Lady In White in an Old-Fashioned Ghost Story in every sense of the word, probably more effective told around a camp fire than it is as film, but it’s no slouch on the screen, either. Writer, director, producer and composer Frank LaLoggia obviously saw this film as a labor of love and, despite occasionally spoon-feeding the audience a little too much, he has crafted a warmly affectionate look at small town life in 1962. In fact, the portrait of Willowpoint Falls is so vivid that the ghost story almost seems like an intrusion. On the other hand, I guess that’s what ghosts do, dramatically speaking.
Nine-year-old Frankie Scarlatti (Lukas Haas) is a bright, sensitive kid, the kind of boy who tends to find himself locked in school cloakrooms by the class bullies. That’s exactly what happens to Frankie on Halloween night in 1962. Ten o’clock rolls around and Frankie sees what appears to be the ghost of a young girl re-enacting the moment of her brutal murder. The next thing the boy knows, a shadowy adult figure enters the cloak room and, discovering Frankie, very nearly chokes him to death the same way the little girl was killed. The murder is interrupted at the last second by Frankie’s father, Al (Alex Rocco).
The school’s hapless black janitor, Harold Williams (Henry Harris) is discovered sleeping off a drunk in the school boiler room. He is arrested and charged with the attack on Frankie and 10 previous child murders over the last decade. Recovering at home, Frankie reads the newspaper accounts and discovers that the first victim, Melissa (Joelle Jacobi) was the girl he saw in the cloak room.
LaLoggia etches a vivid portrait of the Scarlatti family, from Frankie’s loving, widowed father and the comic bickering of his grandparents (Renata Vanni and Angelo Bertolini) to his affectionately antagonistic relationship with his older brother, Geno (Jason Presson). Al Scarlatti may be a bit too perfect but, in an age when movie dads are generally clueless oafs and wet blankets, this is a forgivable sin.
The absence of a mother is also what connects young Frankie to the ghost of Melissa. She is endlessly searching for her mother and Frankie, who still misses his late mother, can definitely relate. This also ties the ghost in the cloak room and the murder mystery into the film’s titular ghost, the mysterious Lady in White (Karen Powell) who haunts the seaside cliffs outside of town.
Lady in White is commendable for not sugarcoating the issues connected to the central story. Both racism and pedophilia are necessary ingredients to the final resolution of the film’s various plotlines. On the other hand, the final scene is an exercise in sugary, supernatural schmaltz that could rot your teeth.
While LaLoggia occasionally commits the error common to many relatively inexperienced filmmakers, that of not trusting the audience to get the point without him spelling it out for them, Lady in White has enough going for it to justify the affection with which many of us remember it.