terrorize the Romani.
  • Magical Romani: Thinner is about an ancient Romani man who casts the book's titular Gypsy Curse as well as several others. How many of them are magical is a bit unclear, whether only Lemke himself can cast magic, whether all the gypsies can, or it might be the Lemke bloodline—in the film, his granddaughter Gina is somehow able to hear a conversation between Billy and his partner staring out the window at his law firm from across the town square.
  • Morality Chain: Billy surprisingly acts one towards Richard Ginelli, asking the latter not to hurt anyone as he sets out to scare the Romani into lifting the curse.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Halleck says this almost word-for-word in the movie, when he finds out that his daughter had some of the cursed pie that he brought home for his wife.
  • Never My Fault: Billy Halleck blames everybody but himself for his having run Susanna Lemke over, including Susanna herself. Taduz Lemke even tells Billy that he feels a bit sorry for him when they meet for the last time because he can't take responsibility: "You tell yourself you can't be asked to pay for it - there is no blame, you say. It slides off you because your shoulders are broken."
  • Nothing but Skin and Bones: 6'2" Billy gets down to 118 pounds at his worst.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: As soon as Billy learns that Susanna Lemke was the old man's daughter, he briefly muses over the vengeance he would wreak on someone if Linda were killed.
  • Off the Wagon: Billy recently quit smoking as a New Year's Resolution. When he's stressed out due to the inexplicable weight loss, he decides to take it up again, but the first few puffs make him so sick that he gives up.
  • Older Than They Look: Taduz Lemke is 106 years old but looks much younger. Billy thinks that the old woman he ran over was Lemke's wife or sister and is shocked to find out that she was Lemke's daughter.
  • Papa Wolf: The reason why Taduz Lemke curses Billy, Judge Rossington, and Sheriff Hopley? All three of them were culpable the death of his daughter, Susanna and the lack of justice only made him angrier. When Billy finds out that Susanna was Taduz's daughter (originally he thougth she was his wife or sister) for a moment he understands Taduz, wondering how he himself would react if someone ran over his daughter.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: There is a medical condition in which skin becomes actual scales. One case had a woman's hair becoming fingernails.
  • Red Shirt: Richie's employee Frank is killed quickly without doing anything of importance or real interest.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Billy Halleck finally takes responsibility for his actions when he discovers that his daughter, who was in no way responsible for Susanna Lemke's death, has eaten a slice of the Romani pie and is doomed to die of the curse that Billy Halleck brought upon himself and passed on to his wife for jerking him off. He decides to eat a slice of the Romani pie himself, choosing to join his wife and child in death.
  • Revenge Myopia: Downplayed. Lemke holds Halleck completely accountable for his daughter's death. While Halleck’s, err, distracted driving caused his daughter’s death, it was an accident and his daughter was jaywalking in the middle of the night so it was partially her fault as well.
  • Serial Escalation: After Billy enlists Richie's help against the gypsies they engage in increasingly damaging attacks on each other involving poisoning the gypsies dogs, Richie's henchman being murdered and eventually Richie shooting up the camp with a machine gun.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Richie isn't killed by the Romani in the film. Depending on how the curse works with the pie, Billy and Linda might both survive thanks to Dr. Mikey's arrival.
  • Spoiled Sweet: Linda is doted on by her father and is one of the story's most sympathetic characters. She's upset without being bratty about the conflict between her parents and shows some naïve curiosity without being judgmental to either side when asking Billy about what happened with the car crash in the book.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Taduz Lemke. He inflicts one unique Gypsy Curse each on three people, with the full intention of it killing the victim, in one way or another. And yet he's doing this to avenge his daughter's death at the hands of a white town man when the supposed justice system failed to properly do this. Hopley, one of Lemke's victims, urges Halleck to see things from Lemke's point of view:
    All his life he's heard a bad deal called a dirty gyp. The "good folks" got roots; you got none. This guy, Halleck, he's seen canvas tents burned for a joke back in the thirties and forties, and maybe there were babies and old people that burned up in some of those tents. He's seen his daughters or his friends' daughters attacked, maybe raped, because all those "good folks" know that gypsies fuck like rabbits and a little more won't matter, and even if it does, who gives a fuck. To coin a phrase. He's maybe seen his sons, or his friends' sons, beaten within an inch of their lives... and why? Because the fathers of the kids who did the beating lost some money on the games of chance. Always the same: you come into town, the "good folks" take what they want, and then you get busted out of town. Sometimes they give you a week on the local pea farm or a month on the local road crew for good measure. And then, Halleck, on top of everything, the final crack of the whip comes. This hotshot lawyer with three chins and bulldog jowls runs your wife down in the street. She's seventy, seventy-five, half-blind, maybe she only steps out too quick because she wants to get back to her place before she wets herself, and old bones break easy, old bones are like glass, and you hang around thinking maybe this once, just this once, there's going to be a little justice ... an instant of justice to make up for a lifetime of crap -'
  • The Topic of Cancer: As their curses worsen, denials set in for Halleck, the judge, and their wives. Cancer is blamed and feared to be the case in place of the less rational reality.
  • Villain Protagonist: Billy Halleck, who is dealt a Gypsy Curse and uses desperate means in an attempt to get it off... and yet clearly is enough of an asshole that he deserves it.
  • Weight Loss Horror: One of the archetypical examples. Billy's extreme and potentially lethal weight loss is treated like the terrifying nightmare that it no doubt would be.
  • Weirdness Censor: Billy's wife, his physician, and the specialists he goes to see refuse to believe that Billy is cursed, despite finding nothing wrong with him in any of their tests. Defied by Richie Ginelli, who believes Billy upon seeing him and hearing his tale. Richie states that he can accept a supernatural cause because his high-stakes criminal lifestyle demands that he recognize threats when they appear - and refusing to acknowledge a threat as dangerous as Billy's curse would be suicidal.
    I believe in what I see. That's why I'm a relatively rich man. That's also why I'm a living man. Most people, they don't believe what they see. ...Some guys — a lot of guys — don't believe what they are seeing, especially if it gets in the way of what they eat or drink or think or believe. Me, I don't believe in God. But if I saw him, I would. I wouldn't just go around saying, "Jesus, that was a great special effect." The definition of an asshole is a guy who doesn't believe what he's seeing. And you can quote me.