[SPOILER ALERT] Needful Things [SPOILER ALERT]
It’s day 18 of the Horror Movie Marathon! We’re watching a movie adaptation of one of my favorite stories by the great Stephen King. This choice was inspired by the failed plot of i-LIVED yesterday.
Needful Things is rated R and is available on Amazon. At the time of our viewing, it has the following online ratings:
Rotten Tomatoes 26% critics, 44% audience
We pay $2.99 to rent this movie and watch it while we eat a delicious empanada lunch. We both take notes throughout the movie. Afterward, we conduct a simultaneous interview/discussion via Google Docs.
Solee: I was very excited to watch this movie. Probably more excited than any other we’ve seen this month. How did you feel going in?
Mikey: Well, I live for new experiences, and I knew I had seen this before (and read the book of course!), so it wasn’t my first choice. But I was excited to go into the contrast with i-Lived, and it seems to fit into our month of movies as something different than the others (90’s movie, Stephen King, cursed objects plot… everything different!).
So let’s start by letting readers know: Stephen King is awesome. If you’ve only watched movies based on his works, you have no idea. His writing is all about the characters, and boy howdy are there some characters in this movie. But anyway, movies of his works are a pale shadow of the real thing, so crack open a book, kids. King is the best.
Solee: I’m always shocked and disappointed when I hear someone say they don’t like King’s books because of the writing (rather than because of the horror, which I know isn’t everyone’s cup of tea). I will admit, I think tiny judgey things about people who say that. He is always the first person who comes to mind when asked about my favorite authors. He’s not all super fancy and literary, but he develops characters like no one I’ve ever read before. That leads to my main complaint with this movie… I was missing all the fun details that I knew because I’d read the book. They felt all flat and one dimensional without all the history that connected the different members of this town together.
Mikey: My biggest note was that this should be a TV series, not a movie.
Solee: Yes! Like another of my favorite King stories, The Stand!
Mikey: There are way too many characters and too many things going on in this movie to work in 2 hours. Imagine the series: each episode we get 2 or 3 intertwining tales as people are sicced on each other by Leland Gaunt (and by the end of the season, an intrepid team is taking him down. A 1-season show). All about the characters, which is how Stephen King intended it.
On a related note, this movie reminded me of Friday The 13th: The Series, which was about an antique shop that sold cursed objects and not at all about a hockey-masked serial killer.
Solee: It’s hard to make a series about a hockey-masked serial killer just killing everyone he meets. Not a lot of distance in that one.
Mikey: Scream Queens is pretty fun!
Solee: Ehhh. It has its moments.
I was a little disappointed that nobody got stabbed with a hay hook. There was a perfect moment of foreshadowing (which turned out to just be character establishment), but I was WAITING for that hay hook to make a re-appearance the whole time!
Mikey: Whoa, I made a note of that and forgot about it! No reason she shouldn’t have been using it in her fight.
Solee: I want to say that it was used in the book, but now I’m not completely sure of that.
Mikey: I read the book long long ago, and only once unlike some people…
Solee: At least… 4 times! Maybe more! I like familiar places!
Mikey: I told you I like new experiences! I have read It (not this book, the one entitled It) at least 3 times though.
So here’s the thing… I know Leland came to town and pitted everyone against each other, but wasn’t it strange how almost everyone in town had some sort of debilitating mental illness to begin with? These were crazy people!
Solee: Yeah… I think that’s an adaptation thing. There were way more normal people in the book, but normal isn’t as interesting as “killed her husband with a meat fork” or “thinks people are replacing his regular mirrors with two-way mirrors”.
Mikey: It was helpful to cram the turn from friendly to deadly into 2 hours if you start crazy.
Solee: I was disappointed how they removed 90% of the Alan and Polly stuff. They both had all kinds of interesting history that played into their relationship and their individual interactions with Gaunt, but that was all scrapped. They are the main characters of the book and they come off as almost peripheral in the movie.
Mikey: Well, I think Alan is the main character of the movie. Polly is certainly sidelined though.
Solee: Alan is only central in the way any lead cop is central to a crime story. We didn’t learn anything about him. For all we know from the movie, he COULD be embezzling town funds!
Speaking of crime stories… this was categorized as crime-drama instead of horror. Thoughts on that?
Mikey: “Crime, Drama, Fantasy” on IMDB. I think that is a lump of toss. Yeah, I said it!
Solee: Wait. A lump of toss??
