A man who own a novelty gift shop is famed for offering his produce at cheap prices as long as the buyer performs a prank on a local. When the sheriff begins to investigate he discovers that the old man is actually the devil in disguise and that the pranks are with the intent of the locals murdering each other.
To the sleepy community of Castle Rock, Maine, comes Leland Gaunt (Von Sydow), a sardonic small businessman whose curio shop offers an interesting deal on oddments. Gaunt asks a ridiculously low price for these needful things but insists the purchaser do him a favour by playing a prank on another resident.
Eventually, deep-down decent Sheriff Pangborn (Harris) figures out that Leland is an incarnation of the Devil and that his bad-humoured pranks are designed to turn the townsfolk into murderous psychotics who will rip each other to bloody shreds. Stephen King's book has a witty central conceit (many horror novels are about possession, this one's about possessions), but padded to a merciless 780 pages it deserves a place on the shelf next to his other overstuffed losers rather than with his best work.
However, much slimmed down in a canny script by W. D. Richter, it has become a value-for-money horror movie with a streak of welcome black comedy. The performances are uniformly on the nose: Von Sydow shows again the relish for villainy that made his Ming The Merciless such a delight and Harris tackles the responsibility of standing up for wholesome human values.
Among the great supporting psychos, Amanda Plummer is notable as a mousy waitress manipulated into a cleaver-and-knife cat fight with a wicked turkey farmer, and the always-reliable J. T. Walsh is a corrupt politico who hates his nickname so much he kills people who use it. A refreshingly loony movie, this is silly if you think about it, but consistently entertaining if you don't.
The problem with Stephen King adaptation's is that for every The Shining, there is in invariably a Pet Semetary. This manages to fall somewhere in between with a promising idea that could have been dealt with better. Instead the director takes it too far and consequently you have to totally switch off to let yourself enjoy it.