High Spirits 1988 ***

The supernatural comedy was something of a mother lode in the 1980’s, with Ghostbusters showing that an aimiable ramshackle vehicle with decent effects could produce a huge box-office hit. But a varied series of disappointments also befell the genre, from Transylvania 6500 to The Witches of Eastwick, and Neil Jordan’s High Spirits was as prominent as any of them. Jordan reportedly has his own full cut of the movie in a cobwebbed vault, and it would be worth an airing for sure; High Sprits is a bit of a shambles, but it’s worth a watch.

The concept is familiar but timeless; an ancient Irish hotel fakes ghostly activity in the hope of attracting lucrative American tourists, but the guests (namely Police Academy and Cocoon star Steve Guttenberg plus National Lampoon’s Beverley D’Angelo) end up falling for a couple of genuine ghosts, played by Daryl Hannah and Liam Neeson. Overseeing this whole strange melange is Peter Plunkett (Peter O’Toole), and this distinguished thespian has the difficult job of adding gravity to a series of pratfalls with people falling out of windows, into moats and various other indignities.

Even the B-Cast here (Connie Booth, Ray McAnally, Liz Smith, Peter Gallagher, Donal McCann, Jennifer Tilly) is better than most A-casts, so maybe Jordan’s extended cut may have something more to offer. George Fenton’s score can’t repress the desire to leap into Irish-jig mode, and it’s never quite clear is the film is parodying or celebrating the Irish talent for myth making. And yet a cast like this is never boring, with the romance working better than the broad comic highlights.

High Spirits is more like the ruin of a castle than a castle itself; attempting to revive the screwball appeal of The Ghost Goes West or I Married A Witch was a nice idea which didn’t catch on. Jordan’s hot streak (Angel, Mona Lisa, The Company of Wolves) ended unceremoniously here, but maybe there could be life after death for this star-heavy whimsy after all.


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  1. I seem to remember a period of watching this over and over again. I wonder if I had flu or something, weird to look back at it now. That is quite the cast – Peter O’Toole and Steve Guttenburg – together at last!

    • Guttenberg’s work with Olivier on Boys from Brazil presumably inspired his work here.

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