Irish nobleman Peter Plunkett (Peter O'Toole) is at his wits' end because the castle he lives in and loves very much is in danger of being sold for he has run out of money. He pleads with an American relative who has the final say over the place's fate not to get rid of it and turf him, his mother (Liz Smith) and his staff out, but these pleas are falling on deaf ears until he has a brainwave. There's no need to hang himself by the neck from a rafter when he can drum up tourism by claiming the castle is haunted; fine, nobody apart from his dotty mother claims to have seen anything like a spectre in centuries, but they can team together to do something about that...
Some films simply make you wonder what they had been like if the director had been given his way and followed them through to the results he wanted. High Spirits wasn't exactly The Magnificent Ambersons in those terms, but the director Neil Jordan was so vocal in expressing himself with regards his dismal experience on this you couldn't help but be intrigued as to what he had in mind before the Hollywood studio got their hands on it and re-edited it to change his efforts from a subtle and mysterious ghost story with a sense of humour into a big, loud, crass goof - Jordan himself described it as "a vast, noisy and unfunny movie" that had driven him slowly "insane" in the process.
Of course, there are always going to be those who disagree, and for them High Spirits was a more romantic Ghostbusters whose broadly telegraphed jokes went over very well indeed, so it is for them that it turned into a cult movie after flopping back in the late eighties. Jordan was not put off by his bad time on this movie, going straight on to We're No Angels which was another flop - it wasn't until he returned to Ireland and made The Crying Game that he was a force to be reckoned with once more, which is likely why it's best not to think of this as a Neil Jordan work, think of it as a Daryl Hannah and Steve Guttenberg vehicle instead, as even Peter O'Toole making poetry out of clunky lines wasn't really the driving artistic force in the acting.
He didn't particularly have much to do with the plot by the end in any case, as after the business with the castle staff pretending to be ghosts to elaborately fool the American tourists was over, this headed into a rather necrophiliac tale where Guttenberg's visitor Jack, he being unhappily married to Plunkett relative Beverly D'Angelo, witnessed an actual haunting when Hannah's Mary and Liam Neeson's Martin were an apparition doomed to repeatedly act out their wedding night where he stabbed her to death, and was quite taken with her. So much so that he interrupts the recreation and as a result snaps both ghosts out of it, thereby unleashing all sorts of madness as Martin begins to lust after D'Angelo's Sharon and Jack finds himself wishing to commit adultery with a spirit.
Wouldn't it be a bit cold? Anyway, earlier scenes suggest a neat Georges Méliès quality to the screen hauntings as the Plunkett folks construct Heath Robinson contraptions to carry out their easily seen through subterfuge, which was nice enough but did lead to the sort of running about and shouting which was anathema to the harrassed Jordan and his ideas. By the time the undead are making themselves plain, we got unexplained scenes of phantom nuns terrorising priest Peter Gallagher and priest's temptation Jennifer Tilly, or Neeson driving a floating bus to freak out the actual paranormal investigator (Martin Ferrero) then chasing down Sharon with it, or even a keep fit instructor speaking to the children through the television set, suggesting someone liked Poltergeist so let's have a bit of that. If you liked your comedy obvious and without any shadings Jordan might have brought, then this would fit the bill, yet something more elemental would have been more welcome to those who appreciated his other horror movies. Music by George Fenton (also loud).