Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?

Lucas Haas in Lady in White
Like many good ghost stories, 1988's under-appreciated Lady in White is actually a mystery (which I am about to spoil). 

On Halloween, 1962, nine year old Frankie (Lukas Haas) is trapped in his school cloakroom by some bullies. While there, he sees a young girl being murdered and is attacked, himself. The girl's ghost asks Frankie to help her find her mother and he faints. He awakes in the hospital to learn that the school janitor has been arrested for the attack on him and the murders of 11 other children.

The ghost. Melissa, befriends Frankie and eventually, he returns to the cloakroom where he finds a hairclip and a class ring. The janitor is released due to insufficient evidence, but is later murdered by the mother of one of the real killer's victims. The bullies later lure Frankie to the nearby cliffs, but are scared off by a ghostly lady in white. Frankie runs home and confides to his brother Geno, who doesn't believe him, until Melissa appears to him as well. Frankie also tells family friend 'Uncle Phil' (Len Cariou) about the ring and how he thinks the real killer was looking for it on the night he was attacked. Geno and Frankie follow Melissa to the cloakroom where they see her murder re-enacted, though the killer remains invisible. After being strangled, Melissa's lifeless body is carried to the cliffs, where she revives and is then thrown over. Her mother, dressed in a white dressing gown, runs out of their nearby cottage and, seeing her daughter's lifeless body, throws herself off the cliff in despair.

Eventually, Geno and Frankie link the ring to Phil who drags Frankie off to the cliffs to kill him, but as Frankie's life is being choked from him, Phil is hit from behind. Frankie awakes in the cottage, tended by Amanda (Katherine Helmond), Melissa's aunt and the lady in white who scared the bullies away. Before she can get help, Phil enters the cottage and kills Amanda, setting the house on fire. Phil drags Frankie back to the cliff but before he throw him over, he is assaulted by the ghost of Melissa's mother and falls over, himself. Melissa and her mother then ascend together toward Heaven as Geno and their father Angelo (Alex Rocco) arrive to pull Frankie up from the side of the cliff. Just as they do so, Phil reappears, grabbing Frankie's ankle. Faced with the truth and the police, Phil lets go and plunges to his death.

Creepy and loaded with atmosphere, Lady in White was a critical, if not a commercial, success. It was eventually embraced by fans with its release on video and repeated offerings on cable, where it eventually earned a sort of cult status. Writer/director Frank LaLoggia does a fine job of creating atmosphere and tension, though the plot was probably a little old-fashioned for contemporary horror fans, who were still looking for gore and mayhem in the wake of the 80's Slasher craze. The performances are mostly terrific. Haas was still best known for his debut in Witness but does a lovely job and Cariou, known mostly as a Broadway performer is superb as the guilt-plagued killer. And while hardly a scare-the-pants-off-you thriller like The Haunting or Insidious, Lady in White is certainly worth watching on a gloomy Saturday afternoon, especially when paired up with another similarly atmospheric film.

More, anon.

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