Needful Things is one of the Stephen King books that I’ve read more than a few times, so I was prepared to hate the 1993 film adaptation … but it’s one of the adaptations that actually holds up — amazing, considering it follows the novel pretty faithfully, and it’s directed by Charlton Heston’s son, Fraser Clarke, who doesn’t have the greatest track record.
Things is set in the fictional Maine town of King’s popular supernatural spot Castle Rock, where things are going as good as they can when you have a complete idiot running it. Sheriff Alan Pangborn rarely encounters trouble in his small, peaceful town, until new shopkeep named Leland Gaunt arrives with a store full of curiosities called “Needful Things.”
From the moment he arrives, you KNOW he’s trouble. Probably because he’s played by Max Von Sydow, and you only have to take one look at that guy to know he’s a bad-ass. Gaunt takes obvious pleasure in fucking with the town’s citizens, immediately enlisting a young boy to pull some pranks and start some shit between simple-minded Nettie and bully Wilma, and Reverend Rose and Father Meehan, who already can’t stand each other’s religious preferences.
And to keep Pangborn from ruining his fun, he gifts the Sheriff’s girlfriend, Polly, (HI MRS. MCCLANE) with a creepy necklace that magically takes all of her intense arthritis pain away so as to hook her into protecting him. Gaunt’s game is to hand out enchanted objects for favors — my favorite being the pair of 70’s sunglasses that make a lonely housewife think she’s sleeping with Elvis — that so entrance their owners they are desperate to do anything to keep the object and the high that comes with them. He’s the crack dealer of Castle Rock, which is awesome since his crack is Hubble figurines and baseball cards. Then he uses that crack to get what he wants: namely, having everybody murder each other and burn the entire town down in the process.
The best part about this story is: he almost succeeds … and he totally gets away with everything he’s done, too.
The movie is a slow burn, for sure, but it’s so much fun to see Von Sydow smirk his way through the entire thing. Actually a huge reason this movie works is because of the casting: Ed Harris as the flustered Sheriff, Bonnie Bedelia as the conflicted Polly, Amanda Plummer doing what she does best: play someone totally awkward and unhinged, JT Walsh being JT Walsh — even Sean Meier kind of rocks it as the kid who gets tricked into setting it all in motion. Plus, the special F/X are pretty minimal so even the worst of them are easy to get by.
Final recommendation: Hell yeah, give this one a go. It’s an entertaining entry in the King adaptation list, even at 2 hours.