Mikey: A bag of floss! A wad of crumpets. When the devil shows up in town and starts selling people their greatest fantasies with a side order of kill-your-neighbor, I don’t know what else you need to add to fit under horror. I mean, it wasn’t a scary movie by any means, but hardly anything we’ve watched this month was scary.
Solee: This is classic horror if you ask me.
Mikey: So that brings up my question: is he the devil, or some kind of demon who just has this particular job?
Solee: So interesting that you ask that. I asked myself if it was possible that he was even the embodiment of Death, as in of the four horsemen. I settled on the Devil, though. I think he was more interested in destroying their souls than collecting them.
Mikey: Yeah, there’s something to the idea that he is Death. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but when he basically becomes a heavy arms dealer, it feels like it. Just kind of roaming the world, finding hot-spots, and inflaming them more.
Solee: There’s another major change that they made which seems to make this more of a possibility. In the book, the items each person coveted turned out to be nothing special. The Sandy Koufax card (YES, it was SANDY KOUFAX, not Mickey Mantle!) that Brian Rusk died for turned out to be some no-name guy, which confused Sheriff Pangborn even more. I think only the devil would have the kind of power to persuade all these people that the junk he handed them was their heart’s desire.
Mikey: Actually, what it sounds like is Loki! The whole thing does. An illusionist and trickster who just wants to cause chaos. Too bad his initials weren’t R.F. though, huh?
Solee: YES. He even talks about seeing some of the characters before, and you know how King likes to work crossovers into his stories. But WAIT. I just had an epiphany!!
What if he IS Death and he had interacted with Alan before when his kid and wife died in a car accident and with Brian when a brother died (? maybe). Of course, neither of those things is in the movie… so…
Mikey: Yeah, they made a bit of an issue of how Leland had this deja-vu recognition of most of the people he met. That certainly seems important, but I’m not sure exactly what it means. That’s as good an idea as any!
Solee: I’m sure it’s not connected to the movie, and probably not even the book… but it’s fun to add layers. 🙂
Mikey: It’s making me want to read the book again… but if I did that I’d have to go through all his books again.
Solee: Did you have a favorite character, cursed item or character melt-down?
Mikey: I don’t know… it’s more that I liked the whole setup. I think it’s very unique, and it’s fun to see how he used people against each other, to leave them thinking someone else was the culprit, and just build up these rivalries until they exploded. Although no poison bullets in the movie!
Solee: It’s definitely a lesson in avoiding assumptions! I have always liked the Danforth Keaton storyline. He’s such an unlikeable character and has so many other issues… he’s the perfect plaything for Gaunt. And I thought his magic horse game was a clever idea.
Mikey: Yeah, that was cool! It seemed like the movie overdid him. He was the focal point of everything pretty much. He seems like he could be a horror movie all on his own. The whole scene with his wife in the garage was some scary stuff.
Solee: I guess I’m not the only one who liked his storyline!
You said something about a remake with Felicia Day as the Nettie character. Can I submit Hugh Laurie as a potential Leland Gaunt?
Mikey: That sounds awesome! I thought you were going to say for Buster, which would also work well. Sadly I’m not sure where we can fit in Benedict Cumberbatch. Unless he were Gaunt…
Solee: OOhh. He’s make a good Leland, for sure.
Mikey: When I watch movies, my mind goes different places. The thing that came to mind near the beginning of this movie was logistics. The movie wants to set up Leland Gaunt as this otherworldly demonic being (which he is, it’s fair), but he is opening a business in this town. So I imagine the backstory: this creepy demon had to go around dealing with a real estate agent, then get a business license (probably had to get a driver’s license to do that), and on and on. It’s interesting to think about.
Solee: Hahaha! I hadn’t even thought about it. That’s funny. I wonder if there’s a story in that…
Mikey: With Dracula, he always has minions who handle those earthly affairs and prepare his castle for him, but I didn’t see any minions!
Solee: Leland is of the “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself” mindset, apparently.
I didn’t realize this movie was so old. That says something for the acting and such… but there are a couple of things that seemed really bad, but are actually probably just indicators of age: the soundtrack and the special effects. What did you notice about those?
Mikey: I noted those same two things. The electric shock when people first touched their cursed item was awful. They could’ve so easily just had no visual effect and it would’ve looked so much better. And my note on the music was “Toodle doodle doo music” – when Brian was riding his bike around, they fired up the Spielberg machine to the max, let’s hear happy toodles to tell the viewers “a kid is riding a bike and full of wonder and adventure”. It’s an artifact of the 80’s that hadn’t quite died yet.
