• Lady In White

    Released by: Shout! Factory/Scream Factory
    Released on: September 27, 2016
    Directed by: Frank LaLoggia
    Cast: Lukas Haas, Alex Rocco, Len Cariou, Katherine Helmond, Jason Presson, Renata Vanni, Angelo Bertolini, Joelle Jacobi, Jared Rushton, Gregory Levinson, Karen Powell, Henry Harris
    Year: 1988
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    The Movie:

    Outside of Rochester, New York lies Durand Eastman Park, a nature preserve that, in the 1800s, was farmland dotted occasionally by isolated farmhouses. It has long been said that in one of those homes was a widow who was overly protective of her only immediate kin, her teenage daughter. One night that daughter snuck out of the house and never returned. At first her mother believed she had run away, but soon the townspeople came to believe that she had been murdered. The distraught mother let her home fall into disrepair and is said to have eventually committed suicide—and for the past century and a half, her ghost has been wandering the lonely nearby roads and copses.

    The legend had a profound effect on a young Rochester resident named Frank LaLoggia. As a young man, LaLoggia decided to film his own version of the story, which he wrote, directed, and produced independently in the 1987.

    Fall, 1962: Kennedy is president of the United States, life in small-town America is idyllic, and Halloween is just around the corner. But the family friendly veneer hides something dark and sinister. After being trapped in his school’s cloakroom by bullies, Frankie Scarlatti (Lukas Haas) sees the specter of a girl being murdered and carried off. Shortly after, the actual killer shows up to retrieve something he lost during the scuffle. He sees Frankie and attacks, then leaves the boy for dead. Frankie’s father (Alex Rocco), on the hunt for the boy—who’s been missing since the school day ended—finds and revives him. The janitor (Henry Harris) is arrested and charged in connection to the attack, along with a series of brutal molestation-murders that have plagued the town since the early 1950s. Frankie soon learns that the spirit he witnessed belongs to the real killer’s first victim, Melissa Anne Montgomery (Joelle Jacobi).

    Melissa continues to haunt Frankie. Her various appearances, along with Frankie’s own investigations, lead him to the former home in which she lived, which may be haunted by the girl’s mother (Karen Powell), Anne, who committed suicide after the murder. Frankie goes back to the cloak room and searches the air duct, where he finds a class ring presumably belonging to the killer. He soon enlists his brother’s (Jason Presson) help, but he also inadvertently alerts the killer to what he knows.

    Lady in White is an interesting, if not entirely successful, supernatural melodrama, a broad attempt at nostalgia for self-identifying monster kids who grew up in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In that respect, it generally works. The quaint town with its Halloween displays and the film’s early emphasis on heartwarming family atmosphere lure the viewer in, despite the lack of a basic plot during its first half hour. Where it goes wrong is in its varying tones. What starts out as one thing (a film intended for both kids and adults alike) becomes something much different once the killer’s motives are revealed. In that respect, the film reminds one of William Castle’s uneven and oft-confused I Saw What You Did (1965). As such, Lady in White doesn’t know whether it wants to be a family dramedy or a full-throttle horror film and ultimately doesn’t manage either. The weight of its social commentary doesn’t help matters. To Kill a Mockingbird this ain’t, which isn’t to say that all is lost, however.

    Lukas Haas makes for an appealing lead, and there are certainly some creepy moments: the introduction to Melissa’s ghost, which reenacts its murder each night at 10:00 p.m. without the killer’s spirit present (he still lives); the Brothers Scarlatti following the girl’s ghost to the cliffside from which she was thrown to her death. But hers isn’t the only ghost prowling Willowpoint Fall’s eldritch woods; there’s also that of her mother, and when the twain meet, some hokey effects follow. (The two spirits becoming blue balls that form a heart in the sky has to be seen to be believed.) The actors acquit themselves well in virtually every case, especially sitcom star Katherine Helmond as Melissa’s grandmother. There are some nice terrific set pieces, with period detail nicely attained, and LaLoggia’s direction is often inspired (though occasionally insipid as well).


    Scream Factory has released Lady in White in a special-edition, two-disc Blu-ray set. Spread across the two discs are three versions of the film and a number of extras. The director’s cut and extras are on one disc; the two alternate versions appear on the other. The director’s cut tops out at 118 minutes, the theatrical cut at 113 minutes, and the extended director’s cut at 126 minutes. The theatrical cut is PG-13, while the two director’s cuts are unrated but would likely be Rated R if submitted to the MPAA today. All three versions are presented with MPEG-4 AVC encodes in 1080p high definition at their 1.85:1 original theatrical aspect ratio. Both discs are 50GB, allowing them to hold a great deal of information (though they’re so crowded that there is occasional and slight compression). Overall, no matter the cut, the film looks very good. Detail and sharpness is greatly improved over the DVD, with the frequent outdoor locations benefitting from the format. Lady in White takes place in the small (fictional) New England town of Willowpoint Falls, and thanks to the real-life location, there are plenty of trees, old homes, and brick businesses to betray a high level of detail. Faces and fabrics are likewise distinct. The film covers a time period stretching from just before Halloween to around Christmas. The autumnal colors are beautifully rendered, with greens, oranges, and reds particularly appealing. Even as vivid fall fades to bleak winter, colors remain strong. Most of the time black levels are good, though there is occasional noise and crush. There are also times when grain becomes a little too prevalent. These pros and cons are true across the board for all three presentations, though the extended director’s cut does feature additional scenes that are of varying visual quality, as is to be expected. The chapter breaks appear in the same places for all three cuts.

