The Spirit Is Willing is a movie I first saw around the summer of 1988, so about 21 years after it was originally released. I just happened to catch it on some cable channel or other, and then I could never find it again until it was recently released on Blu-ray. It’s about time.
The movie opens in 1898, with Ebeneezer Twitchell being coerced into marrying the almost-spinster Felicity, with the promise from her father that he will inherit a fleet of ships and the beautiful house overlooking the harbor. On their wedding night, Ebeneezer is tempted by the flirtatious maid, Jenny, and they are both killed by Felicity (though not before Ebeneezer kills Felicity in revenge). Thereafter, the three ghosts haunt the seaside house and drive away any prospective buyers or renters, often before they even move in.
Cut to the modern day (1967 at the time of the film’s release). The Powell family (Ben, Kate, and their 15 year old son Steve) have rented the seaside house for their summer vacation. Steve is being the stereotypical teenage boy: feeling rebellious and oppressed by his somewhat overbearing parents.
As Steve wanders around the house, he is suddenly pushed through a second story window where he hangs on by his fingers and screams for his parents. His parents think it’s just a ploy for attention, so Steve stomps off toward his room off the kitchen and dishes start flying and crashing around the room without help from Steve. Blamed for this incident, too, Steve sulks in his room when the ghost of Jenny appears and starts flirting with him.
The story is pretty basic and contains no real surprises. My favorite characters in the film are played by Jill Townsend in her film debut. She does an excellent job playing Jenny the ghost as well as her descendants, sisters Priscilla and Carol. I will admit to having a bit of a crush on Jill Townsend back when I first saw this The Spirit Is Willing. Jenny is just too cute!
Sid Caesar and Vera Miles do a decent job as Steve’s parents, and Barry Gordon is a touch melodramatic as Steve. My favorite characters (other than Jenny) are John McGiver as the eccentric Uncle George and John Astin (of The Addams Family fame) as Dr. Frieden. They bring a goofiness to the film which keeps it from getting too scary, which is fine by me.
Other than the theme song and one cute little song used in various spots throughout the film, the music is mostly forgettable. The special effects are nothing special (which isn’t surprising given the state of special effects in 1967), though the animations during the opening credits are fun and creative. I especially liked how the design of the “For Sale” sign outside the house changed to match the periods.
While The Spirit Is Willing is not at the top of my favorite film list, it’s not at the bottom either. It’s a fun little film and doesn’t try to be anything more than it is. If you enjoy campy comedy horror films, I recommend watching this one. It’s worth 100 minutes of your time.
Release Date: July 1967 (USA)
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Alcohol/Drugs: 2 (some social drinking, multiple bar scenes)
Sexuality: 1 (some passionate kissing, implied hanky-panky)
Violence: 2 (murder (off screen), poltergeist action, fighting with furniture)