Day 21: Female-Helmed Horror Movies For October
Directed and Co-Written by Marina Sargenti
1 hour, 44 minutes
I watched it on Amazon Prime with my husband, John. (Lovingly restored in glorious 4:3 pan and scan with all the original scratches and film tears left intact for historical relevance.)
This was delightful. It felt absolutely made by women. The main relationship of the movie is between two new high school friends, Megan (Rainbow Harvest) and Nikki (Kristin Dattilo). Harvest and Dattilo have great chemistry as quick friends, leaving you rooting for them both throughout, even when Megan goes full evil.
Megan and her immature, self-absorbed mother (Karen Black) move into a reportedly haunted house soon after Megan’s father dies. And sure enough, there’s this serpentine mirror just waiting for her in her new bedroom… Apart from her connection with Nikki, Megan is an outcast at school, due to her penchant for dressing all in black goth clothes. Kudos to Costume Designer George W. Kiel for having so much fun with Megan’s over the top outfits and still letting Nikki look like a regular kid. The big, bad mirror takes advantage of Megan’s frustrations and gives her some very mean powers, which she uses to mess with all the bullies around her, along with some other hapless folks caught in her way. It’s startling, seeing her turn into a full-on villain.
It’s kind of serendipitous that I watched this today, when I just started re-reading “The Haunting of Hill House” by the master Shirley Jackson. Both are stories about lonely women and their complicated relationships with both a haunted house and a much-needed female friend. I must clearly have a soft spot for that sub-subgenre. “Mirror, Mirror” ends up feeling like a love story but about best girlfriends, as Nikki fights to not only stop Megan but protect her. Best girlfriends are hardly ever even shown in movies like this, let alone given this much weight, so I was thrilled. I also loved that you root for almost everybody. Even the mean girl’s boyfriend kept calling her out on being a needless jerk.
The performances are consistently amazing. The leads are stellar. And then you’ve got Stephen Tobolowsky, killing it as always. Shout out to Ricky Paull Goldin. Who knew a sandwich making scene could be so entertaining? Emelin the furniture dealer is played with great relish by Yvonne De Carlo, who has an astounding number of credits but is perhaps most famous for playing Lily Munster. Karen Black is perhaps the weakest but even she seems to be having fun with lines like, “I’m going to the store, Megan. Want me to pick you up some Midol?” (Her daughter’s being moody, you see.)
This was Marina Sargenti’s first movie. She had a limited career after directing soapy TV after this, including “Models Inc” and “Malibu Shores.” That’s a damn shame. I wish I knew what she was up to these days. (If anybody knows, give me the info!) The script was written by Annette Cascone and Gina Casone (sisters and co-authors of the middle-grade horror story series “Deadtime Stories” – that sounds fun) with co-writing by Sargenti and Yuri Zeltser (a screenwriter and director but I haven’t heard of any of his credits).
I adored the sequence where a character gets killed in a shower. Artfully cutting between the peaceful, young legs swimming in the pool together and the girl fighting for her life and burning to death in the shower room was so affecting. There are some terrific flashes of going-there humor: the fly bit, the making out with the dripping blood mirror, and the weird sounds/some strange, demonic language the mirror speaks. And that fuuuuucked ending (minus the unnecessary effects) is so smart. It’s a bit rough around the edges, sure. It’s never truly scary so much as creepy/awe-inspiring. But the rest of it was so strong, I was able to look past the few stilted or budget restricted aspects.
Big love to my brilliant buddy, Glenn Morgan, who co-edited the film, along with Barry Dresner. He reports back with affection for the movie and said it was a lot better than the budget should have allowed. He said the director was very talented. He liked the leads. And the DP on this movie, Robert Brinkmann went on to big studio movies like “Encino Man” and “The Cable Guy.” Glenn also let me know that one of the producers got the money for “Mirror, Mirror” from mom and pop video stores in Detroit. I’m definitely a sucker for those scrappy, putting it off stories. “Mirror, Mirror” went on to spawn three sequels and has been called a feminist horror classic. I wholeheartedly agree.