Elite Entertainment // 1988 // 120 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // February 21st, 2000
What happens when a ghost asks you to solve their murder?
Lady in White is a small-budget ghost film from the point of view of a ten year old child. Its quiet charm and touches of gothic horror should grow on you, and with the fair collection of extras tend to compensate for the disc's technical deficiencies.
An accomplished author returns to the town of his birth, and has his cabbie take him to the local cemetery. Musing upon a grave, Frankie Scarlatti (Frank LaLoggia) thinks back, way back, to the idyllic, 1960s town that it was in his youth. His younger self (Lukas Haas, seen in Witness and Mars Attacks!) led a normal, if somewhat lonely, childhood, sparring with his older brother Gino (Jason Presson) and riding his bike through the woods. On Halloween, 1962, two classroom bullies lock Frankie in the cloakroom of his 4th grade class, where he is forced to spend the night. When he slips into sleep, his dreams shift from happy memories to a frightening shock, which wakes him to a vision.
An ethereal young girl is talking and jumping in the cloakroom, and nearly seems able to communicate with the frightened boy before an unseen person murders her before Frankie's unbelieving eyes. His visions persist, both terrifying, harmful and soothing, where he seeks and speaks with the girl who was murdered, until he is suddenly brought back to reality by his father (Alex Rocco) and the Sheriff's search party. Once back home, strange visions and happenings again surround Frankie. The rest of the world has seized upon a drunk custodian to blame for Frankie's assault and the murder of many children (including the one Frankie saw), which mystery had been plaguing the town for many years.
Time slowly passes onward. Frankie slowly finds out that the murdered girl is linked to the mysterious Lady in White who lived in a spooky house near town. Naturally, he visits the ghost house, and finds that the Lady in White (Katherine Helmond) is the murdered girl's mother. Gino has become interested for his own reasons, but both he and Frankie come to the realization of the true murderer independently, and nearly too late. In the final scene, the murderer is uncovered, the Lady in White and her daughter can rest in peace, and Frankie can be happy in the knowledge of the good that he has wrought.
The acting talent is perhaps the strongest part of Lady in White, particularly given the limited budget that director/producer Frank LaLoggia mentions in his commentary. Alex Rocco plays against type with his sensitive, deeply loving father, and both Lukas Haas and Jason Presson are the rare child actors who are genuine, natural actors without the grating annoyances of many child actors these days. Frankie's Italian grandparents, played by Renata Vanni and Angelo Bertolini, are absolutely delightful and a treasure to behold as they spar and fight as only a long married couple can!
Extras are pretty good for a small-budget film. The menus are static, but with some music. The soundtrack is separately presented in three separate suites, totaling over 61 minutes) with some notes by director/producer Frank LaLoggia, who also composed the music. Collected in the "Promotional" menu are the theatrical trailer, radio spots, television spots, and a seven minute (full frame) promotional reel that was used to sell the film to investors (the financing being accomplished by the sale of stock!). There is also a still gallery, thirteen minutes of deleted scenes (thankfully cut from an already slow film), and an amusing eleven-minute behind the scenes featurette (which runs more like a home movie with music but no narration). The feature-length commentary by director/producer Frank LaLoggia gives you a sense of the film and the man, as Lady in White was a very personal story and one that he was determined to tell without compromise.
This story synopsis may seem a little sparse, and I have probably omitted (or misunderstood) some of the story, but Lady in White was a difficult story to distill. It starts out as an idyllic depiction of small town life in upstate New York, but when the supernatural elements flow into the mix there were long stretches where the story lost its metaphoric rudder. I had no idea where the film was going, and with the slowly unfolding plot, had no great interest in finding out, either. There was not a lot of tension or suspense to keep me interested (or at least less aware of time).
The video is fairly typical of an older, independent sort of film. The picture is quite soft, with loss of shadow detail, moderate video noise, and some blips and flecks. The blacks are far too blue, which at times is very apparent and most distracting. The colors are reasonably well saturated, and the lack of digital enhancement artifacting is welcome.
The audio mix is one of the most annoying that I have listened to on DVD. My receiver is being worked on in the shop, so I was left with my RPTV's main speakers (in a set-up that is apparently more representative for the general public than most home theater fanatics). Inconsistent is the word that comes first to mind. I have no doubt that I missed exposition from the narration of the young Frankie, but it was mixed so low I could not understand him even with a big volume boost (and there are no captions to help, either!). To make matters worse, there are great stretches of music that are mixed so loud that it will blast you out of your seat, harsh and discordant, just as you were straining to hear the dialogue.
The disc menus have an annoying lag in reacting to my remote's key presses. It's a small point, but a continually aggravating one. Another small point is the odd keep case used by Elite with the six plastic teeth. It doesn't seem to hold the disc as securely as the preferred Amaray keep case, and seems more prone to shipping damage (as my sample was). Even the Alpha keep case would be preferable, I think.
Lady in White merits a viewing if you don't mind the leisurely story and a film that is more weighted with atmosphere and period than horror or suspense. It's not quite a thriller either, as the director admits, so in the end it's a quirky sort of movie that won't "work" for a number of people.
After due consideration, the film is guilty of poor pacing and the Court declares a mistrial as to Elite. The extras are welcome, but a greater emphasis on DVD usability, presentation, an acceptable audio mix and an anamorphic transfer would have swayed the Court's decision.
Review content copyright © 2000 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Elite Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Director Commentary
* Still Photo Gallery
* Theatrical Trailers
* TV Spots
* Behind the Scenes Footage