Needful Things (1993)
Director: Fraser Clarke Heston
Max Von Sydow/Leland Gaunt
Ed Harris/Sheriff Pangborn
The good town of "Castle Rock" has a new resident. Suave Leland Gaunt (Sydow) just opened a small shop called "Needful Things" where you can find anything and everything you ever wanted. The catch is that Gaunt doesn’t want money in exchange for his goods, he wants little favors. Gaunt's hidden agenda eventually turns the fine folks of Castle Rock against one another in violent ways. Will Sheriff Pangborn (Harris) stop the devilish Gaunt and save his town from destruction? Enter Castle Rock and find out…
This is another Stephen King book-to-movie deal, but this time it delivers the goods. What I truly loved about this movie is that it sports a slew of varied characters and the story is driven by them. There’s a lot of peeps in this town, but most of them are given fair screen time and we as an audience get to know and care about each and every one of them on some level. When they eventually viciously turn on each other, it’s a blast and a half to witness.
Watching this movie unravel is pure pleasure. It’s not afraid to get downright nasty by showing us disturbing images (like a young boy putting a gun to his head or a putrid skinned dog) but its tongue is always firmly planted in its cheek, also aiming for off kilter chuckles. For example, there’s a catfight in this horror zoo that redefines the term "meow"…it’s fought with a butcher knife and cleaver. Although harsh in nature, this specific "femme vs femme" bit is a perfect example of how this baby relishes in serving up human ugliness, while at the same time getting a couple of laughs out in the process. Not an obvious direction, but the director magically pulls it off. Max Von Sydow (Gaunt) is also quite a delight to watch throughout. He’s obviously having a hoot with the part and we're given the right to share in that enjoyment. I appreciated that they abstained from portraying old scratch with a tail or tacky horns. The makeup effects on Sydow are also very low key (long fingernail, weird teeth) and sometimes subtlety is a welcome breath of fresh air.
This is King the way I like it. It’s funny, out of control, violent, fast paced but definitely "fear-fluff". The film’s heavier themes are handled lightly and in the end, all the madness doesn't amount to much food for the noggin. But all movies don’t have to communicate a strong message or make us ponder our meaningless existence. Some are solely there to entertain. This one achieved that goal. Slap in some fun shotgun action, some powerful explosions, a sexy Bonnie Bedelia and a consistently solid Ed Harris and you get a devilish rollercoaster ride that didn’t quite make it at the box office, but is sure to please the most avid King fan. Let's enter Castle Rock and get entertained…
It gets ugly. Cleaver in the head, gunshots wounds, skinned dog. It’s not over the top, but it’s gorier than I thought it would be.
Top notch. All of the actors rock. Max Von Sydow (Gaunt) is very credible as the charming devil. His pleasant demeanor is one of the reasons why he’s a character to be feared. He’s fun to watch. I’m a huge Ed Harris fan. He’s a man’s man, not afraid to show his vulnerable side but always up for the rough stuff when the shite hits the fan. He’s a feeling’s man tough guy and an excellent actor. This role is no exception. You go boy!!! Bonnie Bedelia (Polly) is mostly known as the "Die Hard" wife but we all forget what a sexy, strong actress she really is. She holds her own against the multi-talented cast and this Arrow would love to see her in more films and less TV movies. Amanda Plummer (Nettie) is a master at playing kooky roles. She tackles yet another one playing the murderous widow with a heart of gold here and excels at it…again! The late JT Walsh kicks that arse one more time, he’s all over the place with this one, it’s a great role and he milks it. That’s positive. What a cast!!!!
T & A
Bonnie Bedelia in a bra…that’s enough for me…
Heston infuses the film with lots of energy. He begins with a wonderful aerial shot and never lets up. Creepy flashes (when people touch the objects), a relentless pace, slow motion and very fluid camera movements. He also makes great use of sound (especially the creepy whispers when Harris finds the newspaper clippings). Impressive in his directorial debut.
A brilliant use of "Ave Maria" and a score that has no problem following the film's many moods.
Distributor: MGM/UA Video
IMAGE: The 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen image comes through. The colors are nicely saturated and the overall image is very sharp.
SOUND: The Dolby Digital Surround 2.0 mix is pretty good pumping the surround sound at all the right moments.
EXTRAS: We get a Theatrical Trailer...and that's it. Quite disappointing taking into account that there's a three hour cut of the film out there. Those missing scenes would've been nice.
Some King adaptations hit, others miss. "Needful Things" hits hard. It’s well written, funny, dark, violent, "out there" and always on the move. It boasts an excellent cast and is stylishly directed. If watching two priests duke it out, JT Walsh lose his marbles or a town go to hell appeals to you, rent this. It has that to offer and lots more. You need to see Needful Things!
A three-hour version of this film was aired on May 22, 1996 on TBS. That extra hour gives the character of Cora the screen time she deserves and we get to see her love scene with that other King…Elvis that is.
Fraser Clarke Heston is Charlton Heston’s son. He directed his dad in the flick Alaska.