High Spirits (1988)
High Spirits (1988)

Genre: Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 39 min.

Release Date: November 18th, 1988 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Neil Jordan Actors: Peter O’Toole, Steve Guttenberg, Beverly D’Angelo, Jennifer Tilly, Peter Gallagher, Martin Ferrero, Daryl Hannah, Liam Neeson




uicidal Irishman Peter Plunkett (Peter O’Toole) can’t raise the money to make a payment on his family’s massive castle, which will be foreclosed on in three weeks by merciless bank representative Mr. Jan Brogan. Plunkett’s elderly mother’s ranting gives him the idea to turn the aging estate into a tourist attraction – as the most haunted hotel on the Emerald Isle. With the help of his staff, the manse quickly becomes a theme park of sorts, where Jack Crawford (Steve Guttenberg) and his wife Sharon (Beverly D’Angelo) journey for an amusing getaway.

The bus bringing the first wave of clients is startled by an employee posing as a banshee, who clumsily lands on the luggage rack of the speeding vehicle, causing the driver to careen it into the nearby lake in a panic. Sopping wet but still prepared for a vacation, Miranda (Jennifer Tilly), priest-in-training Brother Tony (Peter Gallagher), and parapsychologist Malcolm (Martin Ferrero) from Duke University, with his wife (Connie Booth) and three children, settle in for the night. Peter, assuming the role of host and showman, along with his unprepared crew, has planned numerous cheap ploys to attempt to scare the visitors, but none of them seem to work – largely because they’re so haphazardly and tattily derived. To complicate matters, Sharon is the daughter of the man who holds the mortgage on the property, and is supposed to ensure the tourist attraction fails. If that wasn’t enough, the castle is actually haunted, with the ghost of the long deceased Mary Plunkett (Daryl Hannah) continually being chased across the grounds by her murderous husband Martin (Liam Neeson).

The castle itself is a cinematic location, full of cobwebs, dust, and raggedy curtains, and primed for grandly destructive stunts, including a spinning bed lurching wildly out of control down staircases and a woman swinging about on a rope who is accidentally launched through a window onto unsuspecting spectators. It’s the perfect stage for a light-hearted phantom inhabitance, with energetic theme music reminiscent of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, though tinged with more unusual occurrences. Unfortunately, few moments are laugh-out-loud funny and most of the characters are so peculiar that they’re not relatable. Additionally, the central love story between a downtrodden human and a frisky ghost bride creates boundaries that must be instantaneously resolved via nonsensical, contrived methods. Quite conveniently, wraiths turn fleshly on Halloween night. There is, however, one truly clever sequence in which a cardboard-like, two-dimensional stage show crosses over into the viewers’ world (where an enormous, rubbery whale tail flops onto dining tables).

The film rushes straight into the plot, wasting no time on character development prior to arriving at the manor and experiencing unearthly interference. Random gags are immediately on the menu. Written and directed by Neil Jordan of “The Crying Game” and “Michael Collins” fame, “High Spirits” possesses expectedly unconventional material, such as bizarre sexual conversations and lustful fixations, despite a family-friendly, comedy plotline. Spectral forces appear in the shower, erotically converge with the living, and mischievously deprive people of clothing. Weirdly enough, the film also addresses making love to a 200 year-old woman, being stalked by a possessed bus, and several questionable moral dilemmas. Although flawed with a hopelessly off-the-wall story and visual jokes that fall flat, there are still enough unique elements to warrant a viewing for the curious. “Don’t stand there and tell me you’re having an affair with a goddamn ghost!”

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10