Thursday, January 5, 2012

Movie Review: Lady in White (1988)

So I don't think I've mentioned it yet this week, but did you all know how much I loves me a good ghost story? And I was ready to have an 80s style ghostly good time with this flick, Lady in White, even though I didn't really know that much about it before seeing it. Not the most talked about movie out there but it seems to still have some pretty damn loyal followers, so I hope I don't inadvertently piss any of them off with this review.

In 1962, young Frankie Scarletti is locked in the school's coat closet on Halloween night, the victim of a little prank by some fellow classmates. It's one hell of a night for Frankie as he witnesses the ghost of a young girl reenact her murder from 10 years ago and is also attacked himself by the same man. Frankie therefore gets himself smack dab in the middle of a murder mystery too big for his small town.

While I did like this movie to a point, there are a few things that are amiss here. As the story is told from Frankie's point of view, the movie starts off very cute and seems as if it is more of a kid's movie. Frankie has a funny home life with his older brother Geno, his father, and his constantly bickering grandparents, so all of these earlier moments are quite entertaining to watch - Grandpa lighting his pants on fire and Frankie riding his bike into wet cement, for instance. All the actors here were wonderful, too. It seemed as if they really enjoyed playing their roles and took them seriously while still having fun with them. The movie as whole is similar to stuff like The Monster Squad, with all the childhood hijinks, so that definitely got me into it in the first third.

But the movie also has a very serious undertone as the murder mystery Frankie becomes involved in is not just about the ghost girl he keeps seeing. She was the first of eleven victims, all molested and murdered over the last ten years. The school janitor was the only other person in the school when Frankie was attacked, so he immediately becomes the main suspect - and it doesn't help that he's also black. So then there's a bit of a racism element to deal with, even though that quickly gets shoved to the back burner as the story progresses. When it pops up again, it doesn't really matter too much to the main mystery, since it is quite obvious from the beginning that the janitor is innocent - it's not much of a mystery if the bad guy is caught right away, you know? These scenes really only slow the movie down, and I think it would have worked better if they had been left out.

The murder mystery is actually not that hard to solve if you've watched enough of those kinds of movies. As soon as those two nice-guy, friends-of-the-family dudes show up, Phil and Tony, I was thinking, "Yup, the murderer is one of them." I wish they wouldn't make it so easy sometimes. But the actual reveal of the murderer, and therefore Frankie's devastating realization of who almost killed him, is a very good scene. It's quite suspenseful and a little disturbing, too, because we know what this guy has done to all these other children, and here's our young lovable Frankie, all alone with him, with the murderer also knowing that he's been found out.

Now the effects are another problem. I know, I know, it was 1988 and they really didn't have a heck of a lot to work with effects-wise back then, but they are definitely less effective now simply because they are so dated. I actually liked the effect of the ghost girl, Melissa, as she was just kind of see-through and glowing. It's a classic way to say, "Hey, she's a ghost!" and it works in this movie. But later on, things get really hokey when the ghosts (yeah, there are actually two ghosts in this movie, Melissa and the titular Lady in White, who turns out to be Melissa's mother - I figured that out before Frankie did, ha!) start flying through the air and stuff. The climactic scene in which the two ghosts fly off together in a flash of light is extremely hokey, too, and almost made me laugh. But then I had to remember that this was from a child's point of view, so all these scenes were enhanced with a more fantastical element and it gives them a feel not unlike a fairy tale, which a child would better understand and relate to.

In fact, there are perhaps too many effects in this movie. Then again, that might just be a personal preference. I can get rather picky and overly vocal about my ghost movies, and I know what I like and what I don't like - or at least, what works for me and what doesn't. I understand the use of more exaggerated effects in Lady in White, so it is more fantasy than scary, but I'm of the mind that the unseen is much more chilling and effective. The famous ghost is called the "Lady in White" so of course she's this huge, floating figure, with her billowy white nightgown constantly flowing all around her - the typical ghost image perhaps taken too much to the extreme.

Many have said that Lady in White scared them a lot as a child, but that must just be a kid thing because I didn't see a single thing here that scared me. The only really creepy shot is when the Melissa-ghost is in Frankie's room one night (she's invisible here) and she's just singing and playing around with Frankie's things. She flips through his comics, goes through his drawers, puts on his slippers, rocks in his rocking chair and then BAM! The camera pans to the window where there's the Lady in White standing outside! That was a little unexpected, and I quite enjoy the unexpected so this was a great moment.

I understand that this is probably a movie that if you grew up watching it, you still love it to this day. I guess upon first viewing, I have mixed feelings about it. I'm a bit turned off by the dated effects (not a good enough excuse, I know, but I can't help it) and the story progresses far too slow, with too many characters and red herrings getting in the way. I do love the blend of the classic ghost story and the amusing fantasy world of children, all told from the point of view of a very capable child actor to boot. I suppose I'll have to let the movie simmer for a bit in my brain and then maybe give it another go around in a few weeks.


  1. I had never even heard of this film before. It looks interesting, I may have to give it a go.

  2. Yep, I was one of the ones who grew up watching it, and though it terrified me then, it's just fun to watch now. I will say though, when Frankie is in the car and the killer makes that freaking growling face when he's trying to get in, it still scares the shit out of me haha

    1. This movie scared the crap out of me too growing up! I can't even listen to "Did You Ever See A Dream Walking?" without having flashbacks of the murderer whistling and the little girl singing. Creepy!

  3. "I know, I know, it was 1988 and they really didn't have a heck of a lot to work with effects-wise back then, but they are definitely less effective now simply because they are so dated."

    You know very well 1988 had plenty of effects skills! It's just that this movie sucks, and I can't understand why it has any rep at all... I'd never bothered with it till about 2 years ago, heard too many kudos, watched it, hated it. Terrible.

  4. LOL, okay Will I guess you're right. I think it was more that the effects they were going for - especially at the end with the ghosts flying off an all that - could have been much better achieved now than then. Or they skimped on the budget for that part, I don't know.

  5. Enjoyed the film upon its release in 1988. Found a used copy at a thrift store fore 50 cents a few weeks ago. Lukas Haas is great. The dead girl singing Did You Ever See A Dream Walking? is creepy. But I agree. The subplots involving the janitor and feuding grandparents take up time and go nowhwere. It's very easy to figure out who the killer is. Frankie's moment of realization, and the killer's response, does work.