Frank LaLoggia's nostalgic childhood ghost story LADY IN WHITE hits Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory's two-disc set.
In 1962, nine-year-old budding horror author Frankie Scarlatti (Lukas Haas, WITNESS) is locked in his class cloakroom as a prank by his friends (PET SEMATARY II's Jared Rushton and Gregory Levinson) where he witnesses the ghostly reenactment of the murder of a little girl by an invisible assailant. Soon after, he too is assaulted by the living, breathing killer apparently returned in search of a telltale clue dropped in heating vent. In his state of near-death, Frankie meets the dead girl Melissa (Joelle Jacobi) and she implores him to help find her mother before he is revived by his father Angelo (Alex Rocco, RETURN TO HORROR HIGH). Although Frankie is unable to identify his assailant, the police arrest black janitor Williams (Henry Harris, MEN OF HONOR) and the town seems eager to railroad him. Frankie learns that he would have been the twelfth in a string of child molestations and murders going back ten years, starting with Melissa whose body was found at the bottom of Widow's Peak which has been haunted by the Lady in White (WHO'S THE BOSS' Katherine Helmond) who roams the surrounding woods.
Produced on the higher end of 1980s low budget with more creative control than on his previous feature FEAR NO EVIL, LADY IN WHITE is rather self-indulgent in any of its versions (more about that below) with director Frank LaLoggia's Speilbergian approach (including LaLoggia's big orchestral and choral score) favoring wonderment and nostalgia over actual chills. Most heavy-handed is the paralleling of Frankie's premature "growing up" with the Camelot years of Willowpoint Falls shattered pre-JFK by Williams' scapegoating and assassination. The mystery itself falls apart in the second half with Frankie tugged back and forth between wanting to reunited Melissa with her mother and discovering the identity of the murderer, and choosing to mull over the former without idea of what to do and leaving it to older brother Geno (Jason Presson, EXPLORERS) to do something with the telltale clue Frankie had earlier discovered at the scene of the crime. Even in its theatrical cut, the film is drawn out by caricatured comedy involving Frankie's Italian grandparents and other quirky characters (including THE TELEPHONE BOOK's Lucy Lee Flippin as Frankie's teacher panting after his widowed father and THE UNSEEN's Sydney Lassick as the local postman), but for those of us nostalgic about seeing the film back in the late eighties theatrically or on VHS, it still has its charms including the gorgeous photography of Russell Carpenter (TITANIC), the visual effects of Fantasy II Film Effects (THE TERMINATOR), and supporting turns by Len Cariou (A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC) as the boys' uncle, Tom Bower (RAISING CAIN) as the beleaguered town sheriff, Rita Zohar (AMADEUS) as the mother of one of the murdered children, and Bruce Kirby (STAND BY ME) in the opening sequence as the cabbie who drives the grown Frankie (director LaLoggia) back to Willowpoint Falls.
Released theatrically by New Century Vista Film Company (THE WRAITH), LADY IN WHITE was released on VHS by Virgin Vision in 1988. When Elite Entertainment added it to their special edition laserdisc line in 1997, LaLoggia went back and expanded the film from its 113 minute theatrical cut to a 118 minute director's cut with a new digital surround remix, an audio commentary, deleted scenes, the original promo short, and other assorted extras. Elite carried over the package to DVD in 1999 with the same non-anamorphic transfer but also added the film's soundtrack as an extra. The director's cut was reissued by MGM in 2005 in an anamorphic transfer with a new introduction, an extended deleted scenes reel, and a brand new audio commentary track by LaLoggia.
Scream Factory's two-disc set features a 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen encode of the director's cut (117:39) on the first disc and the theatrical version (113:22) on the second disc along with a newer extended director's cut (126:22) created using the interpositive of the director's cut and a film print held at the George Eastman Museum in New York in lesser condition (I was hard-pressed to tease out the differences between the director's cut and the extended version). While the master probably dates back from the 2010 master, the image is intentionally soft with pronounced warm autumnal colors and increasingly chilly blues. The outlines of the bluescreen opticals and rotoscoped elements are even more pronounced, but what once were low budget effects are now quite charming. The Dolby Stereo track is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 as well DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix which gives the score some nice breadth along with some of the surround effects (although I'm not sure if this is the same remix that was performed for Elite laser and DVD or the MGM DVD). Optional English SDH subtitles are included.
