Really good ghost stories are hard to come by these days. Oh, there are plenty of horror films, but the ghost story is a specific genre, with definite rules and traditions. A new film, Lady In White, fulfills so many of these traditions that it’s tempting to applaud it. Too bad it isn’t a better movie.
But at least writer-director Frank Laloggia had the right instincts. Lady in White is old-fashioned and evocative, and it rightly tells its story through the eyes of a child: a 9-year-old boy (Lukas Haas, the kid from Witness), who begins to suspect that all is not well in the quiet little town of Willowpoint Falls.
He’s drawn into a mystery when two bratty pals lock him up in a school coat closet at Halloween time. It’s the very same room where, 10 years before, a little girl was murdered … yipes! This night, of all nights, a man breaks into the room, discovers Haas there, and tries to kill the boy.
This leads the kid into a mystery that involves the strange murders of a handful of children over the years, and ends up at the spooky old house at the edge of town and an encounter with the ghostly lady in white, “a mysterious, long-robed woman who roams the cliffs at night.”
The script is full of creepy incidents, although it telegraphs the identity of the child-killer fairly early on. There are no surprises, but there is a lot of affection for the expected twists and turns of the classic ghost story, along the lines of a familiar old tale told ’round a campfire.
Laloggia seems to be attempting to capture the autumnal chill of Ray Bradbury’s small-town horror stories. Unfortunately, Lady in White has a low-budget look that sometimes undercuts the director’s more expressive moments. And not all the actors are up to snuff, although Haas provides an effective hero. (Alex Rocco plays his widowed father, Len Cariou the father’s best friend, and Katherine Helmond plays the weird old woman who lives in the dilapidated shack by the cliffs.)
Lady in White has its problems, but it does get closer to raising occasional gooseflesh than the disappointing adaptation of Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes a few years back, which covered similar territory. It’s an honest, well-meaning try, and endearing even when it’s at its clumsiest.
First published in the Herald, April 1988
I’m not sure where Mr. Laloggia went, but he posts on Twitter every now and again. The film has a following, for sure. At the time it was a welcome break from the dismal run of slasher films that had dominated the earlier part of the decade.