During a village's Hallowe'en party, a young girl boasts of having witnessed a murder from years before. No one believes her tale until her body is found later on in the evening, drowned in the apple-bobbing bucket.
When Ariadne Oliver and her friend, Judith Butler, attend a children's Halloween party in the village of Woodleigh Common, a young girl named Joyce Reynolds boasts of having witnessed a murder from years before. Joyce's story is heard by all the party, including her strange brother Leopold, the impeccable hostess Rowena Drake, her bookish son Edmund, and the local Reverend Cottrell. Mrs Whittaker, the church organist, and Frances Drake, Rowena's feisty daughter, are dismissive of her story, but later that evening Joyce's lifeless body is discovered face-down in the apple-bobbing bucket. At Mrs Oliver's behest, Poirot travels down to Woodleigh Common to investigate the murder. Although the local police and Joyce's stepmother dismiss the dead girl's claim, Poirot takes Joyce's story seriously. Mrs Goodbody, a gossiping charwoman, tells Poirot there have been a number of suspicious deaths in the village in recent years which Joyce could indeed have witnessed, and that old curses still ... Written by
"Hallowe'en Party", published in 1969, is a later Christie. Dame Agatha was no longer in her prime, but I think this book proved that she was by no means exhausted of ideas. The basic plot set-up is this: at a Hallowe'en party for children, Joyce Reynolds boasts to Mrs. Oliver, there on a visit, that she saw a murder once. Joyce is a compulsive liar, and everyone has great fun mocking her story. Frustrated, Joyce insists that her story is true, but refuses to give any more details. When the party is finished, she is discovered drowned in an apple-bobbing tub.
I've always been simply fascinated with that idea for a story it must be one of my very favourites in all detection. The story itself is very good (and the solution is pretty decent as well), but it tended to ramble somewhat, and the middle section is extremely slow. It makes me wish AC had tackled the story when she was a bit younger. Nonetheless, my fascination with a story of such a haunting nature is enough to make Hallowe'en Party one of my favourite Christies. Was it among her best? By no means but it was still quite enjoyable for me to read.
I was ecstatic when "Hallowe'en Party" was announced as part of season 12 (after false reports that it was going to conclude season 11). At long last, I would get to see this fascinating story translated to the screen! I was then even more excited when it was announced that Mark Gatiss, who wrote the brilliant script of "Cat Among the Pigeons", was going to adapt the story for television! Stephen Churchett would not be available to make the victim a teenage boy stabbed with a carving knife while making a jack-o'lantern. So my expectations and hopes were very high. My friends, it did not disappoint in the least.
I will tackle the issue of casting first. Julian Rhind-Tutt plays Michael Garfield. He was already in Marple as Dr. Calgary in "Ordeal by Innocence", but thanks to the magic of makeup, he is rendered almost unrecognizable in this role. He is perfect as an artistic gardener with an obsession for beauty. Zoe Wanamaker, as always, was wonderful as Mrs. Oliver. When asked why she made her detective a Finn, she sighs and says "I've often wondered myself." The way she delivers that line is simply perfect I could practically hear AC sighing along with her in sympathy. There are a few scenes here where she discusses her writing, and they are priceless.
The adaptation makes an exciting discovery with the casting of Miranda Butler. A young actress you've never heard of (since this is her first role), Mary Higgins (no relation to Clark as far as I know), plays the role of the nymph-like Miranda, who is nearly always sitting in the garden. Higgins is great! A very beautiful young girl, she does not embellish nor does she underplay her character's distinct oddness and charm. She is very convincing, and brought the character to life. This truly is a smashing debut, and I hope she will continue in acting.
On to other things. We've become accustomed to episodes lately introducing homosexual subplots, incest, alcoholism elements that did not appear in Christie's original oeuvre, which are often frighteningly overplayed or just plain silly. "Hallowe'en Party" hinted at a lesbian subplot, and, in fact, it is the only time the word "lesbian" appears in a Christie. Thank God for Mark Gatiss. He is no Stephen Churchett, who would've taken that one word and run away with the subplot, adding his own flourishes, all in the name of artistic license and bringing the stories "up to date". Gatiss keeps the subplot the way it was: SUBTLE. He uses small touches little gestures, things people say, and so forth. The actors cooperate with the script and the result is a beautiful, truly touching underlying story.
Gatiss does take liberties with the story he is creating a movie, not a museum piece. Rowena Drake, for instance, is made into a mother, with a smarmy little mummy's boy and a rather wretched, horrid daughter. (There are other words that jump to mind, but none are very polite.) His changes only serve to make the story more interestinghe eliminates the static "Question & Answer Session" feeling of the second act. His touches are intriguing, as the whole thing becomes something like a Gothic ghost story.
One of the best moves the series ever made was ditching the old formula with Japp, Hastings, & Co. Gone are the moments of forced attempts at humour, gone are the far-fetched ways of involving his friends in every case. (I can just imagine, under the old formula, Japp hiding in a suitcase on the Orient Express, and emerging when the murder is discovered, only to exclaim "Poirot! What the devil are you doing here?") The series feels more like the later, darker Poirot, and this tone suits "Hallowe'en Party" perfectly.
The formulaic music was also scrapped, and different music is composed for different episodes. But this episode here has an almost ghostly take on a familiar tune, heard a few times. You will also hear the children chanting a rhyme when playing snapdragon. This rhyme is also repeated as part of the music, faintly chattered and echoing, which really makes it bone-chilling. It is one of the most effectively-scored episodes I've seen thus far.
So in conclusion, unless the series totally bombed MOTOE, which I somewhat doubt, this entire season has been of excellent quality, the best we've had since the "Death on the Nile" series.
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