needful things | fraser c. heston | w.d. richter | max von sydow | ed harris | bonnie bedelia | based on | stephen king | crime | drama | fantasy | thriller | united states | demon | amanda plummer | j.t. walsh | ray mckinnon | duncan fraser | valri bromfield | novel
Film: Needful Things
Director: Fraser C. Heston
Writer: W.D. Richter
Starring: Max von Sydow, Ed Harris and Bonnie Bedelia
This was a film that I remember growing up, but never actually saw. There was a trailer on a VHS and it was one that I really wanted to see. Even more I read the Stephen King novel this is based off when I was in a high school. The concept then was really intriguing to me and it was always on my list of films I had to check out. The synopsis is a mysterious new shop opens in a small town which always seems to stock the deepest of each shopper, with a price far heavier than expected.
We are in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine. It seems like an idyllic coastal town, but much like a duck on water, everything seems calm on the surface, but underneath there are its legs going and creating waves. There’s a new shop in town that is ran by Leland Gaunt (Max von Sydow) called Needful Things. There’s quite a buzz as to be honest, a lot of excitement doesn’t normally happen here.
There’s a little diner that is ran by Polly Chalmers (Bonnie Bedelia). She is seeing the local sheriff Alan Pangborn (Ed Harris). He comes in that day and asks her to marry him. She doesn’t believe it at first, but definitely comes around when she sees it’s real. Working for Polly is Nettie Cobb (Amanda Plummer). She’s an interesting character as she is very nervous, but there’s a rumor she killed her husband in self-defense.
Wilma Jerzyck (Valri Bromfield) runs a local turkey farm with her husband Pete (Frank C. Turner). She doesn’t like Nettie’s dog and this causes them to have some run-ins as well. At the local jail, Deputy Norris Ridgewick (Ray McKinnon) has his own tiff with the head selectman, Danforth Keeton III (J.T. Walsh). Danforth is upset about a ticket he was given for parking in a handicap space and it gets even worse when Norris slips up and calls him Buster, a nickname he despises. Thankfully, Alan shows up in time to break them up.
Things all take a turn for the worse though when Needful Things officially opens up. Brian Rusk (Shane Meier) is one of the first customer’s and Leland asks what he most desires. It turns out to be a Mickey Mantle 1956 Topps card. It turns out that Leland has one. Brian doesn’t have a lot of money, but Leland accepts the 96 cents as half and needs him to do him a favor. The favor though is throw mud mixed with turkey poop all over the Jerzyck laundry. Others from the town come in and are given similar favors for items they most want. The problem though, in everyone’s rage, they don’t stop to think about who is really doing these things to them, but just go after who they think did it. All the while, Leland is recording everyone’s names into a little black book and there’s a lot of names in it. The town of Castle Rock will never quite be the same again.
Now I have to say that the concept for this film is so relevant even today. That was one thing that really drew me into the novel and I was hoping the film would be as good. I’m not going to compare the two, because to be honest, it’s been a very long time since I read it and don’t really remember a lot at this time. I just knew that I loved it.
The concept I’m referring to is part commercialism and part humans are garbage. I know this is a bleak thing to say, but I absolutely believe what we get here could definitely happen and it kind of does already. These people see an item that they think they need, even though none of them really do and the things that they get don’t really bring them anything but pride to have it. It makes sense though as the saying is pride before the fall. Even more than that, the tasks everyone is given to do isn’t against a person they hate. I feel that absolves them in their head of what they’re doing. The problem becomes that, when you do these things, there’s still a reaction.
Something that I really love about this film too is that we even have the corruption of religion. Father Meehan (William Morgan Sheppard) is the local catholic priest and he buys are chalice from Leland. Reverend Rose (Don S. Davis) is the local Baptist minister and from what I gather, he buys some art that is somewhat erotic. This makes me laugh even more, because I know a lot of people who hide behind religion. The two of them hate each other and I think this is a great aspect to include. We always think that those who preach their religion are holier, but this shows they’re just men as well with Earthly desires.
The only person who is truly pure of heart is Alan. He refuses to get anything from Leland, telling him he has everything that he needs. I think he really just wants Polly and he is close to having her after she accepts his proposal. We get a bit of his back-story which explains why he’s kind of a sullen character. We also get some of Leland’s as well, which is a bit outrageous at times, but I love that’s been all over doing what he is.
To the pacing of this film, I do think that it is a bit long, but while watching it, there’s not a lot that I could imagine cutting out as you need it to build the suspense. It does work in that respect for me as well. It is scary to think that doing some of these little things could set people off, but we are harboring hatred for others so all we really need to do is light that fuse and it could happen as we get this. I’m not the biggest fan of the ending here, as it is a bit too redemptive for my tastes. I do like the implications though of Leland at the end and what he says to Alan. There are some cheesy things that happen in this film with weapons I could have done without. It does make sense though for what Leland wants to have happen that someone needs to supply them.
Something that is really good here though is the acting. Sydow is just amazing. He has that creepiness, but he also is quite disarming. I did find the connection with him and Polly to not really work for me, but everything else was great. Harris was also solid in his performance. I do believe he really is Sheriff Pangborn and I like that he can see what is happening, but can’t prove it. A lot of that is from the interaction with Brian. Bedelia was solid as was Plummer. Her role as Nettie is really good and how nervous she portrays the role was great. I would say that the rest of the cast definitely rounds out the film for what was needed with shout outs to Walsh, McKinnon and Sheppard.
As to the effects of the film, there really weren’t a lot of them. They do go practical with what they could which worked. I do have to say, seeing Leland as he really is was something I liked quite a bit. It is very subtle, but when he is writing his in book his has long nasty fingernails and his teeth are gross. I like this idea that he is evil, but that he can give the look like us and its really just dark changes to his form. There’s some computer enhanced effectives with electricity and lightening that I had no issue with as well. The film is shot very well which definitely helps the film as well.
The last thing to cover would be the soundtrack. It doesn’t really stand out to me overall, but I do have to comment on a scene in the bar. Hugh Priest (Duncan Fraser) gets mad, because the jukebox keeps skipping and repeating. He goes over to kick it and it makes the proprietor annoyed. That was an interesting set up as well.
Now with that said, this film is definitely one that I enjoyed. It is crazy it took me 25+ years to actually sit down to see it, but I’m glad I did. This is relevant in that we are a slave to things and that when given the chance, we would do bad things to get it. I think that the acting of the film really helps to bring this to life. It is paced well and builds tension for a film that runs 2 hours. I don’t love the ending, but do love the implications with the Leland character and what he tells to Alan. There’s not a lot in the way of effects and what we get worked for me. The soundtrack also didn’t stand out, but fit for what was needed, especially in the end with Hugh. Overall though I’d say this is a good film and I’d actually recommend giving this a viewing.
My Rating: 8 out of 10