Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie (1969)
A Haunting in Venice directed by Kenneth Branagh (2023)
I really enjoy Agatha Christie books but I think I would have to say this has been one of my least favorite. It was one of her last novels, as she died in the early `70’s. Not only does the book have a rather boring plot, but a lot of the characters frequently express their distaste for the latest generation and the changing times. It would be fine if it was one character saying these things, but there are multiple times it is brought up by older characters. Clearly, this was Christie’s own views which she felt the need to bring up time and time again-to the point where it was distracting.
I also went into the book expecting it to have all sorts of Halloween season vibes; and while we do get that with the start, after the Halloween party is over this book could have literally taken place in spring for all the Halloween spirit that was going on. On top of that, I didn’t find the plot intriguing and the reveal was a bit too convoluted with too many moving parts.
I have not watched Murder on the Orient Express but compared with the latest Poirot movie Death on the Nile, I definitely liked this one better. What the book lacked in Halloween spirit, the movie more than makes up for! We not only have a multiple murder mystery, we have the Halloween party, a creepy shadow puppet show, and a haunted house which our main cast is trapped in. It was giving me The Haunting of Hill House vibes with some of the camera angles that were going on. It was a bit too much at times with the angles and odd shots, but. I did think they added to the paranoia and claustrophobia we were meant to be feeling.
I also thought the plot and reveal were better done in the movie. This is one I would definitely recommend, but I would warn the Christie fans that this movie was far creepier than I expected and really leaned into that horror aspect. So someone looking for a good ol’ fashioned murder mystery might be turned off by that.
The movie also takes place in Venice (obviously) but the book takes place in a normal English town.
By the way, for any Branagh fans, I did a Frankenstein book vs movie where I talk about his Frankenstein adaptations!
From here on out there will be spoilers for both the book and the movie!
In the book we have Ariadne Oliver who is a famous mystery writer attending a Halloween party for children. During party preparations, a young girl named Joyce claims to have witnessed a murder years before, but hadn’t realized it was a murder until some time had passed. No one believes her, but at the end of the party she is found dead-drowned in the bobbing for apples bucket. Ms. Oliver thinks this is a case for her friend Hercule Poirot.
He learns of various murders and disappearances that have happened in recent years, which could be the murder Joyce spoke of. He is also told that Joyce lied a lot for attention. Joyce’s brother Leopold is later known to have a lot of cash suddenly, and then he too is later killed.
Poirot finds out that Joyce had a friend, Miranda, who actually did witness a murder and since she wasn’t at the party, Joyce told the story as her own. She was killed when a murderer overheard and was worried she would tell.
Leopold saw how killed his sister, and started blackmailing the person which is why he suddenly had money and why he is now dead.
We find out that Rowena Drake was having an affair with an obsessive, narcissistic gardener named Garfield and the two of them had killed an au pair who was going to inherit money that they wanted. Rowena is the one that killed Joyce, and then Leopold.
Garfield then tries to kill Miranda in the end, the girl who really had witnessed the murder, claiming it to be part of a ritual before he is stopped and commits suicide instead.
Spoiler book thoughts
I didn’t like the storyline with Garfield, how he was a man obsessed with creating beautiful gardens and he was so obsessed he was willing to murder quite a few people in order to get his perfect garden. Rowena had also inherited a Greek island, so he probably would have killed her eventually.
There is also a will and a codicil that had been added, then this thing with a forgery, but it all just seemed overly complicated.
The movie has similarities with it being a Halloween party for children, however in this case it takes palace in a building that is said to be haunted by children.
In this version, Rowena is once again hosting the party, but after the party she has hired a medium to get in contact with her daughter who went mad the year before and committed suicde by jumping into the river.
Once again, Poirot hears of this through his friend Ms. Oliver, but in the movie, she is manipulating him, because she is in cahoots with the medium-Mrs. Reynolds. She is hoping that by stumping Poirot, she will have the making of her next best seller.
However, after the séance, Mrs. Reynolds is killed and Poirot locks everyone inside in order to determine the killer.
During the night, the doctor who had cared for Rowena’s daughter when she was dying, is also killed. His son is there, but the son is much more the adult and it had been on him to care for his mentally sick father.
In the end, Poirot finds out about Ms. Oliver’s manipulation. But also, that Rowena killed her own daughter. She didn’t like that she was growing up and beginning ot be independent and was going to marry. The guy ends things with the daughter when he realizes they aren’t as rich as he thought and the daughter returns home where she becomes mentally unwell and Rowena cares for her day and night. Turns out she was giving her micro doses of a hallucinogenic in order to make sure the daughter never tried to abandon her. However, a woman who works for Rowena was watching the daughter one night and put too much of the poison honey in her tea (not realizing it was poison) and when Rowena returned, the daughter had died from the overdose. She then tosses the body into the river to make it look like a suicide.
Rowena then started to get blackmail letters, and assumed the blackmailer was the doctor, or the medium which is why she killed both and tried to make it seem like the haunted house did it.
We find out in the end that the doctor’s son had actually been doing the blackmailing. As said, he was the adult one really, and they needed money to pay the bills. He guessed from his father’s medical notes, as well as what the ghost children in the house told him, that Rowena had killed the daughter and so he blackmailed her.
Spoiler movie thoughts
Poirot also sees creepy things during their night at the house but it is because he was unintentionally given the hallucinogenic honey. He has this whole thing throughout though about how he doesn’t believe in ghosts or God or anything like that. The whole, “after the things I’ve seen, how could there be a God?” I think that is a very overdone trope, but nonetheless, by the end of the movie he says something about how we all must face our ghosts, whether they are literal ghosts or figurative.
Similarities between book and movie
In the movie, Poirot is trying to bob for an apple, when Rowena tries to kill him. However, she thought he was someone else and when she realizes her mistake she runs off before he sees. This was an interesting nod to the original death in the book.
We also have the man who is wanting to be with a woman for her money, but here he is after Rowena’s daughter. It seems he actually really loved her though and while she was sick, he tried to reunite with her but Rowena prevented it from happening.
Rowena also has this fancy garden on the roof, but when her daughter got engaged, she tore it out because she was so upset.
In both, we also have the young boy who is doing the blackmailing.
Book vs Movie
As said, I wasn’t very into the book but I did enjoy the movie quite a bit-so the movie wins! I don’t know if I can call it a good adaptation considering it isn’t like the book at all in many ways, but nonetheless, I will definitely watch the movie again whereas I don’t see myself ever reading the book a second time.