Welcome to Castle Rock, Maine, a lovely place to live... if you don't mind selling your soul! Oscar nominees Ed Harris (A Beautiful Mind) and Max Von Sydow (Minority Report) head an exceptional cast- including Bonnie Bedelia (Die Hard) and Amanda Plummer (Pulp Fiction)- in this supernatural thriller that's dark, haunting and "a hell of a good scare." (Los Angeles)
Sheriff Alan Pangborn (Harris) has a devil of a problem: Suddenly all the residents of his sleepy little town are dying... to kill each other. But at least business is still booming, especially at a new antique store. The shop's mysterious owner (Von Sydow) has something for everyone, and his prices are always reasonable: just one small favor... oh, and, of course, eternal damnation!
I'm a huge fan of Stephen King. My parents started me on Stephen King at an early age so that I could learn to love to read. Needless to say, I was sucker from the first one I picked up in the late 80s, even if I didn't quite understand everything at the time. One of the more fascinating Stephen King books was 'Needful Things'. I thought the idea was original and quite cool in that there was a store where you could buy rare items that did "odd" things along with a kooky store owner. I liked to pretend that my local comic book store that had the old vintage issues and rare action figures stored in the back had special powers, and that after I saved my allowance over several weeks, I'd purchase these rare items and I'd gain some sort of coolness or powers.
Granted, 'Needful Things' is much darker than that, but I liked to compare the two. In 1993, during the big string of Stephen King movies and tv shows that were adapted from his stories came 'Needful Things', which was one of the bigger budget and A-List starring projects of the Stephen King periodic table. The studio got Fraser C. Heston (Charlton Heston's son who played baby Moses in 'The Ten Commandments') to direct the film. Fraser's claim to fame was 'Treasure Island' and being a 2nd unit director on 'City Slickers'. They also hired on W.D.Richter to write the screenplay, Richter has an interesting resume, he adapted 'The Invasion of the Body Snatchers', directed 'The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension', and co-wrote 'Big Trouble in Little China'.
With those three credits alone, you can tell he is a cult icon favorite in the genre. Rounding out the cast is an impressive Ed Harris playing the small town's sheriff and of course the legendary actor Max Von Sydow to play the main sinister character. I think the reason this movie receives the unsavory reviews and feelings is that the film version is too short to dive into the multiple character's story arcs. The film was made for television as well and was an hour longer, which gave us quite a bit more character development, but this is the theatrical version and runs at two hours. It keeps the pace quick, however the character development is lacking.
I think at one point the studio was trying to secure the rights to the longer version, but everything fell through and is not on this release. Maybe another time, right? Like most Stephen King stories, this particular one takes place in Castle Rock, a small town in which everyone knows everyone's name and is quick to help out each other. Alan Pangborn (Ed Harris) is the sheriff of the town and keeps a close and calm eye on everything. An elderly man shows up in town one day and opens up a new store that sells one-of-a-kind antiques.
This man is known as Leland Gaunt (Max Von Sydow). He is quite humorous and spry. He quickly starts selling these interesting and mysterious antiques to the townsfolk and usually accepts payment in the form of the buyer pulling a simple practical joke or prank on their neighbors. In addition to these weird suggestions of payment, these one-of-a-kind objects seem to have special powers that coincide with the buyer's personal lives, but it all comes at a price. Sooner than later the practical jokes and pranks become bigger and the once peaceful town starts turning on each other, much to the happiness of Gaunt who watches from his home and storefront.
Sheriff Pangborn figures out that this all started with the arrival of Gaunt and begins to investigate further, only to find that Pangborn is definitely not who he says he is. What sells this movie so well are the performances, specifically that of Ed Harris and Max Von Sydow. Harris plays the town sheriff to perfection. He instantly comes off as the smart detective that seems to put things together from the get-go. He has a calm, but stern manner to him, and it plays out very well.
Then there is Max Von Sydow, and how do you not like him in anything? I know, it's impossible. It's no different here as he plays Gaunt flawlessly. You like the guy, but you can't help but be scared of him at every turn. 'Needful Things' in my opinion is still quite good and entertaining. It might not have the scares that 'It' does or the impact of 'The Shining' had on all of us, but it still holds its own with the performances and screenplay.
'Needful Things' comes with a great 1080p HD transfer presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio. For a film that came out more than 20 years ago, this improved image looks very good. Detail is strong, vivid, and sharp throughout this upgrade that show closeups of the actors and props quite nicely. Individual hairs, beads of sweat, and fine clothing textures can all be seen easily and do not look flat at any given moment. Wider shots also look impressive as well and never goes to the soft side. Of course, the well lit scenes show the most detail, but in the darker scenes, the image holds up quite nicely.
Colors are mostly vibrant with no fluctuations in the saturation. Each color is well-balanced. Black levels are deep and the skin tones are natural. Being over 22-years old, this isn't the cleanest image, and there wasn't a "Criterion" clean up here with this release, hence there are some minor instances of dirt and debris, especially during the first ten minutes of the movie. After that, it cleans up nicely. Other than that unfortunate business, this is a solid looking transfer with no aliasing or banding detected. 'Needful Things' keeps the filmic look while being upgraded with a smoother picture.
This release comes with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo mix and sounds quite good, despite this not being in the usual 5.1 sound. I usually prefer my mixes in 5.1, so that I can be fully immersed in the suspense or action with the rear speakers, but with this 2.0 mix, they did a great job with balancing each effect and piece of dialogue. Perhaps the best part of the mix, or at least my favorite was the score.
It's sounds amazing, even on this 2.0 version. The sound effects are full, robust and well-balanced on the two front speakers. Dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to follow, and free of any pops, cracks, high shrills, and hiss. Other than that, there just really isn't that much to this audio track. That being said, this sounds great.
Audio Commentary - Director Fraser Heston offers up a great commentary track that is moderated by Walter Olsen who keeps things moving along. Heston discusses how he came to direct the film and how he was second choice. He discusses adapting the big novel from Stephen King, working with his actors, and filming on location. There are tons of interesting bits of information here and quite entertaining.
Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2 Mins.) - Trailer for the film.
'Needful Things' still holds up some 22 years after its release. Sure, the three hour extended cut has more character development, but this quick two hours is a great pace for all the suspense and fun. Plus, watching Max Von Sydow play the character he does here is quite fantastic. The video and audio are both quite good, given how old the movie is and the one extra, being an audio commentary is definitely worth listening to. I only wish there was a big behind the scenes bonus feature set in present day with everyone discussing their experience on set. That being said, this release still comes recommended and is worth the upgrade.