Picks and Pans Review: Lady in White

updated 05/30/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/30/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Don't be deterred by the sappy opening scenes. This one is going to scare you senseless. Writer-director Frank LaLoggia builds his thriller slowly, concentrating on the everyday details of a small Upstate New York town, circa 1962. LaLoggia, who grew up in a similar situation in Rochester, N.Y., presents a nice Italian family: a widowed father (Alex Rocco), two sons (Lukas Haas and Jason Presson), grandparents (Renata Vanni and Angelo Bertolini)—all living under one roof in an atmosphere of raucous affection. Then, just when you're lulled, he tightens his grip. On Halloween night, the 9-year-old son, played by Haas (he's really 11), is locked up in his school cloakroom by two prankster pals. Cowering in the dark, he sees the ghost of a little girl, one of 11 children murdered by a serial killer 10 years before. A man enters, sees the boy and tries to choke him to death. He almost succeeds. Haas, later recovered but unable to identify his assailant, seeks to solve the mystery with the help of his brother, a foster uncle (Len Cariou), an eccentric spinster (Katherine Helmond) and two ghosts. How he does this makes for a tale that is both bone-chilling and unexpectedly moving. Haas, so good as the Amish child in Witness, is remarkable. No kid-actor tricks mar his finely shaded performance. LaLoggia, working without studio backing or interference, has indeed produced something rare: a ghost story that truly haunts. (PG-13)

JACK'S BACK

You can hear first-time writer-director Rowdy Herrington and co-producer Tim Moore trying to sell the idea for this thriller.

"There's a psycho killing L.A. prostitutes."

"Yeah, yeah. So what else is new?"

"He thinks he's Jack the Ripper."

"Good, then what?"

"He's killing the hookers in the exact way and on the exact date as the Ripper did 100 years ago. It's an anniversary."

Herrington and Moore may have sold a formula film, but they didn't make one. Film technicians for a decade (Herrington as a gaffer, Moore as a key grip), they filled each frame with imagination, style and dark humor. We don't see the killer, but we hear him in the shower singing, "I did it my way." On his bed is a pack of condoms—this guy may be a fiend but he's into safe sex. Their casting is clever too. James Spader, the yuppie snob of Wall Street, is so good they cast him as twins. Both suspects. The plot is beside the point. There is fresh talent at work here. Hit the road to this Jack. (R)

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