The unrivaled maestro of all things macabre, Stephen King, brought about a modern tale of darkly familiar world-ideas pertaining to the beautifully insidious aspect of human desire. It could have happened anywhere, and that’s part of the charm as well as fear. Needful Things, the sign read above the soon-to-be-opened antique shop.
A NEW KIND OF STORE, it boasted to all who paused to ponder at what may lay in wait behind its locked threshold.
“You won’t believe your eyes!” they were all told, and oh what dark delicacies were hidden away in secret places of that quaint little storefront.
With his signature impeccable flare, Stephen King rewrote the Faustian classic and warned a brand new generation – “be careful what you wish for.” But I digress, reader; this isn’t a morality epic of wishful desires, but as the title indicates – needful things. Those particulars no one can live without.
That insanely rare baseball card just beyond your reach, the very one that keeps your collection infuriatingly incomplete.
Or how about the obscene phallic sculpture of pure sex that you hope the church-people don’t catch you eyeing? So you must hide it away in the privacy of your own home.
A knick-knack here, a do-hicky there; for me no doubt it would have something to do with a handsome collection of horror literature or comics.
Whatever you need, you’ll find it. All right here, my friends – things you never knew you couldn’t live without. Mr. Gaunt, the tall and kindly store owner, will be sure you find such things, then work out a special deal you simply won’t be able to refuse.
Already proven to be a masterpiece upon its initial publication, the movie adaptation by the same name captured the somber essence of King’s powerful novel.
Taking on the devilish role of Leland Gaunt would be a devil of a burden. The role of Castle Rock’s very own Tempter would require some massive talent from a seasoned actor with interchangeable grace and malice. Not to mention a flare for old-fashioned charm.
Well speak of the Devil, Max von Sydow (The Exorcist, Solomon Kane, Greatest Story Ever Told, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) took on the role and gives a captivating performance. It is nothing short of perfect casting.
Audiences were already very familiar with Max von Sydow’s impeccable talent on screen. He had proven himself to be an established actor among the brightest stars, and rightly earned praise for his haunting portrayal of the Messiah in the biblical epic Greatest Story Ever Told.
Some years later he would once more battle the forces of darkness, not as the Savior, but as The Exorcist determined to save the demon-imprisoned soul of Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair).
From Jesus of Nazareth to Father Merrin, von Sydow was not unfamiliar with the ways of the supernatural. However, he had always played on the side of the Light, and in the end – through personal sacrifice – his characters won out against Darkness.
Now it was his turn to give the Devil his due as he took on the manipulative role of the Prince of Darkness and silently worked the certain doom of Castle Rock. His performance is spot on, and feels so deadly natural. It’s spell-binding. If for nothing else the movie is worth watching to see Max von Sydow shine with dark glamour.
The only person able to withstand the diabolical wiles of Mr. Gaunt is town sheriff, Alan Pangborn (Ed Harris). This was not the first Stephen King adaptation in Harris’s career, having already appeared in the Father’s Day segment of cult-classic Creepshow.
Ed Harris did not fair too well against the tricky zombie of Father’s Day, but is given another chance to battle the dark forces of Stephen King’s wicked imagination. And comes out the hero. Upon meeting with Gaunt in Needful Things, Gaunt asks him what he asks everyone, “What is it you need?”
Pangborn answered with an honest smile, “Nothing. I have everything I need.”
With that simplicity of contentment the Devil is already outwitted and undone. It’s that level of child-like purity that unbinds the cords of greed, lust, and perverse needs. Covetousness bears no weight against a heart that is truly content.
Pangborn is not a priest or anointed to ward off paranormal enormities. He’s not a renowned warrior nor does he walk in the light of God’s hallowed touch upon him. He’s simply a good man. A man who realizes things don’t complete his life. It’s the people in it that have completed him, and they are the ones he fights the beguilement of Leland Gaunt for.
It is a profound simplicity and one I hope our society can someday realize.
The film turns twenty-four today and hasn’t lost one moment of its original charm or character.
“When the smoke cleared, Leland Gaunt and his hellwagon were gone.” Stephen King, Needful Things