Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Needful Things

US movie (1993). Castle Rock/New Line/Columbia. Pr Jack Cummins. Exec pr Peter Yates. Dir Fraser C Heston. Spfx Garry Paller. Mufx Tibor Farkas. Screenplay W D Richter. Based on Needful Things (1991) by Stephen King. Starring Bonnie Bedelia (Polly Chalmers), Ed Harris (Sheriff Alan Pangbourn), Ray McKinnon (Deputy Norris Ridgewick), Shane Meier (Brian Rusk), Amanda Plummer (Nettie Cobb), Max Von Sydow (Leland Gaunt), J T Walsh (Danforth "Buster" Keaton III). 116 mins. Colour.

King's original novel had the interesting premise that the Trickster figure Leland Gaunt – probably the Devil, but with characteristics also of Death and the Wandering Jew – opens a magic Shop in the small Maine town Castle Rock. His stock consists of what each individual most wants; his price is part money but, more importantly, part a "favour" or "trick" they must perform for him. Initially minor, albeit malicious, these "tricks" have the effect of unwrapping the latent Evil in each person's heart, so that soon the town is at war with itself in a frenzy of bloodshed. Only doughty Sheriff Pangbourn stands between Castle Rock and the abyss.

The novel was long and rambling. The movie, though following the plot fairly carefully, necessarily abridges matters, and this works much to its benefit. Most of the characterizations are stereotyped, but Von Sydow intriguingly plays Gaunt for the most part as a plausibly genial demon, thereby shocking us all the more when his ruthlessness surfaces. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.