Lady in White [1988]

An impressive labor of love from independent writer-director Frank LaLoggia, this low-budget supernatural thriller was a sleeper hit in 1988, deservedly praised by critics and horror fans for its effective combination of ghostly terror and small-town charm. The influence of Steven Spielberg can be felt in the movie's imaginative scenario, but it's also got the affectionate appeal of autobiographical nostalgia, mixing details of LaLoggia's own youth in upstate New York with a frightening tale of Halloween horror. It begins when young Frankie (Lukas Haas) is locked in a grade-school cloakroom on Halloween night of 1962; he witnesses the ghostly image of a little girl and is nearly strangled to death by an unknown assailant. From that point forward, Frankie is convinced that the ghost is somehow connected to the Lady in White, a haunting vision of local legend. A black janitor is tried as Frankie's attacker and suspected in a series of unsolved murders, but recurring apparitions lead Frankie to the truth of the case--a revelation of real-life violence and supernatural wonders. This plot may be a bit too cluttered for a conventional ghost story, but the movie's ambition works in its favor by providing an emotional subtext for its youthful sense of wonder. There's an abundance of charm and humor, but this also a moving story of grief and loss, tracing young Frankie's adjustment to the death of his mother. This gives Lady in White more depth than is typical for horror thrillers, and the movie further benefits from the obvious care and compassion that LaLoggia brought to its creation. --Jeff Shannon

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