Solee: The music that stood out to me were the selections that played when all hell was breaking loose in town. They were sooooo generic and what I consider to be overdone and unoriginal – like Ave Maria, for example. Now I’m wondering if they were original to the time and are only overdone NOW.
Mikey: Oh yeah, I know what you mean. I think that’s kind of a 90’s thing in a way. Apocalyptic.
Solee: Yes. It all makes more sense coming from the early 90s. I honestly thought this was more recent. Or maybe I just forgot that the early 90’s were a LONG time ago.
Mikey: Us elderly people have that issue. I graduated high school the year this came out!
Solee: You are an OLD man!! Are you going to open an antique store and start bargaining for people’s souls?
Mikey: Antique games maybe… Sega Genesis, SNES. I never had a SNES of my own.
Solee: Oh, now THAT I can totally see happening. Will you put a bell over the door?
Mikey: Oh yeah! They kept showing the shot of the bell ringing on top of the door, and every time I thought the day was going to repeat itself (Buffy issues).
Solee: It was EXACTLY the same sound as that episode of Buffy. Took me a minute to move past that, too.
So the real question raised by this movie is: Was this a town full of good people?
Mikey: No. A town full of crazy people, for sure. The way they portrayed people, it was almost like Alan and Polly had been mistakenly thrown into an insane asylum and had to find a way out.
Solee: Except that maybe Polly was there because she was just tooo boring to be allowed out in the real world. Blegh. I didn’t like her character AT ALL.
Mikey: I was expecting some real drama and angst over her arthritis cure, but I think that was coming from the book memories.
Solee: Yes. It was a much bigger deal in the book. Also, we got to find out what was inside the charm he gave her… remember?
Mikey: I had been expecting a spider, as usual.
Solee: YYEEEESSSS! It’s ALWAYS a spider with King. I think he must be deathly afraid of them.
Mikey: Maligned animals again. I would like to ask of you your rating of this movie… or do you have more insights to share?
Solee: The only other thing I wanted to ask was: do you think it would be so easy to sway humans in general? Or was it the result of the underlying crazy in Castle Rock? Is humanity really so quick to throw over its morality and decency for a bauble?
Mikey: I think the movie did a bad job of making that reasonable. The people went pretty quickly from “okay, that’s a minor prank” to “I’m gonna murder that guy!” But I do think it requires magic regardless – that wasn’t just a Mickey Mantle card, it was a magic one that gave him weird visions of baseball excitement. These people were possessed to a degree. I don’t think you could achieve anything like this with real-world objects even if they were amazingly great (like handing out stacks of thousand-dollar bills, which is probably the best choice of object for every person on earth).
Solee: I think you’re right, to a degree. Those items were magical, but they were also specifically picked to elicit happier, more innocent times. I think there’s a fair length people will go for that thing that reduces the distance between “when I was happy” and “now”. Look at how powerful the phrase “Make America Great Again” has proven to be.
Mikey: That’s exactly what I was thinking of. Everybody wants to go back to those “good old days”, which it turns out were horrible and racist and didn’t have mongolian bbq restaurants.
Solee: Or the internet!! I think the world is pretty darn great right now.
Mikey: Oh the internet!! I mean come on! Cat gifs. Yeah, his magic wouldn’t work on me, I don’t think there’s a “then” I want to go back to. I’d love to rewind my physical self to being 25 or so, but not anything in my life. I get to review halloween movies!
Solee: Youth is wasted on the young! So are we ready to rate? I’m taking your silence as a yes. I give it a solid 3.5 out of 5. It was fun to watch. The acting was okay. It’s dated, but not horribly so. It got a little cheesy in places. The story is decent, even though it’s a shadow of the book. I think if I hadn’t read (and loved) the book, I might have given it a 4, but as it is I know it could have been sooo much better.
Mikey: I almost feel the other way around – appreciating what they’re trying to do makes me like it more than if I just came in to this movie not knowing anything. But I can’t know for sure! I was going to say 3.5 out of 5 too, so I think I better do that. It was a fun movie, nothing real deep or life-changing, but worth seeing.
Solee: Exactly. Do you have plans for our next movie yet?
Mikey: Tomorrow, we shall see Green Room. It has skinheads.
Solee: Sounds terrifying.
*If you have comments to leave specifically for Mikey, you can see this same interview/discussion posted here, on his website.