Needful Things (1993) — Making a deal with the devil

“I just killed my wife. Is that bad?”

Poolman’s rating: I’ll give you one Babe Ruth card, autographed to you personally, plus a chance to kill your neighbour (this is a good rating!).

Poolman’s review: I’m one of those people that Stephen King doesn’t suck in too easily. I am an amateur writer myself, and I often find I have a problem with the stuff he does. No particular reason, I just do. The exceptions I’ve noted are the Gunslinger stories, The Stand, and Needful Things. This book was reeeeeeally good, and worth the read. Thankfully, the movie comes set to match. There’s suspense, violence, just a hint of sexual overtones (if you know about the scenes with the Elvis statue, they’re better in the book), and that grit that only comes to light when it’s everyone against themselves, no holds barred (not unlike the movie of The Stand, come to think of it).

In the Maine that only exists in Mr King’s strange imagination, a man named Leland Gaunt sets up Needful Things (surprise!), a kind of antique and curios shop that specializes in making every person perfectly happy by giving them exactly what they want. And I mean exactly. Gaunt will sell you whatever it is that you need or want most in your life, whether you know what it is or not. And the best part is that he’ll give you a great deal! Hell, he sold a priceless baseball card to the token twerpy kid in the movie for something like 75 cents…. plus a favour.

(In the unforgettable words of SNL’s Chruch Lady, “Could it be…. SATAN?!?” Well, no, but one of his lackies, to be sure.)

And that’s where it gets interesting. Gaunt sets up a network of pranks between the townsfolk, growing from innocent stuff like a couple of broken windows and turkey turd on the wash to gifts containing rat traps (eeeeeYOWCH!) and having the town nutcase’s dog skinned. It’s actually strangely fascinating, watching Gaunt (played extremely well by Max Von Sydow) simply sit back and plays the characters’ weaknesses against themselves and each other. You almost want him to win sometimes, given some of the lowlifes he tries to destroy. It’s wonderfully complex. I especially LOVE the way Von Sydow plays Gaunt as such a damned nice guy, charming to the last. He’s a great actor.

Of course, every evil scourge must be wiped out (that’s the American way, I hear), so to save them all, Ed Harris steps in as a do-good sheriff with a checkered past to make sure everything ends up hunky-dory. Why can’t evil ever win?

Needful Things makes a strong jump from the written page to the screen. Yes, I liked the book more, but it’s so great seeing the characters fleshed out in a cast of recognizeable but unnameable actors. Find yourself a quiet evening, pop some corn, and check out this film. I can’t guarantee it for everyone, but if you like violence and well-planned character interaction, well, perhaps this movie will be your… Needful Thing.

(My God, that was corny.).

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