Needful Things (1993)

needful things poster 1993 movie
5.0 Overall Score
Story: 5/10
Acting: 5/10
Visuals: 5/10

Clever concept

Never quite gets the needed tone down

Movie Info

Movie Name:   Needful Things

Studio:   Castle Rock Entertainment

Genre(s):   Horror

Release Date(s):   August 27, 1993

MPAA Rating:   R

needful things leland gaunt sheriff pangborn max von sydow ed harris

You’re going to be a problem…

What would you give or do for the item of your dreams?  The toy you lost as a child or a cure for pain?  When Needful Things moves into Castle Rock, Maine, the storeowner Leland Gaunt (Max von Sydow) seems to have everything everyone wants.  Sheriff Alan J. Pangborn (Ed Harris) and his new fiancée Polly Chalmers (Bonnie Bedelia) find themselves caught up in Gaunt’s game as the problems in Castle Rock build to a boil…Leland Gaunt is pushing Castle Rock to explode, and death will come.

Directed by Fraser C. Heston, Needful Things is a horror film based on Stephen King’s 1991 novel.  The movie was released to mostly negative reviews but has gone on to have a bit of a cult following.

The concept for Needful Things is intriguing, but Needful Things is a borderline comedy (intentionally).  It seems to want to be a black-comedy which would have worked a bit better, but the balance isn’t quite there.  I want to like Needful Things because it is almost there, but it just doesn’t quite make it over the hump.

needful things leland gaunt max von sydow bonnie bedelia

Let’s get it on!

I read Needful Things before seeing the movie.  I recall it not being my favorite Stephen King book but I liked some of the games played by Gaunt.  The cat and mouse games and elaborate set-ups were fun, but here, the movie doesn’t seem to have as much time it needs to build the tricks and trades.  It is sometimes horror, but comes off as comedy…which it felt in the book it was slightly more tongue-in-cheek.  Eventually it just kind of devolves in a mess with everyone fighting, and with little invested in a lot of supporting characters, it doesn’t necessarily work.

The movie also seems to struggle because not all of the characters seem to be on the same page…some play up the comedy and some take it too seriously.  You can tell the characters were more developed in the book because some of the “pranks” are more elaborate and more developed.  While the core characters of Max von Sydow, Ed Harris, and Bonnie Bedelia are quite developed, some of the other supporting characters like the Reverend Rose and Father Meehan (Don S. Davis and W. Morgan Sheppard) feel rather bland and paper thin.

needful things bomb ending buster jt walsh

Boom Goes the Dynamite!

Opposed to some of Stephen King’s stories, Needful Things is rather minimal in its special effects.  It is pretty much normal people doing bad stuff, and therefore the movie looks pretty normal.  There is occasionally a nice use of scenery (it was shot in Canada), but it mostly looks like an action movie with explosions.

Needful Things is so close to working, but instead of coming off as fun, funny, or scary, it just comes off as goofy.  I could now see Needful Things as a TV mini-series or even a regular series (if they did a Castle Rock series, they could spend a season on it).  Needful Things isn’t a great movie, and probably not even a good movie…but it can blame part of the problems on the source materials.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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