Lady in White is available on Blu-ray now.
Over the past thirty days, Cinerama Film has brought you a diverse selection of movies to celebrate the Halloween season. But now, alas, it is time to close the 2021 Halloween Countdown. So as we all light our pumpkins, try on our costumes and fill buckets with sweets, let me pose a straightforward question: which scary movies lodged themselves into your memory during childhood or early adolescence? I ask this because these are the films that shape our view of the genre and spark our love of horror. Many films stand out in my early memories of horror, from the haunting terror and intrigue of The Shining to nightmare-inducing Phantasm. But, one film carries a more profound memory, The Lady in White.
The Lady in White was my first real introduction to the notion of social horror, a sub-genre that reflected the real horrors of the world around us. I clearly remember my anticipation as I sat down to watch Laloggia’s film; after all, this would be a supernatural horror set during Halloween, a Poltergeist-inspired ghost story full of jumps…Right? But as I sat watching, I quickly realised that LaLoggia’s labour of love was so much more than a simple ghost story.
READ MORE: A GHOST WAITS
Frankie (Lukas Haas) comes from a loving Italian-American family; he is intelligent, curious and full of imagination, with his love of writing shining at school. But, as the final day of school before Halloween draws near, Frankie finds himself the victim of a nasty school-yard prank as he is locked in the school cloakroom. Alone and scared as the school shuts down for the night, Frankie falls asleep on top of a storage unit. But when he finally wakes, a ghostly figure stands before him, a young girl around his age. As Frankie watches in fear, the girl talks to a hidden figure, first with joyful laughter and then with terror as the hands of the figure wrap around her neck. She cries, struggles, and kicks, but each action cannot stop the life from leaving her body.
(1988) MGM / New Century Vista (Jason Presson and Lukas Haas)
Unsure of what has just happened, Frankie sits silently in shock until a man enters the cloakroom dressed head to toe in black. But, this is no ghost; this is a real, flesh and blood figure. Frankie tries to remain silent as the man searches a small heating grate on the floor. But as a rat scuttles over Frankie’s foot, the man is alerted to his presence, and Frankie finds his life threatened as the man’s big hands wrap around his slender throat. As Frankie drifts toward death, he is rescued by an unseen, ghostly force – waking from his ordeal to find his father and the local police at his side. But, can the young boy solve the mystery of the ghostly girl’s murder? And who was the man who nearly ended his life? But, even more perplexing, what is the link to the local legend of the ghostly Lady in White?
READ MORE: POLTERGEIST
Lady in White laces its classic supernatural horror with a far more fascinating murder mystery as LaLoggia embraces an M.R. James-inspired world of horror. Here the supernatural world is far less scary than the human one surrounding it. Set in the small town of Willow Point Falls in 1962, themes of racial oppression surround the murder mystery at the heart of Lady in White. For example, the black caretaker of the school is quickly arrested for murder with no evidence, his arrest, a smoke-screen as the police openly admit he is easy pickings. However, LaLoggia’s exploration of race in Lady in White not only reflects the horror of racism in 1960s America but equally reflects the differing experiences of minority groups. Here Lady in White’s intersectional discussions on racism, acceptance and community continue to be one of its strongest assets.
LADY IN WHITE, from left: Lukas Haas, Jason Presson, 1988. ©New Century Vista Film
Meanwhile, the social horror comes from the child murders at the heart of the story and the ghostly girl’s violent death – a death she is forced to relive in spirit form every night at 10 pm. This imagery has seared itself into many childhood memories over the years since Lady in White’s release. But, once again, it’s not the horror of the supernatural form that stands out but the horror of a murderer who runs free. Here, Lady in White challenges the foundation of childhood safety; trust. In LaLoggia’s screenplay, Frankie learns that not all adults are trustworthy, with many hiding deep and dark desires and secrets behind a gentle, loving smile.
Lady in White may not be an adult, gore-laced horror, but it exemplifies the beauty of the classic Victorian ghost story. Here LaLoggia pays homage to M.R. James and Dickens while embracing ideas that would later be found in celebrated horror films ranging from The Sixth Sense to The Devil’s Backbone and The Orphanage. In Lady in White, the real horror is held in human form, the ghosts merely looking for resolution and justice as they reach out to young Frankie for help.
READ MORE: HALLOWEEN NIGHT MOVIES
Lady in White was a labour of love for LaLoggia, its journey to the screen two years in the making. However, since its release, Lady in White has disappeared into the mists of time, its availability patchy at best. But Lady in White will always hold a special place in the hearts of those who entered LaLoggia’s world. After all, this film showed us that horror is a human creation, not a supernatural one. It asks us to embrace, not fear, the ghosts around us, as more often than not, they are simply trying to warn us about our world’s real, human horrors.