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Movie Review: Lady In White

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Chapter 5: Rescue In Monsterland (part 3)

Under cover of darkness, Iloz Zoc, Steve Brown, and Glenor Glenda the maid make their way to the moat surrounding the ominous castle where Zombos is being held by the dastardly Shudderites.

"Now what?" whispered Steve Brown, motioning for the others to crouch low in the foliage surrounding the moat. A sickening odor rose up from the murky water, stinging their nostrils.

"What's wrong?" asked Iloz Zoc.

"There's two people standing in front of the moat," replied Steve Brown. "One looks like a –"

"Oh, my god, is that a Werewolf?" gasped Glenor, putting her hand to her mouth in horror.

"Shh! They'll hear us if –" Steve Brown's cell phone started playing Grind With Me by Pretty Ricky.

The Werewolf and his companion looked our way. "Well, so much for lying low," said Steve Brown. He stood up as he answered the phone.

"I say, this is a bit awkward," said Zoc, looking at the rather large Werewolf walking toward them. His companion followed. As they came closer, the full moon slid like a ghostly galleon from behind the sea of clouds in the sky. The illumination revealed that the Werewolf's companion was a —

"A giant chicken!" said Steven Brown, Zoc and Glenor at the same time.

"I am not a chicken, damnit," said the chicken. "I'm a shapeshifter. The dark power in the tower turned me into this man-chicken and I've not been able to shift back into human form. He cursed my friend also to become a Werewolf. Which is damned awkward if you ask me. We were going to take that small boat over there to the secret tower door and force the bastard to change us back to normal. But in such a small boat, I'm afraid I won't be able to stop my friend from eating me."

"I'd say," said Zoc. "Amazing he hasn't eaten you yet."

"I've been feeding him these Twinkies," said man-chicken. "They seem to be the only thing that holds him at bay. They're made by magic elves you know; that's why they can last forever without refrigeration. But I'm running dangerously low. If I run out while we're in the boat, he'll eat me for sure."

"I love Twinkies," said Steve Brown, moving closer to the man-chicken. "I can't stay away from them."

"Yes, that's part of the magic," said man-chicken, shifting the box to his other hand. With some people, they just can't help themselves."

"Awoooooo!"

"What the hell was that?" said Steve Brown, unable to take his eyes off the box of Twinkies.

"I'm sorry," said the Werewolf, glaring at Glenor. "I am a wolf you know. Part of the bloody curse thing. When I see a pretty girl I go tingly all over. Just can't help myself."

"Great," said Zoc. "And yet, this whole situation sounds oddly familiar."

"Oh, your editor called again. He needs another 1980s film to round out the reviews for the week." Steve Brown moved closer to the box of Twinkies, and the Werewolf moved closer to Glenor.

"Right then," said Zoc, grabbing the cell phone. "Hello. Yes, it's me. Look, we've got a bit of a situation here. Go with the Lady In White review. Yes, just pull it from the Blogger vault."

The unusually pleasant weather for this time of year had me out in the front gardens raking the sandpits. Zombos and Zimba were off to the theatre for the matinee showing of Sweeney Todd, that wonderful family play with the lyrical music they so enjoy. Zombos could not stop humming the tunes all morning.

The familiar sounds of a racing engine and screeching tires alerted me to the approach of the UPS truck. I dropped the rake and ran over to the front gate. True to form, a package soon came sailing over the spikes and into my outstretched arms. I breathed a sigh of relief; at least the delivery person was a regular. The newer drivers always impale the package at the top of the fence, and it is such a bother to get the ladder out and climb up to retrieve it.

My books had arrived from the Amazon! I am a devout fan of cover art, and Curt over at Groovy Age of Horror suggested Sin-a-Rama: Sleaze Sex Paperbacks of the Sixties for its lurid reproductions of the garishly illustrated covers that adorned many sordid editions in this singular literature of the softly decadent.

The book is a colorful compendium of the ludicrous. My favorite cover would have to be from The Sinners of Hwang, but Pay the Devil comes in a close second. While ordering this book, I came across  Belarski: Pulp Art Masters and could not resist. The pulp magazine covers were a veritable smorgasbord of thrilling baroque absurdism that positively cries out for large format reproductions in all their colorful glory. Rudolph Belarski was a true master of the slightly lurid, kinetic action-filled covers that graced many a pulp magazine.

tales from the cyrpt calendarI spent the next two hours paging through these wonderful books in the sun room, stretched out on the warm leather cushions of the spring rocker, sipping on Le Fanu tea. I then flipped through Bud Plant's art catalog. Perhaps I should pick up that Tales from the Crypt 2007 calendar?