    The director’s cut of the film has three distinct tracks: The first is in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, the second in English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, and the third an audio commentary from the director in English Dolby Digital 2.0. Of the two film soundtracks, the 5.1 is the better choice. It offers a wider range and is pretty dynamic, creating a greater sense of immersion. The 2.0 track isn’t bad, and if people don’t have a true surround system, it’s more than adequate. There are no serious issues with any of the tracks: no crackles or hisses or dropout, and sound levels are evenly mixed to pleasing effect. These sound options are also available for the alternate cuts, though it should be noted that restored footage in the extended director’s cut contains sound that has not been cleaned up. The reason the commentary is recorded in Dolby Digital rather than DTS-HD is because it’s ported over from the old DVDs. The commentary begins on a high note, with LaLoggia pointing out that he was in fact the adult Frankie who opens the film (and who is never seen from the front other than for his eyes). He also reveals that parts of the film were shot in and around Rochester. Anyone with a love of classic horror films will want to give the commentary a listen. LaLoggia delves into his own love for and history with the genre; the film’s autobiographical aspects and its reflection of the social unrest of the 1960s; the film’s budget and what LaLoggia was and wasn’t able to achieve; the stereotypical portrayal of Italian Americans on film; possible ambiguity of the ghostly character; the haunted history of one of the real-life locations; differences between the theatrical and the director’s cuts; and so much more. Note that there are moments when the track is marred by LaLoggia’s absence, but these are always fairly brief, and when LaLoggia does speak, he is always interesting.

    Most of the extras are ported over from MGM’s special-edition DVD (and, before that, Elite’s DVD), though a few new ones have been added for extra incentive to purchase. They begin with a brief (46 seconds) introduction by LaLoggia. Next up is behind-the-scenes footage, which is also introduced by LaLoggia. These scenes amount to approximately 16 minutes, were shot on VHS, and intended only as a home movie for the director’s private use. Purists may be interested, but most casual fans will probably want to give this extra a pass, or check it out for a few seconds to get an idea of what went on on-set. This footage can also be watched with commentary from LaLoggia. (There’s also extended behind-the-scenes footage, which is presented as a separate extra, lasts one hour and 13 minutes, and is sans commentary.) Next up are deleted scenes—the original cut of the film amounted to nearly 2 hours and 40 minutes! Again there’s an introduction by LaLoggia, and, since the scenes were never finished nor intended to be seen by viewers, the picture quality is considerably less than for the completed film. Some include uncompleted blue-screen shots, warts, wires, and all. The scenes last a total of 36 minutes. As with the behind-the-scenes footage, they can be watched with LaLoggia’s commentary.

    A second screen of extras includes promotional materials for Lady in White, including a short film (7:18) with the same nostalgic approach is the main feature. Directed by LaLoggia, it was obviously intended to pique investors’ interest in funding the picture; many of the principle actors, including the one playing Frank Scarlatti, are not those who were cast for the final film. (Thank God, too, as the boy playing Frank here is terrible.) Too bad LaLoggia didn’t provide commentary for this tantalizing extra.

    The film’s original theatrical trailer (1:57) is included, as is a teaser and alternate trailer (7:10). A third screen of extras includes television spots (1:34) and radio spots (2:21); a behind-the-scenes photo montage (2:30), which can be stepped through or played on its own; and, finally, an extended photo gallery of images from the film (1:55).

    The Final Word:

    Lady in White is an entertaining film with nostalgic appeal for kids who grew up in the 1960s. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release is a must-own for fans of the film. Not only does it port over the terrific extras from the previous special edition DVD releases, but it also presents alternate cuts of the film, all in 1080p high definition. With a solid image and good sound, there’s simply no reason to miss it.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the 1930s is currently available, with Horror Films of the Silent Era: Book One (1895-1915) and Book Two (1916-1929) due out later this year.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      This is one of those where the movie poster freaked me out more than the actual movie. Great review.
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      I kind of have a love/hate relationship with the film. The narrative is simply too all over the place to love or hate as a whole, so whichever one applies depends on the scene. I do wish the director had been a little less ambitious at times; he wanted to make a much bigger film than he had the budget to achieve, and it works against the film. The ending comes across as too gimmicky.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      I'd forgotten all about the heart lights. Blech.