October 2, 2012

Lady in White (1988)

"Locked in a school closet during Halloween 1962, young Frank witnesses the ghost of a young girl and the man who murdered her years ago."

Although "Lady in White" has always been one of my favourite Hallowe'en ghost stories and still beats "Trick 'r Treat" (2007) about a hundred times over in terms of entertainment, having rewatched it for the first time in over ten years, it isn't quite the cheerful, supernatural thriller which I remembered it to be. It's actually a whole lot darker than that.

Whether it's because I now live in America and the cultural distancing has diminished for me, or I'm just more cynical than most people, this time I noticed that Frank LaLoggia's intention must have been to completely destroy the rose-tinted nostalgia trip which he set-up so well at the beginning. I actually found "Lady in White" to be a very unpleasant film when I looked at the subject matter more closely.

While still not quite in the realm of true social commentary, upstate New York in the 1960s is shown to be a rather vile place to grow up. From my own experience, the legacy is obvious, and I wonder if that was what Frank LaLoggia was really aiming to show under the cover of a traditional ghost story. Filled with bullying, racism, hypocrisy, insanity, suicide, murder, and paedophilia, "Lady in White" isn't a typical PG-13 horror movie at all.

Tempting though it is to go through all the subtext, I don't really want to write a twenty page dissertation on "Lady in White". It's always possible to read too much into a movie, and I can think of at least one reviewer right now who I can't bear to read for that very reason. I'd prefer to talk about the superficialities, and I know that's what most of you like reading about too.

As much as I've always hated child actors, little Lukas Haas absolutely steals the show as Frankie Scarlatti. I can't say that his performance is flawless, but he outclasses nearly all of the veteran TV actors around him. The exception being, of course, the very recognisable Alex Rocco who plays his father with a lot of sensitivity. The whole extended Scarlatti family are very believable and are a pleasure to watch. Even a soulless beast such as myself could tell that a lot of love went into and came from their characters.

All the acting is pretty good with the overall effect being a lot like "The Wonder Years" TV series which also began in 1988. There are several lighter moments (maybe too many) to offset the murder mystery which wouldn't have been out of place in "The Wonder Years" at all. Many people have noticed more similarities to "To Kill A Mockingbird" and say that the racist scenes are a blatant homage. I still have "To Kill A Mockingbird" on VHS, and I really must watch it one day to see for myself. Since there's a Hallowe'en pageant in the story, I might even review it later this month.

The scares are done reasonably well, but as a late '80s kids' film, "Lady in White" is arguably one of the least scary ghost stories which I could come up with for my "Hallowe'en Countdown". Give or take a few dated special effects, it's certainly one of the most beautifully filmed so I stand by my decision to include it.

You can watch a VHS rip of "Lady on White" for free on YouTube, but I recommend that you buy the MGM DVD which is obviously much better quality, includes deleted scenes, and has a very informative director's commentary.

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