1988 film Lady In White is a must-see for anyone who loved the nostalgic feel of Netflix throwback series Stranger Things but missed out on the 80s – or those who lived through the 80s but somehow missed out on this favorite of the VHS era. Now, the film has been released on Blu-ray with 3 versions – the original theatrical release, the longer director’s cut, and an even longer extended director’s cut, which runs 126 minutes. So thrilled to finally have this longer cut in my collection. I’m a total size scream queen.
From the opening minutes, when we’re introduced to a quaint town in October 1962, as a young boy takes a rogue bicycle trip past all the local haunts, it feels like an epic Spielberg movie. So it may come as a surprise that this film is actually directed by Frank LaLoggia, the man responsible for the sleazy cheesy awesome horror b-movie Fear No Evil from 1981.
What’s less of a surprise is that a young Lukas Haas, just a few years after his breakout role in Witness, stars as a young boy who – you’re not going to believe this – witnesses a murder. Well, not exactly. He witnesses a ghostly re-enactment of a little girl being killed in a schoolroom closet when he gets locked in there overnight after a class Halloween party.
Everything leading up to this moment is Halloween delightful, but the film takes a sudden chilling turn when the actual killer enters the dark closet looking for a piece of evidence left behind as the young boy cowers in the shadows!
While Lady In White generally has a “spooky” family feel to it and a charming atmosphere that was so indicative of 80s films like E.T., The Monster Club, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Stand By Me, it delves into some dark territory. Turns out the quiet town is contending with a serial child molester and killer, and as a consequence, the ghost girl’s mother – the lady in white – jumped off the cliff near her house in a suicide after her daughter’s death. And when the young boy is attacked in the closet, the person arrested for the crime is the African-American janitor.
Lady In White boldly depicts racism of the era (with even young kids using the “n” word), as well as racial paranoia that has locals choosing to believe the black man is the threat to their community. Meanwhile, the janitor’s wife and children suffer on the sidelines, with only one white man standing by their side – the young boy’s father, played by Alex Rocco, aka: Jo’s dad on The Facts Of Life.
Shockingly, as the young boy begins his own investigation of who really attacked him with the help of the ghost girl, the black janitor’s subplot only gets nastier and has a very abrupt end before being completely forgotten for the remainder of the film. Probably because, you know, the symbol for all that is good and pure in Lady in White is inevitably…a white lady!
Speaking of, adding another classic element to this ghost story as seen through a child’s eyes is a scary lady of legend that the children fear. And she’s played by Soap, Who’s The Boss?, and Everybody Loves Raymond favorite Katherine Helmond, who adds a great creepy presence whenever she appears on screen.
The boy’s mystery solving eventually leads to an amazing scene that would be borrowed by Scream almost a decade later, with the boy trapped in a car when the killer drops out of sight below window level. EEK!
Finally, a chase to the cliff side house leads to an oh-so hokey, oh-so 80s conclusion, complete with supernatural intervention, gloriously bad 80s special effects, and a sappy, happy ghost moment that would make Amazing Stories envious.