NEEDFUL THINGS (1993) – The Dungeon Review!
What is with all the Stephen King adaptations? For some reason I always associated the 80s with being heavy King years, but it would seem there were just as many through the 90s. There might have even been more King adaptations from the 90s if you included all the miserable sequels for Children of the Corn. For good or for bad, I will have at least one more King adaptation before this 90s feature is over. Like I mentioned in my review for The Dark Half, I have not read Stephen King in years; furthermore I do not recall having ever read Needful Things. I will not be commenting on how the movie compares to the book. Since I watched The Dark Half and Needful Things within a few days of one another I could not help but notice the character of Sheriff Alan Pangborn is in both stories. He was played by Michael Rooker in The Dark Half and in Needful Things he is played by Ed Harris. In The Dark Half he is married and has a son but in Needful Things he is a bachelor dating the owner of the local cafe. I have no idea what the timeline between the two stories is, but something must have happen to Sheriff Pangborn and his family that I don’t know about. Needful Things has a great cast and a particularly delightful turn from the great Max von Sydow who plays the devil, but as a horror film Needful Things is pretty damn needy.
An antique shop called Needful Things has just opened up in the small town of Castle Rock run by the charming and mysterious Leland Gaunt. The residents are presented with various “needful” treasures in exchange for perpetrating a small prank on their neighbor. The first customer is a boy named Brian who desires a Topps Mickey Mantle card from 1956. Leland Gaunt does him one better and materializes a card actually autographed to Brian. Brian need only enact a minor indignity against much maligned neighbor Wilma who owns a local turkey farm. This starts a chain of events of neighbor against neighbor that inevitably results in murder.
Max Von Sydow is fantastic and has a lot of fun with his role as the devil. He is charming, intelligent, handsome and a shrewd manipulator. The people of Castle Rock are putty in his hands. With the exception that is of Sheriff Alan Pangborn. Pangborn is leary of Gaunt from the get go and his suspicions only escalate as the story progresses. Ed Harris is always strong and he is certainly likable enough as Pangborn but the character didn’t seem very well fleshed out to me. In fact, there is a parade of characters that could have used more background. I enjoyed Amanda Plummer in her role as Nettie Cobb but considering her gentle mousy nature it seemed odd that she would be willing to pull a prank on someone; never mind enjoying it as much as she did. Why was Wilma so angry? She seemed to hate Nettie right from the start. How could anyone hate Nettie? I should add there are a ton of characters in the story, and it would have been impossible to give each one a ton of detail. That said I still found it shoddy. The characters all get nuts pretty quickly. I just wasn’t buying the whole scenario. It all felt terribly rushed. Despite the characterizations there are some great performances although Von Sydow is definitely the stand out.
They do some really hokey shit in Needful Things that I found laughable. When Gaunt hands the recipient their “needful thing” an electric current goes through them and they see a glimpse from the past relating to the trinket. It was rather needless to include an actual physical electric shock. And what about a little mystery? Bloody hell! Leland Gaunt sells young Brian his needful thing for a favor and 95 cents within the first few minutes of the film. A little more mystery surrounding Mr. Gaunt would have been appropriate. There really isn’t much in the way of suspense in Needful Things, but there were a couple actions sequences that weren’t bad. There is a knife and axe fight which was an awful lot of fun and an intense exchange in a bar. The film does look well with its beautiful Gibsons B.C. setting. Gibsons B.C. is best known for being the place where the long running Canadian television show The Beachcombers was filmed.
Sometimes I am not entirely sure how I feel about a film until I start writing a review. I knew I wasn’t crazy about Needful Things, but my judgment was slightly clouded by the charming Max von Sydow. Needful Things was in need of character development, suspense, mystery and horror. The ending with the whole speech shtick felt lame and overdone (I did however enjoy the final few seconds where Gaunt emerges from the crumbled building). Despite some great turns from solid actors, a lovely setting and some nifty props Needful Things was seriously lacking. It gets a pass for Max von Sydow and that is all. Not recommended.
Dungeon Rating: 2.5/5
Directed By: Fraser Clarke Heston
Starring: Max von Sydow, Ed Harris, Bonnie Bedelia, Amanda Plummer, J.T. Walsh, Ray McKinnon, Duncan Fraser, Valri Bromfield, Shane Meier, William Morgan Sheppard, Don S. Davis, Campbell Lane, Eric Schneider, Frank C. Turner, Gillian Barber