One of my coworkers, in an effort to spur on our Halloween horror moviefest had offered the use of her extensive collection. And I picked Needful Things. I guess because nothing else really looked interesting, and I had seen and read the story in the past, so I could count on it to be a little entertaining. Plus, I'm generally a fan of Ed Harris in films. He's normally plays a solid guy that I find myself liking, even when I probably shouldn't (Enemy at the Gates).
For some reason I thought Donald Sutherland played Leland Gaunt, but no, Max von Sydow. It's fine, he's charming when he needs to be (though people tell him things far too easily), but always a little too big on physical contact. Makes him just creepy enough in those early stages before everything goes to hell in more obvious ways.
The movie does accelerate things a lot. It's been many years since I read the book, but I remember much more of a slow burn, a focus on the way all the favors people do for Gaunt slowly wind people up. The way the movie presents it, all these people were missing one green light away from completely losing their shit anyway, Danforth Keeton in particular. Even Gaunt himself was rushing things. He was way too cavalier with his abilities. Appearing inside Polly's diner even after she'd locked the doors, or inside her bedroom. I guess the Devil's arrogance is often his downfall in stories, but if his whole shtick is this kindly old man who always has just what you want, at an absurdly low price, maybe don't show off preternatural abilities so much. Subtlety.
Also, we don't get any particular focus on the thought processes of any of these suckers. Brian Rusk's OK with throwing turkey crap all over Wilma's sheets, then smashing all her windows with apples. But then he's not OK when people start dying, and the next time you see him, he's about to shoot himself. Yeah, Gaunt prodded him along somehow, but it might have helped to see what he said that did it. I'd like to think when things went crazy that the actors at least had a good time screaming and acting like lunatics. I imagine it might be fun to do that, assuming you didn't have to keep shooting the scene over and over again.
One other thing I remember from the book I enjoyed was the idea all these people only thought they were getting the thing they wanted most. In reality it was some piece of junk. Brian's pristine Mickey Mantle card is really some beat up card for some nobody player (I forget who). Just a little extra twist of the knife. Given the Sheriff saw Brian's card as a signed Mickey Mantle card, I guess they thought that would be confusing to the audience. Unless the Sheriff asks Brian about it, and then Brian explains it's a signed Mickey Mantle card, and the Sheriff's all like, "Uh, got some bad news for you, kid."