Through A Glass Darkly: Mirrors & Horror Films

Following on from 2008’s Kiefer Sutherland starring thriller Mirrors, which was based on the hair-raising Korean film Into the Mirrors, Mirrors 2 is a supernatural horror starring Emmanuelle Vaughier (Saw II) and Nick Stahl (Carnivale). Like its predecessor, it looks set to effectively exploit all kinds of spectrophobic (the fear of mirror images) notions as it follows the story of Max, a recovering addict struggling to come to terms with the car crash that killed his fiancé and left him tortured with the memory of her death. Riddled with guilt and determined to try and make a new life for himself Max takes a job as nighttime security guard in the Mayflower department store, but as his nightshifts begin he sees visions of a young, mysterious woman in the store’s mirrors.

When he sets out to discover who she is, Max’s investigation reveals that the seemingly normal department store holds a dark secret and a bloody past. A series of horrifying and brutal murders ensues before long, and everyone connected with the store meet with nasty deaths. Can Max find out who the woman in the mirror is before the curse of the Mayflower consumes him? Find out on 24th January when Mirrors 2 is released on DVD

The mirror has featured heavily throughout horror cinema as a source of danger and fear. Connotations and ideas such as the fear of one’s self and the doppelganger, hang heavy around horror movie mirrors. They sometimes act as spooky gateways to other dimensions and realms from which demonic forces can enter our lives. Horror cinema is riddled with jump scares involving mirrors; we’re all too familiar with those scenes of someone standing in front of a bathroom mirror/medicine cabinet. They open the door, usually after staring tiredly at themselves and wondering if they’re losing their mind, then they close it – Bam! – someone, or something, is revealed to be standing behind them in the mirror – usually accompanied by a loud burst of shrill music. Sometimes mirrors feature more prominently in horror stories – the myth of Bloody Mary, for example – and are gradually revealed to be malevolent objects capable of harming those who gaze into them.

Mirrors (2008)
All of us look into a mirror at least once on a daily basis. What happens though when these everyday objects take on a more sinister dimension? The mirror has many connections to various superstitions throughout the world. Superstitions are not based on rationale and practical thought. They've evolved from ancient religious or superstitious practices and stem from various collective fears and anxieties. The mirror in particular is probably the focus of more superstitions than any other object. The most popular superstition involving the mirror is the widespread belief that if someone breaks one, they will suffer seven years of bad luck. Other superstitions are more sinister, such as the practice of covering all the mirrors in the house of someone who has just died. Perhaps this stemmed from the belief that souls could be trapped in mirrors, destined to forever peer out at their loved ones.

To tie in with the release of Mirrors 2 I thought it might be fun to have a look at a few other movies which explore the more creepy side of mirrors...

Mirror Mirror (1990). Based on a screenplay by Annette and Gina Cascone, and directed by Marina Sargenti, this early 90s chiller tells of Megan (Rainbow Harvest), a shy goth grrrl who moves to LA with her mother (Karen Black) and finds it hard to settle in. She’s ostracized by her peers at school and mercilessly bullied. Until she discovers an antique mirror in her new house, left there by the mysterious, previous tenants. Then her bullies mysteriously begin to die in increasingly bizarre ways. Before long Megan has become obsessed with the mirror and the demonic power that inhabits it begins to take over her personality. Blending elements of Heathers and Carrie, and with a compelling central performance from Rainbow Harvest, Mirror Mirror is never short on entertainment value, and boasts an intriguing premise, a sympathetic protagonist and satisfying revenge tale at its dark heart. It was followed by several sequels.

Mirror Mirror
Candyman (1992). Whilst researching her thesis on urban legends, Helen (Virginia Madsen) becomes intrigued by the legend of the hook-handed ‘Candyman’ (Tony Todd) – the son of a slave who was brutally tortured and killed because he fell in love with the daughter of a white plantation owner. He is said to appear when his name is spoken five times into a mirror. Whilst carrying out her research, the sceptical Helen repeats his name and before long is plunged into a nightmare where reality and fevered dreams become meshed together as she is stalked by the spectre of the Candyman and held responsible for a series of grisly murders. Unfolding as a powerful meditation on race, class, economic poverty and the power of storytelling and myth, Candyman blends chills with social commentary and remains just as compelling and terrifying today as it was upon release in the early 90s.

