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MGM Studios DVD presents
"I really liked your story, Frankie. I wish I was as weird as you."
DVD ReviewAn odd amalgam of supernatural thriller and wistful childhood remembrance, director Frank LaLoggia's Lady in White is a little-seen but worthwhile ghost story, emotionally resonant and inventive.
Nine-year-old Frankie Scarlatti (Lukas Haas) is the weird kid in his class of small-town children from upstate New York—his idea of a good time is writing a scary story about beast that devour an entire city. But he's also a target for bullies, and when two of them play a trick and lock him in the school's cloakroom overnight, he witnesses real horror, a ghostly vision of a young girl being brutally strangled. The killer then returns to the scene of the crime to collect some evidence, and Frankie almost becomes a victim himself. When a black janitor is arrested from the crime, and a string of child murders going back 10 years, Frankie is compelled by the ghostly girl to find the real culprit and help her find her mother, who may be connected to the legendary "Lady in White" roaming the seaside cliffs.
Lady in White's ghost story is really nothing special—it's simply the commercial hook upon which LaLoggia, who produced the $4 million film independently, hangs an autobiographical tale of his childhood. In the commentary, he explains how nearly every character sprung from his memory. Frankie's relationship with older brother Geno (Jason Presson) is based on LaLoggia and his younger brother. The over-the-top immigrant Italian grandparents are based on the director's own. Even the decidedly non-supernatural elements have an odd storybook quality, the exaggerated sheen of childhood memory, and LaLoggia finds just the right balance of chilling suspense and warming nostalgia.
That said, Lady in White spends more time creating the fuzzy family atmosphere than generating scares, and though there are some shocking moments—Frankie's stay in the cloakroom, which just happens to overlook a graveyard, or the eventual appearance of the title character—this isn't what I would call a horror film. The climax is also contrived and sadly conventional—once the killer's identity is revealed, there's a standard chase sequences and the requisite death by special effects, and the ending is somewhat lackluster and lacking in emotional impact, partially because it's so thuddingly obvious. A little more subtlety in the supernatural segments would have been a good thing, particularly considering the effective way the racially-charged story of the wrongly accused janitor plays out.
But the movie has a charm that makes it easy to overlook some of the script problems. Haas anchors the film with a natural performance and chemistry with Presson, playing his brother. Alex Rocco is convincing as the boys' loving father, devastated by the recent loss of his wife. The production design, from the family home, to the stark cloakroom, to a spooky, manufactured forest, feel unique, a product of the film's nostalgic aims.
Lady in White was obviously a labor of love for LaLoggia, who produced it outside of the studio system in an effort to preserve his vision. The result is unusual and memorable, even dreamlike, a reminder of what it felt like to be scared of the things lurking in your closet.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: Lady in White has appeared on DVD before; that disc included a non-anamorphic transfer that was, by all accounts, pretty bad. Long out of print, that old edition is easily eclipsed by this new one, which presents the nearly 20-year-old film in fine form. Shown anamorphically, the image looks pretty solid, with warm colors and good detail. Black are fairly deep, but some darker scenes look a little grainier than others (though overall, the source materials appear to be in good shape). I noted no serious mastering problems, and just a bit of minor aliasing here and there.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Remixed in DD 5.1, Lady in White sounds suitably creepy, if a bit dated. The surrounds are put to good use augmenting the score and boosting atmosphere, while the front soundstage, still handling the bunt of the track, handles the action and music with fairly good stereo separation. Tough there is a bit of LFE at times, though, the track can sound a little flat, with some obvious instances of ADR, and dialogue in general tends to sound underpowered when compared to other elements in the mix. Still, a nice update for a film released in the pre-digital sound era.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
18 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Frank LaLoggia
Packaging: Keep Case
Director Frank LaLoggia provides a new introduction for the film's 20th anniversary (fudging the dates a bit), before launching into an enthusiastic commentary track that's loaded with interesting information on the production. LaLoggia explains how much of the film was based on his own life (er, the setting and family atmosphere, not the murders and ghosts), and the work that went into securing the film's $4 million budget independently (producers sold penny stocks). Fans of the film will definitely want to listen to this.
A lengthy collection of 18 deleted scenes (36m:10s), double what was included on the previous disc, is presented with optional commentary from LaLoggia. The footage, which amounts to snipped character moments and some additional plot points or moments of clarification, is presented in very rough form, taken from VHS masters, with a time code running along the bottom of the image. I suggest watching with the commentary on, as the director does a good job explaining where each scene would have fallen in the finished film and explaining his reasons for their deletion.
A reel of behind the scenes footage (16m:21s) offers up a few snippets of documentary footage taped during the production for no greater purpose than for LaLoggia to have something to commemorate the shoot. Nothing here is particularly thrilling, but it is interesting to watch while listening to an alternate audio track with more of the director's fond memories. Such footage, though only 10 minutes worth, appeared on the last disc as well.
A photo gallery and the trailer close out the disc, meaning that the soundtrack feature from the previous disc (that allowed you to listen to over an hour of the score separate from the film) is missing from this release, along with three TV spots, some additional promotional materials (including radio ads), and the seven-minute, $21,000 promotional shot LaLoggia shot to drum up investors. Nevertheless, this is a great collection of bonuses for a film of this vintage and relatively unheralded status.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsA strange and oddly charming thriller that unfolds like a Lake Wobegon campfire tale, Lady in White would be a good choice for family viewing on Halloween. MGM's re-release of the long out of print film is missing a few extras from the original DVD, but it's a fair trade, considering the vastly improved anamorphic transfer.
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