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Ella Purdy (Karen Black) runs a boarding house exclusively for those on
healthcare or welfare - which makes her a very good soul ... one should
think. Truth is, she has the welfare checks of her tenants signed over to
her, and she apparently cashes way more checks than she has tennants these
The tenants she does have are a pretty diverse bunch: medium Vanya
(Martine Beswick), harmless drunk Willie (Mikel Angel), wannabe-writer
Balzac (Michael Berryman), the Wilsons (Virginia Mayo, Bert Remsen), a
self-proclaimed society couple, and Ella's own daughter Tina (Debra Lamb),
who doesn't talk but expresses herself in dance. There was another tenant,
but he has left recently, which somehow puts the others on alert, to a
point where Vanya insists on holding a séance. Ella smiles through all of
this, but her rather evasive excuses about the whereabouts of the missing
tenant sure enough arouse suspicion - to an extent that the social
security service sends an investigator (Arte Johnson) - whose brakes are
conveniently sabotaged when he drives off ... he survives though.
has to realize that the air at her boarding house has become thin, so she
sees to it that her tenants die one by one, all but Tina of course, and
Willie, who has been a witness to pretty much everything but decides he's
delusional from alcohol and needs help.
Finally, the social security
investigator returns to her house - not to have her arrested but to
blackmail her. She wants to shock him when she introcudes him to her
husband - who has died years ago but still lives with her as a corpse, and
she still collects welfare money for him. The investigator has expected as
much though ... but is killed nevertheless - by Tina, who has actually
committed all the murders.
The ending sees Ella and Tina walk off into a
new future - that might even include another boarding house ...
Spirits is a film that simply never lives up to its promise: It has an
(at least for genre fans) excellent cast, some amusingly eccentric
performances (especially Debra Lamb, Mikel Angel and Michael Berryman come
to mind here), an enjoyably macabre plot, it approaches the whole thing
with the right amount of irony but does feature enough blood all the same
... and yet, the film fails to reach its full potential by quite a few
feet, mainly due to a rather impersonal directorial effort and the lack of
any atmosphere or tension and suspense. Too bad, really, this could have
been borderline great, as it is it's rather mediocre.