Dead of Night (1945). Atmospheric horror anthology with a couple of genuinely chilling segments. While famed for its closing story about a ventriloquist’s dummy that takes on a life of its own and torments its owner, the episode featuring a couple haunted by the previous owner of their antique mirror is an underrated gem. The moments when the room reflected in the mirror isn’t the room in which the mirror stands, are masterfully created and more than a little unnerving. The latest owner becomes possessed by the formidable previous owner and sets about trying to kill his wife as the prior owner had. The mirror’s horrific powers are only quashed when the wife smashes it, breaking the bizarre spell.

The Witch’s Mirror (1962). Something of a strange hybrid, this Mexican horror is actually one of the finest examples of its kind. Mixing elements of The Horrible Dr Hichcock, Mad Love, Eyes Without a Face and The Awful Dr Orloff, The Witch’s Mirror is the epitome of deranged fun and gothic melodrama. A woman murdered by her husband conspires to wreak revenge on him and his new wife from beyond the grave with the help of her magic mirror and her godmother, a powerful witch. Laced with striking images – including the swirling visions glimpsed in the titular mirror, and disembodied hands scuttling to clutch at throats - and a brooding atmosphere, this is a nightmarish and utterly effective delight.
Dead of Night
Dark Mirror (2007). When she moves her family into a new home, photographer Deborah begins to suspect sinister things are stirring from the house’s past. When she talks to her new neighbours she discovers that the previous owner, a famous artist, vanished in mysterious circumstances and that in Feng Shui traditions, the beautiful glass pane windows of the house were designed to trap evil spirits in a bid to stop them from entering the house. Deborah is further convinced something evil lurks within the house as she begins to glimpse alternate realities in the reflective surfaces throughout her home, and everyone she photographs dies in unnatural circumstances. Hauntingly ambiguous, Dark Mirror works as a study of a lonely woman’s increasingly fractured mind and also as a moody, lo-fi ghost tale.

Into the Mirror (2003). This South Korean shocker was remade in 2008 by director Alex Aja as the far less effective but still quite interesting, Mirrors. When he accidentally causes the death of his partner in a botched shoot-out, troubled young cop Yu Young-Min goes to work as a security guard for his uncle in a vast and sprawling shopping centre. A series of grisly deaths rip through the staff of the building – each one appearing to have taken their own life in front of a mirror. Young-Min suspects something sinister is afoot, something that lurks within the strange mirrors adorning the walls of the building. Can he convince anyone he’s not delusional and solve the mystery before it’s too late?

Into the Mirror
The Mirror (1999). A Hong Kong portmanteaux consisting of several segments, each involving a mysterious antique mirror from the Ming Dynasty. The chain of disturbing events that ripple through each story starts in an ancient Chinese brothel where a woman is killed by a treacherous lover; just before she dies, when her blood spatters and stains the mirror, she puts a curse on it, dooming those who own it, and gaze into it, to a tragic death. From the Twenties, through the Eighties, right up to present day, the mirror ruins and eventually ends the lives of its various owners in three creepy, Twilight Zone-esque tales.

Chermin (Mirror) (2007). Atmospheric Malaysian horror revolving around Nasrin, a young woman disfigured in a terrible car accident. Her mother discovers an antique mirror which, yeah you guessed it – is not an ordinary mirror! A restless spirit trapped inside it enables the mirror to reflect whatever it is Nasrin wants to see. She soon becomes obsessed with the mirror and in a desperate bid to once again look the way she did before her accident, she offers herself to the mirror spirit by satisfying its need for blood and revenge. Unfolding slowly and quietly, Chermin culminates in a bloody, frenzied exorcism scene that is sure to sate gore-hounds satisfactorily.

