Film

Unfulfilled Desires, Fulfilled Nightmares

As the new millennium accelerates we witness our world consumed by an international economic crisis fueled by unrestricted consumption and greed. Hence, the relevance of Stephen King's 'Needful Things'.

Arguably, Needful Things is one of the most underappreciated works of the master of horror fiction, Stephen King. Both the novel and the film appear to have failed to capture the attention of fans and critics. However, careful examination reveals what may well be one of the most intriguing horror yarns from recent years. Indeed, Needful Things boils down to a clever fable that talks about the superfluous value that we often assign to unreachable material possessions which we believe are indispensable to our happiness. Furthermore, the film version succeeds in adapting the book into the big screen.

Book:Needful Things

Author:Stephen King

Publisher: Penguin

Publication date: 1992-06

Number of pages:752 pages

Format: Paperback

Image:http://images.popmatters.com/columns_art/l/lanzagorta-needfulbook-cvr.jpgWritten in 1991, Needful Things is better known for being the last novel written by Stephen King that takes place in the imaginary town of Castle Rock, Maine. Horror fans will recall that that The Dead Zone, Cujo, and The Dark Half, all took place in this exact same locale. As a matter of fact, some characters and events from these early novels make a brief appearance in Needful Things.

As Needful Things begin, the mysterious Leeland Gaunt arrives to Castle Rock to open an appealing antiques store properly named Needful Things. In this store, everybody finds a much desired object that promised to bring eternal happiness. For instance, Brian Rusk finds a rare baseball card signed by Mickey Mantle, Ace Merrill finds the jacket he used to wear when he was young, and Nettie Cobb finds a figurine similar to the one she broke years ago. In a way, Needful Things looked forward at the allure and charm of searching eBay listings.

Unfortunately, the catch of buying at Needful Things is that everybody has to pay a price in cash, but also perform a deed on Leeland’s behalf. The requested feats are often what appear to be harmless pranks or misdemeanors. That is, Brian Rusk is asked to throw apples at the windows of a neighbor, Ace Merrill is asked to kill a dog, and Nettie Cobb has to bedeck a neighbor’s house with traffic tickets. However, these shenanigans are not completely harmless: Leeland has a carefully designed plan aimed to the creation of internal conflicts in the small community of Castle Rock. As the story progresses, the deeds ultimately lead to violent riots and fiery explosions.

DVD: Needful Things

Film: Needful Things

Director: Fraser Clarke Heston

Cast: Max von Sydow, Ed Harris

Distributor: MGM

Release date: 2002-08-27

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/columns_art/l/lanzagorta-needfuldvd-cover.jpgYears before the acclaimed Crash (2004), Stephen King was able to aptly portray the fragile structures that hold the weight of our problematic social behavior. Indeed, what appears to be a simple practical joke on somebody, it has the definite potential to ultimately cause serious damage to our entire community. In Needful Things, morality and civility are showcased as weak social pillars.

Furthermore, as cleverly portrayed in Needful Things, greed and self-indulgence are two major problems that haunt our modern world. Indeed, except for the principled Sheriff Alan Pangborn, all the characters have an unfulfilled desire that makes them corrupt and dishonest. That is, one way or another, consciously or unconsciously, all of them placed a definite price on their morality and dignity. As such, Needful Things emerges as a smart analysis of our culture of obsessive consumption.

The film version of Needful Things was aptly directed by Fraser Heston (the son of the legendary Charlton Heston) in 1993. To date it remains one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King book to the big screen, a big accomplishment on itself. Unfortunately, the director’s cut ran 180 minutes, but the director was forced to edit the film down to 120-minutes. That is, about one third of the movie was edited out. Thankfully, in 1996 TBS aired the director’s cut on TV. It remains a shame, however, that even though Needful Things is currently available on DVD on its 120-minutes version, the director’s cut remains unreleased.

Even at two thirds of its intended length, Needful Things emerges as a clever film with good actors playing interesting characters. In particular, the renowned Max von Sydow plays Leland Gaunt with lots of devilish gusto. Equally notable is Ed Harris as Sheriff Alan Pangborn, Amanda Plummer as Nettie Cobb, and J.T. Walsh as the obnoxious Danforth “Buster” Keeton III.

In addition, Needful Things features one of the most sumptuous and elegant music scores in the history of horror cinema. Composed by the extraordinary Patrick Doyle, the soundtrack to Needful Things is characterized by its grim and lavish orchestral music. Not an easy feat, the uncanny choral chants in Needful Things rival those from Jerry Goldsmith’s score for The Omen (1976).

As many other popular cultural products, Needful Things, in book and film form, has pretty much being forgotten except for the avid terror fans. As the new millennium accelerates we witness our world consumed by an international economic crisis fueled by unrestricted consumption and greed. As such, Needful Things becomes as important, relevant, and frightening as it ever was.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image