Out of all the Stephen King adaptations to be released in the 1980s and 1990s, I remember “Needful Things” getting one of the better receptions from critics and fans. As a modern viewer seeing it for the first time however, it’s hard not to notice that, while its got its moments, it’s also fragmented as all hell. Mind you, director Fraser C. Heston has a knack with atmosphere and manages to establish a familiar, lived-in chemistry among the movie’s cast of characters, who are surrounded by the aesthetically idyllic Maine setting. However, as with many King adaptations, the complexity and depth of his literary work is compromised for the sake of brevity, which nullifies some of the novel’s most interesting themes and components. In particular, the infamous battle between Nettie and Wilma is stripped of its narrative significance by Heston’s lurid camera, which focuses on violence and gore, simultaneously heightening its base, voyeuristic appeal while regrettably neglecting its intended impact. Perhaps the source material would lend itself more comfortably as a go-for-broke miniseries in order to really breathe, but as it is, Heston’s movie is one of those genre entries that’s a bit underwhelming when taken in its entirety, but has enough going on at all times to at least keep you interested, not to mention a deliciously campy lead performance by a delighted Max von Sydow.
Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)