Horror Movie Review: Lady In White (1988)


We all have memories of certain movies and particular characters/moments in those movies that scared us when we were children; some scarred us to the point that we remember them very vividly, even to this day. If you were to ask me to name some film’s that I associate with this sensation then I’d say names such as: Hellbound: Hellraiser II, Pet Semetary, Evil Dead II, IT, The Shining and Lady In White. Although none of the above have the same effect on that they once did, it’s those memories that have the ability to transport me back in time to the first moment I viewed them and it gives me a brief reminder of the dread I once felt.

After doing some research online I’ve found that there are many people similar to me who viewed Lady In White at a very young age and just so happen to have the exact same memories of fear that I do. What is it about this movie that managed to haunt the dreams of so many young children, read on to find out.

Its 1962 in the small town of Willow Point Falls and we’re introduced to Frankie Scarlatti (Lukas Haas); a 10 year old horror enthusiast and aspiring writer. We eventually learn that Frankie’s mother has recently passed away so he now lives with his Father, older brother Geno and his grandparents. It’s very light hearted to start off with and there are some amusing moments throughout involving Frankie’s grandmother’s discontent towards her husband who is always trying to have a sneaky cigarette.

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Its Halloween and one evening after school Frankie is tricked by two bullies into re-entering the cloak room in hopes of finding his hat but is subsequently locked inside the room for the duration of the night. While there Frankie witnesses the ghost of a young red haired girl who begins to scream and appears to be re-enacting an attack that had previously taken place. Suddenly back in the present, he is attacked and strangled by a dark figure. Losing consciousness, he again sees the girl. Mysteriously, she asks for his help to find her mother. Without warning, Frankie is revived by his father Angelo and rushed to the hospital. The police arrest the janitor, Harold “Willy” Williams, believing him to be the attacker.

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The thing I love about Lady In White is its ability to go from being extremely light hearted to suddenly being extremely dark, psychological and somewhat terrifying. There are some very cheesy effects on display here, especially in the scene in which Frankie’s life flashes before his eyes as he’s being strangled but it’s very effective and quite surreal. The director does an amazing job of making the viewer feel as if they are somehow in the exact situations that are taking place.

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While recovering from his attack Frankie learns that the girl he’d seen that night was Melissa Montgomery and that she is actually one of eleven children who had been molested and murdered over the last ten years.  Remembering that his attacker began unscrewing the grating over the air vent prior to the attack, he removes the cover to discover what lies within it. He finds several dust-laden objects including a few toys, a hairclip and a high school class ring. He pockets the hairclip and ring then leaves. Later, Frankie overhears the chief of police talking to his father about the case against the janitor crumbling, and the cloakroom being the scene of Melissa’s murder. After considering this new information, Frankie confides in family friend, Phil that the class ring probably belongs to the killer and that he thinks the killer returned to the cloakroom to retrieve it as the air system was due to be replaced soon. Unbeknownst to Frankie, the ring, which had accidentally fallen out of his pocket earlier, has been found by Geno and hidden away again.

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With most small towns there are a few local ghost stories and Willow Point Falls is no different; it is speculated that a lady in white roams around the cliffs at night in search of her lost daughter. One evening Frankie is lured to a small house on the cliffs by the two bullies who had previously trapped him inside the cloakroom. While there they encounter an old decrepit woman dressed in white, all three boys take off running and Frankie collides into Geno within the surrounding forest. Frankie tries to explain the link between Melissa, the attacker and the “Lady In White,” but doesn’t succeed.

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For me and anyone else that viewed this movie as a child I can guarantee that the vast majority of their fear came from this woman who we later learn is the sister of the Lady In White, Amanda. While I cannot say that I found her to be terribly scary when viewing it recently, the truly haunting soundtrack and cinematography are seriously effective in raising huge levels of tension. A perfect example of this as well as how the movie suddenly shifts from one thing to another is one night while Frankie is sleeping. Melissa’s ghost begins playing with Frankie’s toys, typewriter , etc. When suddenly the camera pans out and we see Amanda standing behind a window watching Frankie as he sleeps, this scared the hell out of me and the soundtrack did a stand up job of making the viewer feel safe only to switch dramatically.

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One evening, Melissa appears to both Geno and Frankie. The town clock begins to chime and Frankie realizes that her nightly death re-enactment is about to commence. They follow her ghost to the school then wait until her lifeless body reappears being carried by an invisible figure out of the school and onto the cliffs. At the last minute, she awakes and begins screaming as she is thrown over the cliffs. A pale, white-haired woman dressed in white then comes out of the cottage. Upon seeing Melissa’s lifeless body on the rocks below, she flings herself off the cliff and also plunges to her death.

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Willy finally has his hearing, but a grand jury decides against going to trial due to insufficient evidence. Outside the courthouse, the distraught mother of one the murdered child fatally shoots him through the head. I remember finding this scene disturbing as a child as it really comes out of nowhere and I really felt sorry for the janitor as he was completely innocent. This is a movie that doesn’t stray away from the racism that existed in the 60s and there are some very strong words and terms used throughout. It’s no mistake that Willy; the janitor accused and killed also happened to be black and it’s referenced throughout.

The remainder of the film follows Frankie and Geno’s attempts at revealing the murderers identity and it’s really interesting and cleverly done; I certainly didn’t see it coming. Eventually Frankie confronts the killer and a very intense scene ensues, the actor does a terrific job of portraying his struggle with the crimes he’s committed. Amanda saves Frankie from the killer but is later strangled and beaten to death in yet another shocking scene that is executed wonderfully with the way in which it’s filmed.

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The killer attempts to throw Frankie over the same cliffs as he had previously done with Melissa but is saved by the Lady In White who is finally reunited with her daughter.

Lady In White is a classic, suspenseful ghost story that deserves to be more well known. The acting overall is stellar, in particular Lukas Haas who is excellent. The effects may have aged poorly but they somehow work within the context of the story and perfectly convey what they’re meant to. Although its nowhere near as scary as I once found it, it holds very high nostalgic value and is definitely worth watching for fans of ghost stories.


Lady In White
  • 8.5/10
    The Final Score - 8.5/10
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