Candyman II: Farewell to the Flesh
Mention should also be made of Candyman II: Farewell to the Flesh (1995), Bill Condon's formulaic but entertaining sequel to the classic chiller. It basically reduces the titular character to the role of a supernatural villain with a hook for a hand who claims the lives of those who say his name five times while looking in a mirror, though it does delve into his tragic backstory. John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness (1987) also deserves an honourable mention as it unfolds as a creepy meditation on the nature of evil – with the devil attempting to enter the world through various mirrors in an old church. Carpenter provides some of his most unsettling imagery and Alice Cooper plays a menacing vagrant!

Mirrors II is out on 24th January 2010
Copyright: © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
Running Time: 90 minutes
Format: DVD
Cert: 18
Extras: The Other Side: Making Mirrors 2;
Keeping It Real: The visual and special effects of Mirrors 2; Deleted Scenes


thekelvingreen said…
You forgot Poltergeist III!

I mean, I can understand why, but still...
James Gracey said…
Oh noes! Not sure how such a thing could have happened. No, wait... ;o)
Cheers for pointing that out, Kelvin. There were a few memorable mirror moments from other films I wanted to include; in the end I decided to stick to films in which the mirror features heavily in the story and isn't just there for one or two shock moments, a la Poltergeist.
Ta for commenting - don't be a stranger!
thekelvingreen said…
From what I remember, there's a fair bit of mirrorey stuff in Poltergeist III; isn't one of the big ideas that the skyscraper is full of polished glass? And the entire climax occurs within a mirror realm, as I recall. All that said, it's been a long time since I saw it, and yes, it's not one you'd really want to recommend.

I discovered your blog just after Christmas, and I've been dipping into the archives ever since. My Lovefilm list has grown by at least 25% as a result. ;)
Very good article James - one of my favourite horror films that features a mirror prominently is Uli Lommel's 1980 slasher flick THE BOGEYMAN - a stylish and creepy little film which somehow founds it way onto the DPP's list of Video Nasties.
James Gracey said…
Thanks for your kind words, Kelvin - glad you've been delving into the archives. You know, it has been AGES since I've seen Poltergeist III. I didn't realise mirrors featured so heavily in it. I do of course remember the mirror scene from the first film; nasty stuff! It is a series I've never really paid much attention to, though lately I've had a craving to watch Hooper's original. Watch this space...

Cheers Shaun. I haven't seen The Bogeyman! The poster for it on IMDB obviously inspired the artwork for House of the Devil. Hmmm, will have to keep an eye out for that one. Not that I'm judging it by its artwork of course. That would be WRONG. ;)
Franco Macabro said…
My favorite horror film with mirrors in it are two: POLTERGEIST III, where the ghosts seem to move in the mirrors at times....actually, mirrors play a huge part in that film, all the way to the very end!

And What Lies Beneath has some awesome mirror sequences as well...Mirrors are something that Robert Zemeckis loves to play with in his films. Back when he made live action films anyways.

Nice choice of films, I need to check out some of them.

That movie Mirrors with Keifer Sutherland was freaking awful in my book, a disaster of a horror film that could have been so much more.
[Retro] said…
Welcome to "FRIGHT CLUB"
You have been selected to be a member, but we do not exist.
Do not share this with anyone, Frights begin soon...
Rules are "NOT" there and you need "NOT" join:


I am not here...
James Gracey said…
He he. Thanks TDFC99. I 'do not' know what you're talking about.. ;o)
maren said…
How´s Annie How´s Annie How´s Annie

(Unforgettable mirror moment)

Thanks for this post and your blog.Just discovered it this evening.
James Gracey said…
Oh poor Agent Cooper and Annie! Yes, Maren, that is a particularly nasty mirror moment, isn't it? Shame Twin Peaks ended on such a bleak note; but what an ending! Enjoy the blog - feel free to look around - and don't be a stranger! :o)
An excellent overview for sure, and good calls on POLTERGESIT 3 and BOGEYMAN as well. It is too bad that the mirror tricks are exploited so pointlessly in so many other films like JASON GOES TO HELL and countless other slashers. Mirrors are such a perfect devise to deliver scares, it is sad to see the same ridiculous gag used so repetitively. A few key moments in 1981's GHOST STORY did use mirrors in a fresh new way that I appreciated.

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