“The Lady in White” is a relatively obscure little horror movie from the 80’s that makes a great addition to anyone’s Halloween collection. The movie is set in the 1960’s, which means no cell phones, no computers, no nothing. I like this feel, as it gives films a certain timeless quality without dating them. The story centers around Frankie, a young Italian boy who sees the ghost of a little girl being killed in the coat room at his school. He is nearly killed himself by an unknown assailant, which begins a months long investigation into Frankie and the original girl’s attempted murder and murder. Multiple child murders from the past are revisited, and racial issues and family ties come front and center as the police and Frankie himself try to get to the bottom of this radical series of events. The film is rather unique with it’s PG rated imagery and dialogue but much more mature subject matter. The young viewer sees this movie just as it is displayed on screen: A very intriguing and terrifying ghost story with a wild twist. As the age of the viewer increases, the commentary into ethnic and racial stereotyping and the strong bonds of family really set “The Lady in White” apart from most generic fright fests.
What really sets “The Lady in White” apart from other genre films is that it is just a good old fashioned ghost story. These ghosts are not dangerous and they certainly aren’t out to kill anyone; they are just souls who suffered horrible deaths and have stuck around the mortal world to bring justice to the people that wronged them. They appear in the places that they died, and serve to re-enact their own gruesome ends. Now isn’t that what a ghost is supposed to do? In the old ghost stories you heard as a kid, ghosts would close doors, move objects around, whisper to you in the dark. They were there to scare you, not to hurt you. How could something with no physical presence hurt you? That concept brings up the secret to every good ghost story: Behind every ghost is a horrible, depraved person that helped to create it. Ghosts can get your heart pounding, but you know you’re safe as long as you throw your sheets over your head. People, on the other hand, can do some real damage. Sheets don’t help when there’s a murderer in your room. “The Lady in White” does an amazing job of mixing these two types of terror. First we see a ghost and run and hide, frightened half to death. Then in comes the real monster, a man with a knife or a bow and arrow or just his bare hands, that we can’t hope to run or hide from. Your poor heart, already on overdrive, can’t help but to shut down, leaving you cowering in a corner, shaking with fear.
Beyond the basic story and premise, “The Lady in White” has a few other impressive features. The first is the acting and characterization. For a movie with a relatively unknown set of actors, the casting was spot on. While Lukas Haas, who plays Frankie, was the main character, Alex Rocco stole the show as Al Scarlatti, Frankie’s hard-working, blue collar, all Italian father. His love and passion towards his family serves as a great counter-point and catalyst to the character of Uncle Phil, played by Len Cariou. All three have gone on to become well regarded actors in television and highly sought after for bit parts. They are certainly not household names, but what is important in any movie is how the play their part. Each actor becomes his character,not letting up for a minute that they are part of an Italian family in the 60’s. Special props go to Cariou, whose character of Phil Terragarossa is by far the most dynamic and interesting.
Special effects in the movie were nothing to go crazy about, but as was the case with every other cinematic element, they were exactly what was called for. There are a multitude of ghosts; They are the classic eerie, translucent specters we have seen since the dawn of cinema. The float through walls and are not effected by the physical world. This is what was needed for the story, and this is what we got. The piano teacher also had some great ghostly make up and costuming, which added to the mystery surrounding her character. Overall, “The Lady in White” was visually appealing, without going overboard anywhere.
This movie is most definitely a classic, with it’s subtle scares, compelling story and deep themes. It surely has it’s “faults” in that it’s pace is fairly slow, the effects seem dated, there is very little gore and many people find it’s humor and charm to be childish. Well, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Those few elements are exactly what most horror lacks these days. “The Lady in White” is truly a timeless piece to be enjoyed year after year, by generation after generation. It’s like any good ghost story; it is passed down over the years, and while it may not be up to date or entirely relevant, it is loved by those that share it.