Thursday, July 21, 2016

#2,149. Lady in White (1988)

Directed By: Frank LaLoggia

Starring: Lukas Haas, Len Cariou, Alex Rocco

Tag line: "The year is 1962. The place is Willowpoint Falls. Nobody talks about what happened in the school cloakroom 10 years ago. Now, in the dead of night, Frankie Scarlatti is going to find out why"

Trivia: Lukas Haas and Katherine Helmond were both nominated for a Saturn Award in 1990

When I think of horror films that are geared towards kids, the ones that usually leap to mind are The Monster Squad, The Gate, Gremlins, and even Poltergeist

Going forward, I’ll be adding Lady in White to that list as well. A 1988 ghost tale written and directed by Frank LaLoggia. Lady in White is sure to give the young’uns goosebumps, and packs enough of a wallop to keep their parents watching along with them.

We travel back to 1962, to the sleepy community of Willowpoint Falls. Like most kids in the area, young Frankie Scarlatti (Lukas Haas) comes from a good home; he lives with his widowed dad (Alex Rocco), his grandparents (Renata Vanni and Angelo Bertolini), and his older brother Geno (Jason Presson). Stopping in from time to time is Uncle Phil (Len Cariou), his father’s best friend, who was all but adopted into the clan years earlier when his parents passed away. 

Yet while things seem pretty normal on the surface in this quaint town, a darkness hangs over the citizens of Willowpoint Falls in the form of a serial killer, who, over the past decade, has murdered 10 children. Nobody knows who this psychopath is, or, worse still, when he will strike next.

But seeing as its Halloween, Frankie isn’t concerning himself with such things; he’s busy enjoying his class’s Halloween party, and is looking forward to trick or treating later on. Unfortunately, two of his classmates play a practical joke on Frankie by locking him in the school’s cloakroom, with the intention of leaving him there all night long

Frankie’s anger and disappointment soon turns to terror, however, when, at the stroke of ten, the ghost of Melissa Ann Montgomery (Joelle Jacobi), the killer’s first victim, appears in the cloakroom, re-enacting the night she was murdered (she was killed in that very room). 

Moments later, the door is kicked open, and a man walks in. All at once, Frankie realizes he’s face-to-face with the killer! 

Luckily for the young boy, his dad, who had been out looking for him, interrupted the killer before he could finish off Frankie as well. As a result of this near-tragedy, the police arrest the school’s custodian, an African American man named Harold Williams (Henry Harris), and charge him with attempted murder. But is he really the guilty party?

As for Frankie, he continues to receive visits from his new ghostly friend Melissa, who is anxious to reunite with her deceased mother, the legendary Lady in White, whose spirit roams the cliffs by the ocean, searching for her beloved daughter. Frankie does his best to help Melissa, and while doing so makes a startling discovery that could prove the cops arrested the wrong man.

From early on, you can tell Lady in White was intended for a younger audience. Along with some corny humor (most involving the grandfather’s attempts to hide his smoking from his wife), the story is told primarily from Frankie’s perspective; we spend a good deal of time in the classroom with him, and listen in at one point as he reads one of his monster stories aloud. 

Yet even with its childlike sensibilities, Lady in White proves to be a decent horror film with more than its share of creepy scenes (the entire cloakroom sequence is truly frightening). The movie also touches on the racial inequalities of the early 1960s (the town’s sheriff, played by Tom Bower, tells Frankie’s dad that even if Harold Williams isn’t the killer, he’s the perfect scapegoat because “he’s black”). 

At times, the comedy is a bit overdone, and, what’s more, I was able to figure out who the real killer was before the halfway point. Fortunately, these weaknesses aren’t nearly enough to ruin your enjoyment of the film.

Of course, what constituted a “children’s movie” in the ‘80s is much different than what many would consider acceptable today. Aside from some mild profanity (the worst word, if memory serves, is “asshole”), the film’s horror elements could be a bit more intense than what modern kids are used to, especially the cloakroom scene (the finale is also pretty strong). So please keep that in mind when deciding whether or not Lady in White is suitable for your child. 

But if you think your kids can handle it, show them Lady in White, and while you’re at it, watch it yourself. None of you will be disappointed.

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