The director's cut is accompanied by the Elite audio commentary with director LaLoggia. He reveals that the film was financed by with a penny stock option and no upfront sales so that he could maintain control over the production. Shooting commenced with only a quarter of the funding since the associated brokerage firm went out of business three weeks before production and LaLoggia's executive producer cousin Charles was raising additional funds throughout the shoot. He reflects on the autobiographical aspects of the film, including the characters, and his love of the Universal horror films (to the extent that he and his cousin would save up to by the Castle Films 8mm silent condensed versions, tape record the audio from TV broadcasts and then try to sync them together). He reveals that he and his brother grew up in the inner city but he chose the pastoral setting for the sake of contrast, which also extended to the clashing use of warm and cold tones in the lighting. A humorous sync issue on the older releases has not been corrected here, having LaLoggia comment on "the Universal monsters" figurines over a preceding shot of a painting of Jesus.
The disc also includes the introduction by LaLoggia (0:46) as a separate option from playback of the feature as well as the aforementioned MGM DVD behind the scenes footage (16:21) with introduction and optional commentary by LaLoggia who discusses the Lyons locations, the participation of cinematographer Carpenter, and the use of the Louma crane. Other than the inclusion of the theatrical cut (reconstructed from the director's cut and seemingly the cut of choice when the film has aired on television and streaming services) and the extended director's cut, the only new extra is extended behind-the-scenes production and post-production footage (73:21 versus the 10 minutes on the Elite release and 16 minutes on the MGM) from which the MGM scenes were extracted. The extended footage includes joking around by LaLoggia and Carpenter, as well as Haas' young double (who entertains the crew with an impression of LaLoggia in director mode), the film's stunt work (even a simple shot of Presson tackling Haas on the grass was padded and protected), scenes of LaLoggia directing Haas and some of crowd scenes, as well as the casting of the mentally-impaired extra who had been shadowing LaLoggia throughout the shoot in two separate small roles. Most impressive is how the production was able to maintain the sense of the period with modern vehicles and passersby just out of frame at times.
The deleted scenes from the MGM DVD (36:13 versus the Elite disc's 13 minutes) also carry over the introduction and optional commentary, with LaLoggia surmising that most of it was cut for reasons of pacing. Some of the understandably cut but regrettably lost bits include an earlier introduction of Phil and Tony (Jack Andreozzi), the teacher shaming Frankie's friends into apologizing to him for their prank, a warm scene with Phil and Frankie after his father dismisses his attempt to tell him about the killer's ring, more screen time for Lassack, as well as three scenes that convey the impact of the death of Frankie's mother (Emily Tracy) on the family: an extended version of the scene where Angelo drives Williams' wife (Rose Weaver, POETIC JUSTICE) home that sheds light on their friendship, a tender scene between Angelo and his mother, and a flashback to Angelo's wedding day (which LaLoggia reveals was cut for pacing as well as the inability of the make-up artist to make the actors look significantly younger).
The original promotional short film (7:18) is included with some different actors except for Helmond, but also revealing some shots directly lifted for the feature. Besides the Samuel Goldwyn Company theatrical trailer (1:57), the disc also includes three alternate trailers (7:10), two of which share alternate narration from main trailer over different montages while a third black-and-white trailer features narration that emphasizes the rude awakening in store for the protagonist and the idyllic small town. The disc also includes TV spots (1:34), radio spots (2:21), a behind-the-scenes photo montage (2:30) and extended photo gallery (1:55). The second disc features the HD presentations of the theatrical and extended director's cuts with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 options and English SDH subtitles for both. The double-sided cover features the original poster art on the reverse. (Eric Cotenas)
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