Lady in White is one of those all-too-rare, idiosyncratic personal projects that slips in and out of the Hollywood system, but leaves its mark on an affectionate cult audience. Writer-director Frank LaLoggia's film is far from perfect, but what it lacks in finesse, it makes up in shaggy-dog charm.
LaLoggia frames Lady in White as an adult recollection of an intense childhood experience. On his return to his upstate-New York hometown of Willowpoint Falls, the grown Frankie Scarlatti stands over a grave and remembers the Halloween of 1962. In '62, young Frankie catches the eye of a girl, runs afoul of bullies, accidentally reveals the identity of a serial killer, and has close encounters with the legendary ghost known as "the lady in white."
The real trouble begins when the bullies lock Frankie (Lukas Haas) in the school cloakroom after hours. There, Frankie witnesses a ghostly vision of the ten-year-old murder of Melissa Anne Montgomery (Joelle Jacobi). The killer's face is obscured in the vision of the past and in the present, when—in an extraordinary stroke of bad timing—he returns in search of an incriminating piece of evidence. The killer attacks Frankie but leaves the evidence behind. Now Frankie and his new, ghostly friend Melissa embark together on a twofold mystery: to solve Melissa's murder and reunite her with her mother.
With a lively sense of humor, LaLoggia affectionately depicts Frankie's family of Italian-American Catholics (father Alex Rocco, brother Jason Presson, and grandparents Renata Vanni and Angelo Bertolini); Dad's best friend Phil (Len Cariou) pitches in with the bickering brothers (Presson's Gino calls Frankie "Toad" and generally gives him the business). Friends and authority figures affectionately describe Frankie—who exhibits a talent for scary stories—as "weird" and "unusual"; undoubtedly, LaLoggia her recalls his own past as an outsider artist.
In fact, Lady in White exhibits the exaggerated quality common to childhood memory and campfire ghost stories. At least on this project, writer-director-composer LaLoggia had creative energy to burn (the director's two other features garnered little positive notice), and though his reach somewhat exceeds his grasp, most of his risks pay off (amazingly, LaLoggia gets just enough traction to justify a swiftly established racial-prejudice subplot). In the film's creepiest and most thrilling moments, LaLoggia convincingly apes Hitchcock, and the artificially beautiful sets and effects bring to mind LaLoggia's contemporary Tim Burton.
Lady in White is young at heart, but contains enough intense shocks to justify its PG-13 rating. Even those immune to LaLoggia's best efforts will find something to appreciate: Haas displays the charisma that kept the child-actor in demand throughout the '80s, and director-of-photography Russell Carpenter displays the talent James Cameron would later enjoy on True Lies and Titanic. LaLoggia seriously drops the ball with the utterly predictable mystery elements, but the fun is in the journey, the answer to the musical question "Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?"
Sony's special edition DVD of Lady in White gathers an extraordinary number of bonus materials preserved by enthusiastic writer-director Frank LaLoggia. A nice-looking transfer well-represents the nostalgic film, with its purposefully hazy, soft-lit, or dark scenes. LaLoggia introduces the film and raw "Behind-the-Scenes" footage (16:20); he also provides commentary for both. 18 deleted and extended scenes (totaling 36 minutes) likewise feature director's commentary. The original Theatrical Trailer (1:56) is included, as well as a 78-picture Photo Gallery.
LaLoggia doesn't offer too many scintillating anecdotes about production or his cast, but he does provide a good feel for the challenges of an independently produced film that aspires to play in the big leagues, and he gets to tell everyone's favorite kind of director story: a battle he rightfully won that enabled him to preserve his vision. Trailing a director on his home-movie trip down memory lane creates a one-way bonding experience that's rather endearing. This packed disc will let fans and curiosity-seekers in on most of what they could ever hope to know about Lady in White; certainly, video-rental tourists will get more than their money's worth.
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