Lady in White is available on Blu-ray now.
So here we are, Halloween 2021. Over the past thirty days, Cinerama Film Online has brought you a diverse selection of movies to celebrate the season. But now, alas, it is time to draw the 2021 Halloween Countdown to a close. So as we all light our pumpkins, try on our costumes or fill buckets with sweets for trick or treaters, let me open this article by asking you a simple question. What 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. They spark our imagination and often give birth to our love of horror.
Many films stand out in my early memories of horror, from the haunting terror and intrigue of The Shining to nightmares of funeral homes following Phantasm. But, there is one film that carries a more profound memory. This film was one of my first introductions to social horror, a sub-genre I would come to love as the years went by. What was the title of this movie, I hear you ask? It was Lady in White, directed by Frank LaLoggia. I clearly remember my sense of anticipation before watching LaLoggia’s film; after all, this would be a supernatural horror set during Halloween, right? A Poltergeist inspired ghost story full of jumps. Well, as I sat watching, I quickly realised that LaLoggia’s delicate and beautiful labour of love was, in fact, so much more.
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Frankie (Lukas Haas) comes from a loving Italian-American family. He is intelligent, curious and full of imagination, his love of writing shining through 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. 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. Trying to remain silent as the man searches a small heating grate in the floor, a rat scuttles over Frankie’s foot. As the rat nears his leg, Frankie tries to remain calm, but the man is alerted to his presence, and Frankie finds his life threatened. Suddenly and violently, Frankie is pulled from the unit’s safety, the man wrapping his hands around Frankie’s throat.
However, as Frankie drifts toward death, he is rescued by an unseen 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?
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Lady in White laces its supernatural horror with an intense murder mystery in creating a family-orientated ghost story. Here LaLoggia embraces an M.R. James inspired world of horror, built on characters, atmosphere and place, rather than jump scares or gore. This is a ghost story the whole family can watch together. And while the effects work may now look slightly ropey, the depth and scale of Lady in White remain incredibly impressive. Here the supernatural world is ultimately 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. Here we see the black caretaker of the school arrested for murder with no evidence. His arrest, a mere smoke-screen as the police 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 multi-dimensional 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, themes of social horror also come 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; instead, it’s the horror of the murderer who runs free. Here, Lady in White challenges the very foundation of childhood safety; trust. In LaLoggia’s screenplay, Frankie learns that not all adults are trustworthy, 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 Dicken’s 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.
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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 all but 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 the real, human horrors of our world.