Title: Lady in White (1988)
Director: Frank LaLoggia
Cast: Lukas Haas, Katherine Helmond, Jason Presson, Joelle Jacobi, Len Cariou, Alex Rocco
Lady in White was one of my childhood favorites; I remember seeing this one when I was about 12 or 13 years old and being spooked by it a bit, but at the same time intrigued enough to see it all the way to the end. It’s the perfect introduction to the world of horror films because for a horror film, it’s not too scary, it unfolds like a fairy tale and it’s told from the point of view of a child. It’s one of those movies whose mystery captures you and you know you just have to see it through to the end. To me Lady in White had a Spielbergian flair to it. Why? Well, the film takes place in a suburban neighborhood in New York, the kids go riding their bikes through the back woods, and part of the film takes place during Halloween, all elements that we’d seen before in a couple of Spielberg’s films, most notably E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982). Also, the film is told from the point of view of Frankie, a boy who ends up trying to solve a whopper of a mystery! Spielberg directed and produced many films aimed at the pre-teen age demographic. I’m talking about films like E.T., Richard Donner’s The Goonies (1985) and Joe Dante’s Explorers (1985). Actually, one of the young actors on Lady in White (the one who plays Frankie’s older brother) is Jason Presson, one of the three adventurous kids from Explorers. So this is a film aimed at kids, yet it's also a film that deals with some very adult issues.
Lady in White tells the story of little Frankie Scarlatti, a kid who leads a pretty normal life. He lives with his family, his father, his grandparents, his older brother. It’s Halloween, and he’s got his Dracula costume ready to go, he’s carrying his hollowed pumpkin with him and his written a special Halloween story to read to all his friends on ‘Show and Tell’. But unfortunately, two of his friends decided to pull a prank on him and lock him up inside of the classroom closet. He spends the night there all alone and to his surprise, he witnesses the ghostly apparition of a little girl. The little girls’ ghost reenacts her murder and Frankie sees the whole thing! But who murdered her? At the request of the little girls’ ghost, Frankie decides to uncover who was responsible for her death all those years ago.
What I like about nostalgic films is that with the right director, they can capture that magic, innocence and feeling of wonderment that one has at that age. Not only that, if you do this kind of film right, both kids and adults will be able to enjoy it. In my opinion, Lady in White did that to perfection. It is a very nostalgic film and obviously a very personal one as well. This is the kind of film where you feel that the writing was coming straight from memory, from little snippets and experiences that the writer had during his childhood. It has that nostalgic vibe that you find in films like Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me (1986), where the film is obviously siphoned through the memory of the writer. In Stand By Me, the memories came from Stephen King’s own life experiences. The film might have fantasy or horror elements in it, but the setting feels authentic because it comes from real life. Lots nostalgic feelings can be found in Lady in White; a film in which we hear the voice of an adult (a grown up Frankie Scarletti) talking in retrospect, remembering what it was like to be a kid growing up in an Italian American family, in New York during the early 60’s. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the films main character is called ‘Frankie’, same name as the films writer/director Frank La Loggia.
La Loggia set out to make a film against the
Hollywood system. The desire to make a film on his own, without any studio interference came from his experiences directing a supernatural horror film called Fear No Evil (1981), coincidently I saw Fear No Evil in theaters when I was about 6 years old and it scared the crap out of me back then. It was a film about a high school student who ends up being the anti-Christ; it was kind of like a low budget version of The Omen. La Loggia directed that film, but ultimately, the studio took it from him so it could be “reworked by others”. So when he set out to make Lady In White, he swore that he’d do it on his own terms without anyone telling him to do his picture this way or that way. And that he did. He got funding on his own (about 5 million dollars) and directed his film without any studio interference whatsoever. So what we get with Lady in White is a film that turned out exactly how the director envisioned it from the very beginning. La Loggia says that he was trying to bring a truthful depiction of childhood to the film, I think he succeeded. Lukas Haas, the child actor seen in Peter Weir’s Witness (1985) gives a great performance as Frankie. He was probably chosen to play Frankie in Lady in White because in Witness, he also played a little boy who witnesses a murder. Haas lends an honest and charming performance in Lady in White; it has an air of vulnerability to it.
But aside from the nostalgia factor, this flick is a very spooky ghost story with some ultra creepy images. The effects might be a little dated, but honestly, the story was unraveling so well that it didn’t bother me at all. Lady in White also deals with some very adult issues like racism, familial bonds, child molestation and loss. If you look at this film, almost every character has suffered some sort of loss in one way or another. What I love about this movie is that it deals with all these themes and at the same time, it doesn’t forget to be a great ghost film. Spooky to the max! This is a perfect film to watch on Halloween Night!
Rating: 5 out of 5