I don’t know what it is about American films made in the 1980s, but no other era seems to capture the essence of Autumn in the same way. The Autumn in these films is an idealized and Romantic Autumn that fills me with a nostalgia for the Halloweens of my youth. Lady In White (1988) is one of those films that touches me in this way, even though the story of the film is set when my parents were children. Autumn in Lady In White is full of rolling hills covered with trees whose leaves have turned red, orange and yellow.
Perhaps this is why Lady In White is so unsettling. The film opens like some sentimental “coming of age” fable, overflowing with whimsical signifiers. Then, once Lukas Haas is trapped in the school closet, things take a sudden and morbid turn. Frank LaLoggia’s script and direction are so taut here, and the images are truly haunting. From his perch, Haas sees the phantom of a girl. This girl addresses a man neither Haas nor the audience can see. Then, suddenly, the moment LaLoggia has made us dread arrives when the little girl is strangled to death and carried off; a phantom enacting her suffering alone. The sequence is as beautiful as it is disturbing, evoking all of our shared childhood imaginings about ghosts, hauntings, and strangers glimpsed in the dark from a safe place.
Unfortunately Lukas Haas’ ghostly encounter is the high point of the film. After the build up and the delivery of this grotesque scene LaLoggia’s film drifts into a Nancy Drew style whodunnit only to drift further still into a kind of The Watcher In The Woods (1980) knock off. The romanticized Autumn is ever present, but the “fantastique” images take on a cliched quality.