One of those "under-the-radar" little ghost stories that lots of horror fans seem to remember with much fondness is Frank LaLoggia's Lady in White. Released in 1988 to very little fanfare and left to haunt the video stacks and late-night HBO rounds, this quaint PG-13 thriller is as comfy as a mild campfire ghost story. Easily worth recommending to families with kids 12 and up, it's a family-safe and fairly intriguing tale ... that perhaps runs about 15 minutes longer than it really needs to.
Lukas Haas plays a sweet-natured young boy named Frankie. The kid lives with his big brother, widower papa, and two doting Italian grandparents -- and with Halloween just around the corner in his sleepy little town of Willowpoint Falls, Frankie is a happy kid indeed.
But there are a few bullies at Frankie's school, and a pair of 'em decide to lure the kid into the school cloak-room -- and lock him in for the night. It's there that young Frankie meets the ghostly apparition of a little girl, and he witnesses precisely how she became a ghost in the first place.
After being rescued from the cloak-room by his dad, Frankie begins to do a little research around town. We soon learn that several young children have gone missing from Willowpoint Falls over the past several years ... and Frankie is beginning to piece the puzzle together one clue at a time.
Suffice to say that Lady in White deals with ethereal beings, real-life murderers, and a few roadblock plot divergences along the way. (A subplot involving the school janitor's incarceration for the crimes takes up way too much unnecessary screen-time.) This is not a jolting or jarring little chiller, but a slow-paced and gradually satisfying story that should certainly entertain the aspiring horror junkies you call your kids.
Looking back in Lady in White nearly fifteen years since I first enjoyed it, I still find much to appreciate here. The setting is small-town Stand By Me-style setting, and Mr. LaLoggia clearly took a lot of pains to re-create the era of his childhood. Costumes, set designs, and props capably recapture the early 60s of Anytown, USA, and while it's obvious that Lady in White was a low-budget affair, the filmmakers were able to use that to their advantage. Lady in White has a cozy and lived-in feeling, not unlike a Norman Rockwell painting or a Hallmark Card. (A Halloween card, of course.)
While it's true that the movie manages to trudge through a small handful of dry spots, there's enough quality here to overshadow the glitches. Aside from the down-home quaintness and the generally engaging ghost story, Lukas Haas delivers a fantastic performance as our lovable hero; Alex Rocco gets do to some great work as Frankie's depressed-yet-devoted daddy; and if you keep your eyes peeled you'll find some colorful supporting work from the likes of Katherine Helmond, Tom Bower, Len Cariou, and Jared Rushton.
Mr. LaLoggia has made only three films throughout his cinematic career: One that I don't much care for (1981's Fear No Evil), one I've never seen (1996's Mother), and this solid mini-chiller that comes from the heart. Lady in White is not flashy or hip or particularly original, but it's an example of a filmmaker wanting to share his favorite ghost story ... and, all things considered, doing a pretty good job of it.
Video: The flick is presented in its original Widescreen (1.85:1) Anamorphic aspect ratio, and considering it's a low-budget indie horror flick that's almost 20 years old ... the picture quality is surprisingly strong. You'll catch a few source glitches and graininess in the darker scenes, but overall the fans should be pretty pleased with how the movie looks.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track delivers the goods in rather fine fashion; you won't go in expecting anything too aurally dazzling, but volume levels are fine and the dialogue is crystal-clear. Optional subtitles are available in English, Spanish, and French.
Previously released by Elite Entertainment with a solid handful of extra features, Lady in White now gets a re-issue from MGM, and many of the older goodies remain intact, while some new additions are included as well.
First up is an all-new audio commentary by writer / director / producer / composer Frank LaLoggia. Although this track is pretty darn dry in some spots, it quickly becomes clear that the filmmaker holds a lot of esteem for this particular movie. Apparently Mr. LaLoggia added about five minutes of running time to this version of Lady in White, and he explains a lot about the snips, the budgetary constraints, and all sorts of anecdotal production chatter in general. Hardcore fans will enjoy this commentary, but they also might want to bring a cup of coffee.
There's also a 36-minute block of deleted scenes that can be viewed with or without director's commentary, a very brief director's introduction to the DVD, a compilation of behind-the-scenes footage with another intro by Mr. LaLoggia, a photo gallery, and the original Lady in White theatrical trailer. All in all, a solid Halloween-bag full of extra features for you Lady-lovers out there.
This is quietly creepy and extremely well-directed little family-size ghost thriller; the sort of flick you can watch in the dark with your pre-teen-ish progeny and not have to worry about the sex, smut, or splatter. Let the little ones in on it, however, and you might have to deal with a few nervous nightmares.