The Horror Honeys: Needful Things: The Devil is in Castle Rock

Needful Things: The Devil is in Castle Rock

There's something painfully frail and poignant about Stephen King's characters. It doesn't matter if they're the smallest character in the story, there's always something about them that inspires emotion. Whether that emotion is disgust, pity, remorse, intense attachment or eye rolling derision, I've never met a Stephen King character that I didn't feel something for.

Needful Things is a characteristically King twist on a very old story. The story of a mysterious peddler of unique wares who breezes into a small town, and unexpectedly turns their whole world upside down.  I say this is an old story because it is.  Christians have been telling tales about the Devil and his tempting ways for Centuries, and Needful Things is no different. Written in 1991, Needful Things was King's first "out of rehab" novel, and in this context, the weight of his personal guilt and the knowledge of what he sacrificed and traded away for his own selfish needs is heavy throughout the story.  

King's 'Devil', as per usual, is cunning, persuasive, charming, and utterly terrifying. In this way, the book and the film collide perfectly for me. Max Von Sydow is the only man on earth (aside from maybe Peter O'Toole RIP) who could play Jesus, a priest, a pope, Vigo (!) and the Devil himself so perfectly.

The European book release of Needful Things was titled In a Small Town, and the way that the small town of Castle Rock falls apart is terrifying in it's speed and ferocity. I actually prefer the European title - having grown up in a small town, the depth of the bog of human misery in small towns is especially striking. Maybe it's just my personal view of small towns in general - but the small town in this story is pretty much just like the one I grew up in. In Castle Rock, the skeletons in closets, petty grudges, and bad blood existing in the shadows of the personal lives of the townsfolk become a full on street brawl as the obsession and attachment to the items purchased at Needful Things takes over and we realize that price paid for these items is much more dear than originally expected.

In the film version, the decay starts with young Billy (another horror film Billy, WTF) who needs that Micky Mantle (Sandy Kaufax in the novel) baseball card... and in return is asked to do something that seems like harmless fun, but is really much much more.

Going with the film version for a moment - what follows is the craziest devolution of a community that you could ever wish to witness (trust me, I pictured my own small town imploding similarly on several occasions). Rival "holy men" fighting in the streets (tee hee), pillars of the community obsessing over a tin horserace set - and my favorite breakdown scene set to my favorite segment of the Pyr Gynt Suite: "In the Hall of the Mountain King."

Now, this is not to say that the novel and the film don't have their issues; reviews complain about a tired story and boring, plodding storylines... but for me Needful Things is about more than that.  It's about the obsession we have with our possessions, and how that changes us. Whether it's nostalgic attachment, societal pressure addiction (white picket fence anyone?), or just plain old instant gratification need, our desire for these objects is a full body experience. These objects make us feel connected to a loved one, make us whole as a person, or help us to feel something special and indescribable when we hold it or look at it and there's no escaping those feelings. This is what makes Needful Things a personal favorite of mine, and I'm never letting this fucker go. Wait... that's ironic, isn't it?

Head Honey Verdict: Needful Things rates a 3.5 out of 5 precious objects - I could let it go, if I had to... but I'd think about it all the time.