Well, ever since I reviewed the most recent special episode of “Jonathan Creek” earlier this year, I went through a bit of a Jonathan Creek phase and ended up buying several second-hand DVDs of the show. Although I hadn’t planned to review any of them, I just had to write a review after watching a feature-length episode called “The Grinning Man” that was originally broadcast on New Year’s Day in 2009.
Needless to say, this review may contain some mild SPOILERS, but I’ll avoid giving away anything too major.
“The Grinning Man” begins with an old-style film clip about a famous illusionist of the 1930s called Gessler who lives in an old mansion called Metropolis. This mansion is notorious for housing the “Nightmare Room”, a supposedly haunted room that causes all who spend the night there to disappear. Of course, a famous sceptic of the day insists on being locked in the room for the night to put it to the test…. and he disappears!
In the present day, paranormal investigator Joey Ross and her friend Mina are travelling through the countryside at night when their car breaks down. Thankfully, a car happens to be passing and the driver offers to give them a lift to the stately house that he works at. The house is, of course, Metropolis!
After an evening with several of Gessler’s descendants, Joey goes to bed whilst Mina persuades the caretaker to show her the infamous Nightmare Room. When she playfully suggests that they spend the night together there, the caretaker sternly refuses. But, he eventually agrees to let her stay and even agrees to lock the door for her, even though he won’t stay. Of course, when he returns the next morning, Mina has vanished!
Joey begins to investigate the case but, at the insistence of Gessler’s daughter, Jonathan Creek is also called in to assist with the investigation….
One of the first things that I will say about this episode is that it is possibly one of the best episodes of “Jonathan Creek” that I’ve seen. Although I’d heard bad things about several of the more modern episodes, this one is easily as good as anything from series 1-4.
Since the episode is about two hours long, there’s a lot more room for the story to build suspense and a lot more room for characterisation. One of the most outstanding characters in the episode has to be Joey Ross, who is as brilliantly cynical and sarcastic as you would expect one of Jonathan’s co-investigators to be. But, unlike Maddy or Carla, Joey has a lot of skills in common with Jonathan Creek.
Plus, since the episode begins with Joey being thrown into the middle of a mystery, she pretty much almost ends up being the main character of the episode too.
The main plot for this episode is, quite simply, stunning. Whilst a lot of the episode is spent building up suspense, this pays off brilliantly. The explanation for the mystery of the Nightmare Room is genuinely shocking and extremely chilling. Seriously, I cannot overstate how creepy this part of the episode is! Plus, like in all great episodes of Jonathan Creek, the solution is something that will startle you when you first see it, but will seem blindingly obvious in retrospect.
Seriously, this episode is an absolutely brilliant horror movie! In addition to the shocking main storyline, there are also a few other brilliantly creepy elements such as the titular “Grinning Man”, a creepy-looking Heironmyous Bosch painting that has a chilling backstory of it’s own. Parts of this episode also have a wonderfully gothic atmosphere, which is helped by some absolutely brilliant set design.
However, the episode’s many sub-plots are a bit hit and miss. There’s a hilarious, if somewhat silly, sub-plot about Adam Klaus that helps to add some comedy to an otherwise gloomy and chilling episode. There’s also a more conventional detective-themed sub-plot, where Jonathan and Joey have to investigate a kidnapping – which is a mildly compelling storyline but nothing extraordinary.
Finally, there’s something of a sub-plot about Jonathan falling in love with a fan called Nicola. This is probably the weakest part of the episode, given that they seem to go from meeting each other to being in a relationship within a ridiculously short space of time. In fact, this part of the story only really serves to add to the set up for both a comedic scene involving Adam Klaus and a joke at the very end of the episode.
All in all, this is an absolutely stellar episode of “Jonathan Creek”. The characters are brilliant, there’s some hilarious comedy and there are some genuinely chilling scenes that will probably linger in your mind for hours after you’ve finished watching. The only flaw with this episode is that it’s slightly too long. It’s still an amazingly good episode, but it would have been even better if the editor had removed the lukewarm romantic sub-plot and the more “conventional” detective sub-plot about the kidnapping. But, this aside, it’s a brilliant episode.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.