Killer Reflections: Mirror Themed Horror Movies

Posted: December 29, 2014 in Lists
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When it comes to discussion of horror movies, many forms of subgenres come to mind. From slasher flicks to possession horror, the list of subgenres tends to go on and on. Although it might not be a subgenre as it one would probably classify this as supernatural horror, movies whose plots heavily involve mirrors tend to scare me more easily than others. (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD) 


Say his name five times and he'll appear behind you, breathing down your neck

My earliest memory from these movies is easily the one that frightens me the most. Released in 1992, Candyman sees a graduate student completing a thesis on urban legends, introducing her to a local legend of Chicago referred to as the Candyman.

Candyman’s story is tragic, reaching into a dark piece of American history. The son of a slave who impregnates a rich white woman, her father issues a brutal execution, sawing off his right hand and allowing his naked body to be stung to death by bees.

The story goes that if you say his name five times in the mirror, he will appear behind you “breathing down your neck” with a hook in place of his right hand. The thesis takes our protagonist to the infamous Cabrini Green, a public housing project known to be run by gangs. One character in the film at one point says, “I won’t even drive past there. Heard a kid got shot there the other day.”

What scares most about this movie is the first half hour is merely stories she hears from different perspectives of how people of heard of the legend. The legend is then utilized by local gangs to terrify civilians and blame horrific crimes on a made up story. We investigate how these murders happen and how a killer can get access to your bathroom from behind the cabinets, which is based on real life crimes that were happening in Chicago. Click here to read more on the real life event.

I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, hearing plenty of stories, not only of Cabrini Green, but of the ghosts in the mirrors. From La LLorona to Bloody Mary, I was often scared to be alone in the bathroom, especially with those with large mirrors. This movie accelerated those fears and I still can’t watch it alone.


I don't believe!

In 2005, The Skeleton Key, starring Kate Hudson, was released. Hudson plays Caroline, a hospice nurse who acquires the position of caring for a private caregiver in a plantation home in the bayous of Louisiana. She is given a skeleton key for the house as all the rooms are to be locked and each have their own key. Her first night there, Caroline notices the lack of mirrors around the house and is given the simple excuse that old people don’t need “reminders” of their age.

She quickly discovers a secret room in the attic that holds spell books, old mirrors and other cult like paraphernalia. Caroline investigates her findings and learns of hoodoo, African American folk magic described as not being religious, but simply magic. It turns out the secret room belonged to two black servants 90 years ago who were hoodoo practitioners. They were killed as they were caught performing spells on the owners’ children. It is said that if you look in the mirrors, then you can see the servants have never left the home.

While Caroline does not believe in hoodoo magic, she does believe the sick man she cares for believes he is a victim of it and is what is causing him to be sick. The magic is said to only work if you believe and Caroline, through subtle yet creepy events, begins to question if she believes in the magic.

What made this movie creepy for me is its utilizing of real magic and traditions, in setting that’s not too often explored. It introduced me to something I hadn’t seen before giving me sort of what one would call a geek pleasure. While it’s not the best movie, it definitely works.



In 2008, French film director Alexandre Aja gave us another subject in the mirror themed horror genre. Kiefer Sutherland plays, Ben, a night security guard assigned to watch a shutdown department store that suffered through a terrible fire. While patrolling, he discovers the store still all of its large mirrors intact. Sometimes in the reflections, he’ll see open doors that aren’t really open and other, what he assumes to be, hallucinations.

Throughout the film, reflections are found to be acting differently than those of their real life counterparts. Ben finds that the department store was previously the location of a psychiatric hospital where a patient named Anna was placed in a psychomanteum to treat her schizophrenia. Upon finding her, she informs her diagnosis was a disguise as she was actually possessed by a demon and the treatment dragged the demon out of her and into the mirrors, where it now steals victims’ souls.

What ensues are some pretty grotesque deaths and nifty special effects. The film itself tries to deliver the scares, but Ben’s actions make it hard to root for him as he spends most of the movie acting like a raging maniac, making it hard for any of the supporting characters come to his side and provide some aide. However, the story grabbed me and provided enough substance to keep me engaged for it’s almost two hour running time.



In 2014, writer/director Mike Flanagan gave us this horror gem, one of my personal favorites of the year. The original short film it’s based on Oculus: Chapter 3-The Man With the Plan focused on a man telling us the history of a mirror, believed to be the cause of several deaths. The man looks like he hasn’t slept in days and is a questionable protagonist.

The full length feature focuses on siblings who reconvene to their childhood home to confront the mirror. Tim is recently discharged from a psychiatric hospital and believes the death of his parents as a child was the result of a psychotic break. His sister, Kaylee, takes place of the lead in the short film and believes the mirror is the causes of the murders and hashes a plan to prove it.

Oculus presents two perspectives of the same events, both in the past and present. We are given both the logical explanation and the supernatural one. Throughout the film, you question who is to be believed as sometimes the events don’t match up. Adding to that, Kaylee’s cameras, set up in the house to record any unexplained phenomena, display events that the characters don’t recall happening.

This is what I love so much about the movie. So much information and story is given, visually showing us not only the two perspectives, but we watch the events that unfolded in the past blend in so fascinatedly into the present. It’s beautifully coordinated and shot, that it must been a painful editing process to hit all the marks.

One thing all these movies have in common (besides mirrors) is the questionable reality of what is displayed on screen and the reflection of our protagonists’ psyche. In Candyman, our leads wakes up in one scene in a bathroom covered in blood with a butcher’s knife in hand, not recalling how she got there. She is soon charged with crimes she doesn’t remember committing. In The Skeleton Key, Caroline finds herself in the final act preparing the very protection spells she claims to not believe in. In Mirrors, Ben is a former NYPD detective who lost his job to alcoholism and the killing of a man. His experiences with the mirrors are questionable, at first to himself, then to the people around him. Is it his guilt coming back to haunt him? In Oculus, there are scenes that indicate the mother is suffering body dysmorphia as she is a very fit woman, however, that’s not what she sees when looks in the mirror.

These films as a whole asks their viewers: How accurate are the perceptions we have of ourselves and are our reflections to be trusted?

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