The Lady in White (1988)

If all Frank LaLoggia had made was the utterly bizarre Fear No Evil, he’d still be a filmmaker to celebrate. Luckily, he also gifted us with this film, a ghost story that bombed on initial release but has gone on to be a celebrated film, one that’s just as much about growing up as it is about murder.

Horror author Franklin “Frankie” Scarlatti (as an adult, he’s played by the director, but in the film itself, it’s Lukas Haas) is on his way back to Willowpoint Falls and relates the story of how way back in 1962, over Halloween, he was attacked and nearly strangled to death by a mysterious figure in black. Even more frightening, he witnesses the death of a young redhead girl, who has ties to the mysterious lady in white, an urban legend that all of the schoolboys live in fear of.

The police arrest the school’s black janitor, Harold “Willy” Williams, for the killings and the way the town reacts to this forms the moral backbone of the film. There’s also a lot about family, with father Angelo (a welcome Alex Rocco), his adopted brother and the near comical shenanigans of Frankie’s grandparents.

Along the way, Frankie becomes obsessed with bringing closure to the redhead girl’s ghost, solving her murder and bringing her back to her mother. There’s also the matter of the real or unreal lady in white (Katherine Helmond from TV’s Who’s the Boss?).

The film has a really great scene where the killer reveals himself within the foggy woods as the lighting in the scene progressively grows darker, a really interesting camera trick that is all but forgotten in our CGI era. In fact, all of the night scenes in the woods almost feel like an otherworldly affair, as if shot just outside our reality.

LaLoggia wrote, directed, produced and scored this film, which was based on the legend of the Lady in White,a woman who roams Durand-Eastman Park in Rochester, New York searching for her daughter. It’s a place hat the auteur knows well, as he grew up there and filmed much of the movie on location.

It’s a shame that LaLoggia didn’t get to make more films, because of the two I’ve seen, he is able to tell a simple story that still feels intensely personal and nuanced. He’s teased several projects over the years, including being attached to the Cannon Spider-Man movie that never got off the ground. Here’s to another film coming from him, someday, someway.

You can get this from Shout! Factory or watch it on Vudu for free.

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