As the sun waned, I moved into the study and popped the Lady in White into the player. After our Hostel experience, I wanted Zombos to watch a more subtle and traditional horror film: one that treats murder and depravity in a respectable way. Frank LaLoggia directs and writes this ghost story and murder mystery with light humor and a nostalgic touch.

It’s 1962 in Willowpoint Falls, and in the opening montage, he introduces us to the small town during Halloween, and to the Scarlatti family’s eccentricities. Told as a flashback by the older Frankie Scarlatti (played by LaLoggia), we see the story lightly filtered through his memories as the sensitive young Frankie (played by the big eyed and big eared Lukas Haas) let’s two bully boys trick him into getting locked into the classroom’s foreboding cloakroom. All alone, and a stone’s throw away from a cemetery to boot, Frankie soon falls asleep on the top shelf of the closet, by the window.

An in-camera time lapse shot, done through the half-moon window of the cloakroom looking onto the cemetery, reminded me of a similar effect used in Hammer’s Dracula, where the sunlight rapidly fades to darkness as seen through the tomb’s window. Darkness is not a good thing when facing vampires or when locked in ominous cloakrooms on Halloween night, to be sure.

Lucas When 10 o’clock rolls around, it’s quiet, darker still, and also time for the murder mystery and ghost story to begin. Right off the bat I can identify with Frankie: he’s wearing a black cape and a  Bela Lugosi mask. In a later scene in his bedroom, he also has the Aurora monster model kits displayed in all their magnificence. That certainly brings back memories for yours truly. But I digress.

An eerie reenactment begins as Frankie wakes up from a bad dream involving his dead mother. A cold blast of air enters the room, along with the ghost of a little girl, laughing and playing. An interesting touch here is that this is not an atmospheric haunting, where events merely play over and over again, but the ghost of the little girl responds to Frankie’s presence in the room. She seems as startled to see him as he is to see her. But events must play out,  and soon she is callously murdered by a shadowy adult figure.

Using a black screen process to create the transparent apparition of the girl, the scene is a harsh contrast to the lighter tone presented earlier in the movie, and sets up the next, more violent scene, where young Frankie finds himself in the unenviable position of sitting on the top shelf of the cloakroom when the real child-killer enters, looking for something that dropped into the floor grate when he had strangled the girl some time before.

The killer soon realizes he is not alone, and shines his flashlight onto the small black caped form, wearing the Bela Lugosi mask, sitting in the corner of the top shelf. Frankie tries to escape, but quickly has the life nearly choked out of him. An effective out of body experience has Frankie meet Melissa Ann, the ghost of the little girl so cruelly murdered long ago. He finds out she is trying to find her mom. Frankie is brought back to consciousness, and he is soon delving deeper into this mystery.

True to form for the sixties, the school janitor, an African-American, is found drunk in the basement and is blamed for the attempted murder of Frankie and the murders of 11 other children, including Melissa Ann, who was the first victim.

Reminiscent of  To Kill a Mockingbird, the film maintains a good balance between the fanciful–Frankie’s adventure with the ghostly Melissa Ann, the blue-lit night scenes in the fairy tale stylized woods, and his coming of age, and the true-to-life painful loss of his mom, the bigotry and pain of loss that eventually lead to murder perpetrated by a grieving parent, and the loss of someone close to him by finding out that person is not who he seemed to be. This theme of loss is borne also by the ghostly Melissa Ann, who is looking for her mother, the ghost of her mother, who is looking for Melissa Ann, and one sister mourning the loss of another.

LaLoggia, who, oddly enough, grew up in an urban environment, creates a charming small town nostalgia, and through the use of carefully controlled colors and lighting, brings the hues of Autumn inside to his interior scenes. The pharmacy window decorated for Halloween, and the classroom scene where Frankie reads his monster story to the class, is awash with shades of orange, yellow and the various colors of crisp Autumn leaves.

In stark contrast, he uses reds and blues to denote the darker side of this story, and effectively uses dimmer panels to bring the light down or up to transition between important story points in the scene. The overall mood of the film moves from charming to alarming, and back to charming as the story unfolds to its incendiary ending atop the cliffs by the white cottage. LaLoggia’s simple, old-time approach using in-camera effects combined with basic process shots enhances the story.

I think Zombos will find this well-crafted, old-school ghost story very rewarding, as I hope you will too.

"Now let's see if I got this straight," said Steve Brown. "We can only fit two people in the boat at a time, and we can't put me or the Twinkies together. We also can't put Werewolf and man-chicken together, nor can we put Werewolf and Glenor together. We also don't want to swim across because the water stinks really bad, and, oh yeah, those crocodiles floating around aren't good either." He scatched his chin.

"Maybe it's me, but this whole situation seems damn familiar. What do you think?"

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