Ghost sto­ries are usu­al­ly dri­ven by the pol­ter­geist at the core of the nar­ra­tive.  Lady In White offers a nov­el change of pace, offer­ing a bit­ter­sweet com­ing-of-age tale that just hap­pens to have a ghost sto­ry as one of its com­po­nents.  Like Frank LaLoggia’s pri­or film, Fear No Evil, this one cov­ers a lot of ter­ri­to­ry under the ban­ner ladyiw-posof gen­re film­mak­ing and deliv­ers it all in a sin­gu­lar, gen­er­ous­ly over­stuffed style.

A framing/narration device that has a nov­el­ist return­ing to his old home­town sets up the main nar­ra­tive for Lady In White, which is set in 1962.  Frankie (Lukas Haas) is a hor­ror-besot­ted young kid from a lov­ing Italian-American fam­i­ly head­ed by patri­arch Angelo (Alex Rocco). When a cou­ple of pranksters lock Frankie in a coat clos­et on Halloween, he finds him­self vis­it­ed by Melissa Anne (Joelle Jacob), the ghost of a mur­dered lit­tle girl, and her real-life killer.  Frankie sur­vives the attack and the town frets over who his mys­tery assailant is as he finds him­self vis­it­ed again by the ghost.  His attempts to help her lead to a big­ger mys­tery that revolves around a string of unsolved child mur­ders and the tit­u­lar leg­end.

As the above syn­op­sis sug­gests, Lady In White is brim­ming with char­ac­ters and sto­ry­li­nes — and writer/director LaLoggia reveals in the “much­ness” of it all.  There are long breaks between the spooky, plot-dri­ven hor­ror ele­ments, with fam­i­ly ori­ent­ed mate­ri­al that is both dra­mat­ic and comedic plus an anti-racism sub­plot that some crit­ics con­sid­er one ele­ment too many in an already gen­er­ous­ly load­ed sto­ry­line.

However, if you’re will­ing to accept Lady In White as more than just a hor­ror film, it’s filled with rewards for the patient view­er.  LaLoggia directs the tale with great con­fi­dence, uti­liz­ing lush pho­tog­ra­phy from Russell Carpenter that sets a dreamy, nos­tal­gic ambiance and a self-com­posed orches­tral score that slots in between the approach­es of John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith.  When it’s time to do a scary set­piece, the results are oft-daz­zling: a fan­ta­sy sequence where Frankie sees his life pass­ing before his eyes after his attack is stun­ning stuff.  There’s even some flashy old-school opti­cal FX thrown into the mix in the afore­men­tioned scene and the finale.

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It’s also worth not­ing that LaLoggia’s dra­mat­i­cal­ly inclined approach to gen­re works because he gets qual­i­ty per­for­mances from a well-cho­sen cast.  Haas proves he was one of the finest child actors of his time here, hit­ting all the right dra­mat­ic and comic notes as he sells the view­er on the young hero’s mix of wide-eyed inno­cence and curios­i­ty.  Rocco also excels here: usu­al­ly cast as a heavy or comic fig­ure, he digs into the sub­tleties of a rare dra­mat­ic role and brings a lot of grav­i­tas to the film.

Even bet­ter, the back­ing cast is full of ace char­ac­ter actors like Bruce Kirby and Sydney Lassick.  Look out for Len Cariou in an impor­tant role as Angelo’s adopt­ed broth­er and Katherine Helmond, who is fan­tas­tic in a cast-again­st type dra­mat­ic role as a mys­te­ri­ous char­ac­ter who plays a brief but piv­otal role in the third act.

Simply put, LaLoggia’s dra­mat­ic approach gives tex­ture and tonal vari­ety to what could have been anoth­er ghost sto­ry. Lady In White is thus worth seek­ing out for the hor­ror fan whose inter­ests extend beyond gen­re purism.