There is something about mirrors that reflect our deepest internal fears. The spine chilling sensation of fleeting movement in the depths of a darkened looking glass is something we are all familiar with, so it should come as no surprise the mirror reigns supreme in horror.
There is no denying that horror movies such as [Oculus](movie:1198571) or [The Mirror](movie:1223792) seem to touch us deeper than most. Could this be because it is so easy to relate to the unsettling feeling of something evil lurking in behind us a reflection?
So many ancient superstitions and folklore surround the simple looking glass that it's amazing we dare to have them in our houses at all. These seemingly innocent objects reduce an Ouija Board to the simpering puppy of the spirit world.
Evil queens use mirrors to stalk their victims, smashing one will cost you seven years of bad luck and they are still capable of stealing the souls of the dead according to some modern day religious communities.
So, lets explore some of the most iconic mirror scenes in some classic horrors and burrow deep into the ancient traditions that inspired them, and made the mirror an intrinsic object of fear for all of us.
1. Poltergeist - Marty tears his face off
In Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg's legendary Poltergeist (1982), Marty the parapsychologist goes from a pinnacle of scientific logic to raking his own face off in the mirror. The surprisingly lenient PG rating of Poltergeist means this scene is scorched into an entire generation's retinas, but what influenced it?
It is an ancient tradition that you should never look into a mirror in the darkness or by candlelight because premonitions and bad omens will have power to reveal themselves. It was also believed that your own face could distort into that of others leading you to be possessed by spirits.
As far fetched as this seems, there is some science behind the mirrors ability to actually make us hallucinate. In a 2010 paper by psychologist Giovanni B Caputo, scientific subjects instructed to stare at their own face in a dimly lit mirror for 10 minutes all reported varying degrees of hallucination. Some saw the faces of strangers or even animals in their own features whereas 66 percent saw giant facial distortions or deformations.
It is hypothesized that low lighting accelerates our intrinsic human ability to see faces in other objects and confuses our brain into making up details for the areas we can't see in the dim light. Optical illusions such as 'Troxler's Fading' have also been used to explain the phenomenon. Just stare at the black cross below and see what happens to the lilac dots to see how intense focus can change your peripheral perception:
Any of you who have played the following game will probably know this already though...
2. Candyman... Hooking onto ancient rituals
The entire premise of Candyman is summoning an evil spirit from within a mirror. Just say his name a few times and voilà! You get a rusty blood-caked hook right up in yo' grill! Although this movie is an example of the looking glass becoming a sinister portal, it also stemmed from a much more specific tradition.
Historically, there was a ritual that encouraged young women to walk up a flight of stairs backwards whilst holding a hand mirror and a candle in order to catch a glimpse of their future husband in the glass. Alas, some unlucky ladies would also glimpse a skull foretelling that they would die before their wedding day...Possibly from walking up the stairs backwards in the dark!
The ritual gradually switched to focus on 'Bloody Mary', who was loosely based on the ill-fated Catholic Tudor queen. Bloody Mary could be summoned by repeatedly chanting her name into a mirror in a darkened room. When she appeared she was said to reveal your future by actions as gentle as pointing and as violent as screaming, drenched in blood.
This is directly where the inspiration for the hook handed, bee-lovin' Candyman came from.
3. Oculus: a portal of possession
The axis of all evil in Oculus is a mirror which happens to be a putrid portal for unsavory spirits that also has a handy ability to nab your soul and bend it to its every whim. Not bad for a geriatric piece of glass in a tasteless frame!
The idea of the looking glass as a spirit portal is as ancient as mirrors themselves. As far back as Roman times it was customary to move mirrors, often to confuse spirits seeking to use them as a way into our realm. It was also widely considered prudent to cover all mirrors while you slept so no pesky scraps of evil could seep into your slumber.
If you are spiritually inclined, psychics believe that at their most basic level mirrors can be a form of entrance and exit point for spiritual energy and other dimensions. The other 'energy' rarely seems to be benign though...
4. The Mirror - A reflection on the accursed object
You don't have to have be a mirror to harbor a curse, but apparently it helps! From drums that play themselves, to dolls who have a life of their own, cursed objects vary in form but the tale of buying a haunted mirror is oft repeated.
[The Mirror](movie:1223792) is a haunting tale based on a true story of an eerie mirror that was rescued from a dumpster by students. The real life owners of the mirror reported being scratched in the night, being drained of energy and having to be prescribed anti-depressants due to the anxiety bought by the mysterious looking glass.
They eventually sold the object on eBay to be rid of it, which inspired the events that occur in the chilling The Mirror.
So, make sure you get your next looking glass from Ikea just to be safe, folks!
Can mirrors really harbor a curse? Probably not. Can they scare the living s**t out of you when you are walking through your house at night? Definitely!