Thursday, September 22, 2016

LADY IN WHITE (1988) (Blu-ray Review)

Label: Scream Factory 
Region Code: A
Rating: PG-13
Duration:117 / 126 / 113 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 

Director:Frank LaLoggia
Cast: Len Cariou, Alex Rocco, Katherine Helmond, Lukas Haas

Frank LaLoggia's supernatural murder mystery Lady In White (1988) is set during the Fall of  1962, specifically the lead-up to Halloween, and the story follows a young boy named Frankie (Lukas Haas) who becomes trapped overnight inside the school cloakroom by a pair of bullies, which is where Frankie witnesses the ghost of a murdered young girl. The girl was murdered in that same cloakroom ten years earlier by an unseen man, a crime which Frankie watches as it replays in front of his very eyes. As if that wasn't frightening enough the murderer shows up this same night looking for something he left behind years earlier which might somehow incriminate him. Frankie senses the danger and tries to hide from the man in the shadows of the room but he is betrayed by a mouse, now spotted by the menacing man Frankie is strangled and left for dead, but he survives the encounter and is later found by his father Angelo (Alex Rocco) who had been searching for the boy when he didn't come home from school that day. 

The authorities place the blame on the school's black janitor Willy Williams (Henry Harris) who is found in  the basement of the school drunk, but Frankie doesn't believe him to be the culprit. As Frankie recovers from his injuries at home he becomes obsessed by the mystery of the murdered girl after finding out that her murder is only one of several which have occurred in the area over the past decade, there's a serial killer on the loose and the police are only too happy to pin the crimes on the janitor.  The young girl is Melissa Ann Montgomery (Joelle Jacobi), the very first victim of the killer, and she begins to haunt young Frankie dreams, forming a supernatural alliance of sorts as Frankie begins to sleuth the mystery of her death. 

Frankie finds a dilapidated house on the nearby cliffs overlooking the local lake, a place seemingly haunted by the Lady in White, actually an old woman named Amanda (Katherine Helmond). It turns out that this was Melissa's home and is also the scene of another tragedy, the suicide of her grieving mother who is said to haunt the area eternally searching for her beloved daughter Melissa. As young Frankie gets closer to the truth he puts himself is great danger as the culprit of the child murders is close by and does not want to be revealed. 

LaLoggia's story a wonderful combination of Stephen King small town horror combined with Jean shepherd's A Christmas Story by way of Disney's Something wicked This Way Comes. The movie really captures the autumnal feel of Upstate New York where the movie is set, and where myself and the director grew up. The changing color of the leaves, the rural small town that feels like a Norman Rockwell image come to life but with a darks idea, the retro Halloween aesthetic really gave me the nostalgic goosebumps, it feels authentic. The movie is a bit of a slow-burn and grows long in the tooth at times, but there's a lot to love about this movie. However, the sub-plot with the wrongly accused janitor goes on for longer than necessary and is resolved in a way that didn't feel was necessary or earned but there are more positives than missteps.

Young Lukas Haas (Tim Burton's Mars Attacks) does fine work as the wide-eyed boy, just coming off his tun in Witness (1985), making for a nice protagonist as the sweet boy pulled into a supernatural mystery in his small town. Italian actor Alex Rocco also turns in a good performance cast against type as the caring widower dad who will do anything for his family, which also includes Frankie's older brother Geno (Jason Presson) and a pair of Italian grandparents who play comically off each other, with grandpa always trying to sneak off to have a smoke. LaLoggia did fine work bringing this supernatural melodrama to life with a great cast who give the small town yarn some real authenticity about it. 

The movie has a series of haunting images that will stay with you, the image of young Frankie with his Dracula mask atop his head in front of the cloakroom window is iconic. For the most part the special effects are top notch though occasionally it does outreach the limits of the budget, but the wonderful autumnal images and striking cinematography make up for the the few minor deviations, this is good stuff, this should rightfully be a kiddie-horror classic in my mind and hopefully this new Blu-ray from Scream Factory will go a ways towards bringing this to the masses. 

Audio/Video: Lady In White (1988) arrives on Blu-ray from Scream Factory presented in 1080p HD widescreen (1.85:1) with three versions of the movie spread across two Blu-ray discs. The image is fairly crisp, colors are strong and shadow detail is very nice, there is a lot of 80s soft-focus cinematography from Russell Carpenter (who would go on to win the Oscar for Titanic years later) which suits the supernatural themes films, but doesn't make for the most crisp looking image at times. A few of the darker scenes can become a bit on the grainy side, but overall the image is very pleasing with a nice layer of fine film grain. Audio options on the discs include both English DTS-HD MA 2.0 and DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround andI ave to say I loved the surround option, the stereo track might be more authentic to the original theatrical experience by the surround is immersive and does a nice job of immersing you into the sound field with the discreet channel effects and the score. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided. 

The two-disc set is crammed with extras, many of which are ported over from the previous special edition DVD, but with a few new exclusives including the never-before-seen Extended Director's Cut of the movie which runs 126 minutes in length. There's a brief introduction from the director for the director's cut, plus a commentary also for the director's cut version of the film, which is fascinating if you love commentaries. LaLoggia covers a lot of ground and goes into depth about the origins of the Lady in White story, movie production and post-production, his own childhood experiences which informed the story and his love of cinema. Also included are over a half hour of deleted scenes, over an hour of behind-the-scenes footage, the promotional short film which was made to raise money for the independent production, TV spots, radio spots, trailers and a pair image galleries. Scream Factory have also included a sleeve of reversible artwork 

Special Features: 
- Director's Cut  (117 Mins) HD 
- Introduction By Frank LaLoggia (1 Mins) HD 
- Audio Commentary With Frank LaLoggia
- Behind-The-Scenes Footage With Introduction By Frank LaLoggia (16 Mins) HD  - Deleted Scenes With Introduction By Frank LaLoggia (36 Mins) HD 
- Extended Behind-The-Scenes Footage – Production And Post-Production (73 Mins) HD 
- Promotional Short Film (7 Mins) HD 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 Mins) 
- Alternate Trailers (7 Mins) HD 
- TV Spots (2 Mins) HD 
- Radio Spots (2 Mins) HD 
- Behind-The-Scenes Photo Montage (2 Mins) HD 
- Extended Photo Gallery (2 Mins) HD 
- Extended Director's Cut  (126 Mins) HD
- Original Theatrical Cut (113 min) HD 

I love this movie, maybe owing to my own upbringing in a small town Upstate New York town just a stone throw away from where this movie was filmed, this movie just rings true to the Rockwell-ian images it portrays, the authentic character made it easy for me to buy into the supernatural themes and to endure the slow-burn, a haunting movie that would make for some great family viewing this Halloween with your kids. Scream Factory have done good work bringing this to Blu-ray with three cuts of the movie and a wealth of bonus features, highly recommended to fans of 80s supernatural chillers and kiddie-friendly horror.