Horror in the 90s: 'Mirror Mirror
Mostly forgettable 1990 horror movie does boast a storied supporting cast, but little else.
Mirror Mirror (1993)
Directed by Marina Sargenti
Written by Annette Cascone, Gina Cascone, Marina Sargenti
Starring Rainbow Harvest, Karen Black, Yvonne De Carlo
Release Date August 31st, 1990
Box Office Unknown
There were a mere 6 theatrically released movies directed by female directors in 1990. One of those films is this oddball horror movie about a haunted Mirror. Mirror Mirror was Sargenti's first and only feature film credit. Soon after she moved to television features and picked up TV odds and ends until seeming to leave the business in 1997, at least according to IMDB. Regardless, she's notable for having been one of the few women to get the chance to direct a feature length horror film at a time when women were struggling to find a place behind the camera.
It's a shame that the movie isn't more memorable. Mirror Mirror is a shoddy, slapdash and odd film. The plot centers on a haunted mirror which uses some kind of demon magic to invade the mind of people who own it and causing them to kill. The demonic power presents itself as being on the side of the owner, allowing the owner to believe they are wielding some kind of magic power. Then, the killing spree begins and grows out of control until someone finally puts a black curtain over the mirror. Yeah, that's literally how this demon is defeated, that and... a good character making a wish? Maybe? It's a tad bit unclear.
Mirror Mirror features a notable supporting cast of hammy, horror convention staples including Karen Black as the mother of our main character, Megan, played by Rainbow Harvest. Alongside Karen Black we have Yvonne DeCarlo of The Munsters-fame. DeCarlo plays an antiques dealer who purchased the mirror only for the evil mirror to refuse to leave the home. She also takes a bunch of books written by the previous owner of the mirror. DeCarlo acts as a plot convenience/contrivance, someone to do the legwork of researching the mirror's evil for us in the audience and then dying tragically when she was needed most.
Another notable horror staple is character actor William Sanderson who pops up in the perfectly William Sanderson-role of a pet undertaker. The mirror happens to hate dogs and when the mirror brutally murders Karen Black's dog, Sanderson's uber-creep undertaker shows up and the two wind up hitting it off. She invites this man to dinner and things don't go well as Megan channels the demonic mirror powers to make Sanderson hallucinate that his food is full of creepy crawlies. He leaves and we never see him again.
The co-lead of Mirror Mirror, alongside the memorably named Rainbow Harvest, is Kristen Dattilo as Nikki, a fellow outcast who serves as an early model of the role played by Amanda Seyfried in Jennifer's Body. Each film pits female friends against each other, a common theme in many genres when you think about it. At least they aren't arguing about boys, not the same boy anyway, but yeah, movies tend to want exploit female friendships for drama in a fashion that they tend not do in stories about male friendships. While Harvest left the industry almost immediately after her breakthrough role here, Dattilo stuck around playing bit parts in television and film through 2019.
The conflict between Megan and Nikki is forced and stilted, centering on Megan falling under the spell of the mirror and using her powers to attack hers and Nikki's enemies, and Nikki not wanting to see anyone get hurt, especially on her behalf. The tipping point comes when Megan uses her evil mirror powers to steam bath a bully and rival to death. This scene is not good. The staging is fine, it's the context that makes me deeply uncomfortable. Canonically, the character trapped in the shower and steamed to death is a teenage girl. Now, she's very obviously a woman in her mid to late 20s, given the size of her voluptuousness, but it's still awkward that we are in a high school setting and seeing this student in this much... detail. It's also needless T & A, which, yes, is a staple of the horror genre but it was always needless, sexist and rarely ever actually sexy.
The best scene in Mirror Mirror, spoiler alert, is centered on the horrific death of Karen Black's mom character. It's a classic set up, the demon targets mom in the kitchen by clogging the sink based garbage disposal. We wait and watch in agony as mom reaches her hand into the disposal to remove the clog. She survives the first time and the disposal whirls back to life. The second time however, via some strong editing and visual filmmaking, we know mom doesn't stand a chance. The second time she puts her hand in the disposal the blades do their bit, blood spatters on the pristine white curtains, and mom screams for her life, unable to extricate her damaged limb. Black hams it up on the flailing and screaming and it's a lot of fun to watch. It's really the only time Mirror Mirror comes fully to life.
Mirror Mirror is weak sauce in all aspects of horror aside from the supporting cast. Seeing old pros like Karen Black, Yvonne De Carlo, and William Sanderson is almost always welcome. Each has a strong, familiar presence and their genre movie chops are all just on the right side of hammy attention grabbing. The presence of these old pros of the genre world is truly welcome in a movie this otherwise pedestrian. Mirror Mirror is mostly okay but it's not particularly good, or particularly memorable. The death scenes are either deeply uncomfortable or bordering on laughably contrived without a comfortable middle ground, again, aside from Karen Black who can die in movies among the best of them.
This is a distinctly middling effort overall. The colorful supporting cast shines but there isn't much to recommend Mirror Mirror beyond that. That said, this was a bit of a hit movie, especially in the early days of home video. The film somehow spawned three sequels as each sequel creeped further and further into the softcore side of the horror world, a haven for horror sequels in the direct to video market to this day. So, regardless of how I feel about Mirror Mirror, the film did make an impression in its 1990 debut and became part of the horror landscape for a time. That it has fallen by the wayside three decades later is appropriate for a movie like this, one for which mediocrity is a level of achievement.
This article/review of Mirror Mirror is the latest entry in my book, tentatively but not officially called Horror in the 90s. I am watching and writing about as many theatrically released horror films from 1990 to 1999 as I can get my hands on. That's about 200 movies from my current research. That's going to take a lot of effort and support to get to the finish line. And that's where you come in. You can support the writing of my book by making donations via Vocal. By making a monthly pledge or by leaving a one time tip, you can reserve a place with your name dropped in the finished book.
I am serializing the book here on Vocal with reviews that will be part of a larger whole book filled with facts, interviews, and more general observations of horror in the 90s. There will also be a full ranking of all theatrically released horror films of the 90s at the end of the book. Plenty to enjoy aside from the portions that I am serializing here as an enticement for you to invest in this project. If you'd like to read previous entries you can find reviews of Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer, Brain Dead, The Exorcist 3, The First Power, Night Breed, Frankenhooker, and Tales from the Dark Side The Movie all here on Horror.Media.
About the Creator
Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast. I am a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.
Wow, definitely such a serious writer from the looks of your profile. Congrats. Goals!!!