Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lady In Reeeeeeeeed-I mean white. Lady In White. Right.

Savvy readers know of my fondness for the bizarre 1980 antichrist-goes-to-high-school classic Fear No Evil, a film that featured everything from death by dodgeball, passion plays, zombies, Rocky Horror Show costuming, angels, and suicide inspired by the sudden development of female breasts on a male bully chest. Naturally, the mere fact that writer/director Frank LaLoggia had also made 1988’s Lady In White eventually sent it to the top of the queue.
Quick Plot: A friendly cab driver lets young Frankie out at a cemetery, then follows him to hear the story of a few buried folk. That’s right folks, a smoother device for narration there has never been.
Frankie (now young, big-eyed, and played by Lucas Haas) takes us back to 1962, when he was a 9-year-old writer-in-the-making living with his widowed father, big brother, and adorably Italian grandparents. One Halloween night, a pair of pricky bullies play a typical wacky movie prank by locking Frankie inside school, an old building that happens to overlook a cemetery. While inside, Frankie sees the ghost of a little girl reenacting her murder just before the actual murderer enters and nearly strangles the boy. Mystery hath been laid.

This being 1962, the police arrest the nearest black man and pin eleven more child murders on the poor family guy, much to the catharsis of the town. Frankie’s father, however, knows the pieces don’t fit together, though the story gets passed back down to Frankie to figure things out for himself. About 2 hours later, he does.
Lady In White is one of the most baffling movies I’ve seen in a very long time, mostly because I have absolutely no idea who its intended audience could be. Rated PG13 (probably PG in ’88), it steers clear of any sex or serious onscreen violence, though the very nature of the killer (notes are dropped about molestation) isn’t quite appropriate for kids to consider. At the same time, the film tries to show the world from Frankie’s 9-year-old point of view, straight down to LaLoggia’s instrumental score that seems intent on lightening the mood at every moment of suspense. 
So a ghost story for 12 year olds? Except not. Unless your 12 year old has an incredibly  advanced attention span, there’s no way he or she will eagerly sit through a full two hour (!) film filled with limp subplots and stretched out scenes of dialogue. Making a deeper-than-your-average-thriller is admirable, but that doesn’t mean your script is comparable to To Kill a Mockingbird.

And yet I liked this movie and rather enjoyed the offbeat tone. It's neat. Just too long. 

High Points
A Bing Crosby ditty called Did You Ever See a Dream Walking? is used throughout the film with surprising creepiness

Low Points
Netflix reports the running length as 1 hour and 58 minutes. Even if the film didn't contain a whole lot of slow scenes, that's simply too long for a skim ghost story

All in all, the narration and framing device does about nothing for Lady In White

The always fabulous Katherine Helmond is always fabulous, but also, rather wasted in a quick two-scene role that, by the time we get to 90+ minutes into the film, barely registers

Lessons Learned
A thinking tree helps you think about things
A game of limbo is a great way to see up your teacher’s skirt
In the 1960s, women were listed in the phone book under their first names

I'm extremely torn on how to rate this film because though it has a lot about it to enjoy, Lady In White is also far too long and rather confused about who it's been made for. Those who like nostalgic kid movies spiced up with mild horror (think Matinee) may take to the style, but viewers expecting actual horror won't find too much more than Disney-esque ghost effects. The DVD includes a commentary by the always affable LaLoggia, but overall, this is a rental for those looking for something different. If you do, however, dig into The Lady In White, come back here to share your thoughts. I'm especially curious to hear who else correctly identified the murderer within two minutes of his screentime (only to then wait ONE HOUR AND FIFTY EIGHT MINUTES for the reveal).


  1. Should Have an FMN review up this weekend. Can I read your blog onto the podcast as another view on the show to add depth to our coverage (and plug a great blog).

  2. Can't wait to hear KK's thoughts! You most certainly may read my review! You may want to check for language and such (I know I invented the word 'pricky' at one point) so censor whatever you need to!

  3. I like the loose reference to To Kill a Mockingbird because that thought went through my head immediately upon watching it. Obvious influence anyone?

  4. I saw this years ago and remember liking it, but I think I need to check it out again.

  5. And Doc, did you also call the fate of the Tom Robinson-esque character as soon as he was arrested?

    Chris, I'd love to year your thoughts when you rewatch it. I'm so extremely curious to know how other people feel about this film.

  6. The song lady in red gives me nightmares. Thanks.

    Love Lady In White!

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Ha! I mean, sorry.

    Never thought of that song as frightening, although I'm terrified of any version of Carol of the Bells, so what do I know!

  9. It's funny that you say that kids wouldn't have the attention span because this was one of my go-to sleepover movies as a kid, this and Watcher in the Woods (and later Nightmare on Elm St. and Halloween) were the watched over and over "scary" movies for my friends and I. I don't remember it being long, but we were all drunk on candy and soda so we probably didn't actively watch with close attention. Must watch again now! Thanks! (I now remember singing the dream song to my friends to scare them ... I was kind of an ass apparently)

  10. Hi Lis!

    Watcher In the Woods is another film I missed out on as a kid. Wonder if that will confuse me as much as this one!

    Funny to think about attention span with kids and movies. You make a good point: I don't EVER remember watching a film as a child or teen and thinking "will it just END already?" Whether it was a theater or my basement, movies could keep going on and on and I'd be happy. I don't know today if MY attention span has shrunk or if kids are just used to faster pacing and shorter movies.

    Also, if this is the Lis i'm thinking of, you might be happy to know that Alone In the Dark has been viewed and wow...I'm excited to write about the power of Tara Reid in glasses.

  11. Weird! Some random person I met the other night started raving about this movie after we got into a horror conversation. Gotta check it out despite your mixed feelings. Sounds like it's at least worth one viewing.

  12. Wow, that IS weird. I like that this film seems to be the current bug everyone's caught--even ShowShow covered it this week. Can't wait to hear your thoughts Matt. It's definitely entertaining and something different!

  13. HA! Emily, it is indeed the same Lis, and YAY I'm glad the humor was not lost (not that I thought it would be)Now I've got to re-watch that too... and in adding it to the netflix queue I've discovered there's a sequel... too bad neither Tara Reid or Christian Slater came back. Sob.

  14. I was REALLY excited to hear that there's a sequel. Sad about the sans Slater-Reid, but happy to see it supposedly stars Danny Trejo AND Lance Henrikson. How can it not be great (or just better than Alone In the Dark?)?