Home Video Hovel: Lady in White, by David Bax
With its small town setting, its warm and rich cinematography (courtesy of the great Russell Carpenter) and the director’s own grand, bouncy and cinematic score, Frank LaLoggia’s Lady in White is old fashioned movie entertainment. This is a strangely forgotten gem of a film but, with its new release on Blu-ray from Scream Factory, it is ready to be rediscovered, especially for families (whose kids aren’t too young) looking for something scary and fun to watch this Halloween season.
In this 1950s-set small town ghost story, young Lukas Haas stars as Frankie, a boy who, thanks to a cruel prank, finds himself locked in the schoolhouse cloakroom overnight on Halloween. Inside, he has a ghostly vision of a young girl being murdered. Shortly thereafter, the flesh and blood killer himself shows up and, surprised to find Frankie, attempts to strangle him to death. Following his narrow survival, Frankie dedicates himself to finding out what happened to the little girl he saw, who tried to kill him and what it has to do with the supposedly haunted house on a nearby cliff. Anyone who’s seen more than a handful of movies will likely be able to spot the killer early on but LaLoggia’s film is filled with rich pleasures and closely observed moments of humanity that overshadow any narrative simplicity. One of the film’s most rewarding treats, in fact, is the late, great Alex Rocco’s turn as Frankie’s father, Al. So much of Rocco’s career was spent playing heavies and gangsters, it’s heartening to see him play the film’s heart, a paragon of decency, with such accomplishment.
Al’s decency comes in handy because, just when you begin to suspect Lady in White might threaten to become Leave It to Beaver with ghosts, LaLoggia injects a reality check. The school’s black janitor is immediately singled out and railroaded after Frankie’s attack, all but convicted without trial by the simmering racism just under the surface of the townsfolk who seemed so quaint just moments before. LaLoggia’s depiction of everyday American hatred is bitter but never cartoonish. Similarly, he doesn’t condescend to us by turning Al into some kind of savior. Instead, he merely depicts him as a good man who does what he can for his fellow citizens in the face of a poisonous consensus. It’s a stirring sight, especially in our current climate.
As potent as this strain is, LaLoggia’s not setting out to remake To Kill a Mockingbird here. Lady in White is a scary story through and through and it has the makings of a conventional but classic entry in the genre. It starts with a prank gone wrong, like many tales told around campfires or at sleepovers; it has the nostalgia of a Stephen King novel, complete with reflective narration by the protagonist as a grown man; and it even has a touch of the American gothic horror tradition of Washington Irving and Edgar Allen Poe. What more could you want?
The transfer (which includes scans of two different sources in the case of the extended director’s cut – the difference is minor) does a lovely job of translating Carpenter’s lush, autumnal color palette and the film’s overall warm glow. The real treat, though, is the shockingly full sound presentation. The score is a classically jaunty orchestral one but with big bass hits (in the effects as well as the music) that will make this disc great for a fun night of movie-watching with friends.
The special features include three different versions of the film—theatrical, director’s cut and extended director’s cut, as well as an introduction and a commentary by LaLoggia, deleted scenes, some behind the scenes footage (also introduced by LaLoggia) and more.