Once again we find ourselves in another December, which means it’s time once again for Kingmas. To start it off I wanted to watch a King adaptation to start with and I wanted to be something that I was both aware of, yet had never watched. After digging through a small pile of films I settled on Needful Things from 1993, based on the 1991 novel of the same name. This was a delight to watch as I have never, at the time of writing this at least, I have never read the novel. So I was able to go in to this film blind, and judge it more or less on its own merits.
The film opens with the opening of Needful Things in the small town of Castle Rock. The business owner Leland Gaunt (Max von Sydow), sells trinkets and assorted items in the town. Everything he sells has great value to the person he’s selling too, though he never sells them for much. Just a small fee and a small favor. The first person he sells to is Brian Rusk (Shane Meier), how he sells a rare baseball card for nothing more than a few cents and the promise to pull a prank on Wilma Jerzyck (Valri Bromfield). Gaunt continues to sell items to the town for small fees and “smaller” favors. Until he comes across Sheriff Alan Pangborn (Ed Harris), who tells him that he doesn’t need anything. Something that Gaunt see’s as true. The two become at odds as Gaunt continues to sell his items with his favors becoming more and more malicious, turning the town against itself. Until the town degrades to violence with only Sheriff Pangborn standing between the town and damnation.
I love the simplicity of the plot. A man selling his wares with malicious intent. Though after looking into the novel I wish the ending would have been a little more ambiguous with whether or not Gaunt was the devil himself or just a demon like the novel. Yes, I spoil things for myself constantly.
Though Stephen King is always more about the journey than the destinations. Needful Things is a good journey to take. Mostly this is on the strength of Max von Sydow, who delivers an amazing performance as Gaunt. Both warm and menacing, mostly menacing with increasing frequency until the final moment of the film. Which I think as great as I love nothing more than a good villain and Gaunt is a great villain.
Though, I will admit that this film does have weaknesses. My main, well sole issue is that support cast isn’t the best. The quality performances that Max von Sydow and Ed Harris, both deliver performance equal to their caliber. The rest though, Shane Meier, Bonnie Bedelia, Amanda Plummer, J.T. Walsh, Ray McKinnon and Duncan Fraser all do… passable jobs. Standard fare for a King adaptation, but they do leave a bit to be desired.
Final Thoughts, while not the best horror film it is still a solid King horror film. I would place Needful Things well below the Mist, but above Cat’s Eye. The performances are excellent to passable with the scale tipping towards passable. The pacing is also only OK, never truly engaging, but never so slow it viewing it becomes tedious. I would recommend this film to fans of King adaptations and to fans of films with memorable villains. Even if the film offers little else. 8/10