What defines a Halloween movie? Must it ooze haunts and candy from every frame? Or will a casual reference or pumpkin suffice?
Well, how about something in the weird middle: High Spirits, the 1988 supernatural comedy by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game). The story centers on a soon-to-be repossessed Irish castle-turned-hotel. In a last ditch effort to stir up some business, the hotel’s owner, Peter Plunkett (THE Peter O’Toole) declares the place haunted. As the guests arrive, Peter and his team simulate a series of un-spooktacular happenings. And when the patrons get angry and decide to leave, the castle’s real spirits unleash their wrath.
Noted guests include the unhappily married couple, Jack (Steve Guttenberg) and Sharon (Beverly D’Angelo)—the latter’s father is actually the one who holds the castle’s bank loan (aka the castle’s fate); the newly single and fun weirdo Miranda (Jennifer Tilly); Brother Tony (Peter Gallagher) who seeks a spiritual epiphany or something more in the form of the aforementioned Miranda; and parapsychologist Malcom (Martin Ferrero) and his slightly annoying family.
But things gets twisty when Guttenberg’s Jack gets puppy love eyes for Mary (Daryl Hannah), a ghost killed by her also-dead husband, Martin (Liam Neeson), well over a century ago. And D’Angelo’s Sharon gets a little hot for Martin the Murderer. FYI, Neeson is a beast compared to D’Angelo:
And where’s the Halloween, you say? As it turns out, High Spirits is an unintentional Halloween movie. The climax takes place on All Hallow’s Eve—when the spirits are rife with energy, power, and sexual desire. Yep, in this cinemaverse, ghosts can kinda-sorta become real and do the deed on October 31. And they even have a term for it: skelping (which oddly has a definition on Urban Dictionary, “John caught Dean skelping a ghost chick in Kentucky.”).
So, for a movie that in essence has nothing to do with this hallowed day, its narrative hinges on the holiday’s very important happenings. And with that, it’s a Halloween movie. A strange, fun, Irish-feeling Halloween comedy that is in truth more appropriate for St. Patrick’s Day viewing. Hey, look at that — maybe it’s a double holiday flick, just like The Nightmare Before Christmas! Okay, probably not.
Fun fact: High Spirits was a childhood favorite of mine. It also has three back-to-back moments that would terrify me as a kid:
1 – Malcom’s kids are watching a boring black and white aerobics TV program and one of the kids throws a book at the television set. The book goes right into the show and the aerobics instructor catches it. From here, the kids’ room goes crazy with wind and objects flying about. For whatever reason, this just messed with me as a youngster.
2 – Malcom is investigating the hallways of the castle. He comes to a mounted fish head, and well… here’s the gif. (It’s a jump scare, but it got me every time.)
3 – And finally, the creepiest of the bunch—and not just for High Spirits, but movies in general. Brother Tony is having impure thoughts about Miranda (who wouldn’t?) when all of a sudden a herd of ghostly nuns rise from the floor.
And just in case you haven’t seen this little gem (or need a refresher), the original trailer: