The Mirror Scare - Tactical Genius!
A scene where a reflection is used to suddenly reveal a villain or monster, usually, when the angle of the mirror is adjusted by the victim/ protagonist.
The most common form of mirror scare is the use of a bathroom mirror on a medicine cabinet. As a character goes to get something from the cabinet: we see the character's reflection in front of the mirror, then opening the cabinet, then as they close the mirror again, Bam
: they're right behind you!
The exact shot usually holds the camera in place, with our only view of the scene being what is shown in the mirror itself. Variants can use other reflective surfaces, but are usually done in a "safe" environment. TV screens can be used, with the revelation appearing when the screen goes off. (This may well be symbolic of something.)
Either way, the character will somehow not have heard their enemy sneak up. Often, the villain isn't there when the victim looks again or looks behind: it's just them going slowly crazy
. Sometimes, it turns out they are there after all
See a video of these examples here
Close sibling to Offscreen Teleportation
. Scarier cousin to Stealth Hi/Bye
. See also Danger Takes A Back Seat
. If the scary thing in the mirror is the one looking into it
, it's a Tomato in the Mirror
Not the same as Mirror Monster
, which is where the scary thing is part of or only visible in the mirror.
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Anime and Manga
- This also happened in the manga Moon Child when the beautiful Holly is putting make-up on in her dressing room while getting ready for a dance (previously she was just awfully cruel to her friend and former lover, Art.) She looks into the mirror and sees a hideous Eldritch Abomination looking back at her and she screams only for the thing to vanish.
- This happened once in Death Note; it's how Misa meets Rem for the second time after losing her memories of the Death Note.
Films — Animation
- Cinderella has the scene where Cinderella is in her room preparing to go down and try on the glass slipper, but sees Lady Tremaine's reflection behind her as she's locking the door to trap her inside.
- Occurs in Mr. Bug Goes to Town, where after Mr. Beetle is speaking with his lackeys about his plan, he sees Hoppity's angry reflection on a bottle, making him realize that he overheard the conversation.
Films — Live-Action
- Mirrors uses this trope throughout the entire film.
- As does its original, the Korean Into The Mirror.
- Shaun of the Dead uses this twice, once using Shaun's uptight flatmate complaining about his habits, and again, with a zombie attack by the same roommate.
- Stir of Echoes uses this shot, but only for the audience: the monstrous ghost is unseen by the main character.
- In Layer Cake, there's a subversion where the main character, in the middle of an angst-riddled drug- and whisky-fueled freak out, opens the mirrored bathroom cabinet, music builds and then as he closes it the action suddenly cuts to the next morning, with the character neatly dressed and his problems resolved.
- Subverted for what little it is worth in the Eddie Murphy action vehicle Metro in which the Scare Chords begin to play when the Love Interest opens then closes the medicine cabinet yet the man out for her blood is not there. Perhaps the only thing "clever" that this movie did was subverting as many cop movie cliche' the writers could get their hands on.
- Occurs at the end of Phantasm when The Tall Man tells to the main character that things are far from over..
- Happens a few times in the Japanese version of The Ring — after Reiko watches the cursed videotape and switches the television off, the ghostly form of Sadako is (very briefly) reflected in the TV screen. However, when she turns around, no-one is there. Also, near the end of the film, Reiko sees the spirit of Ryuji, her estranged husband killed by Sadako shortly before, reflected in her television set.
- In the sequel of the American remake, Aiden discovers Samara is haunting him when he takes his own picture on a mirror — each shot reveals Samara standing behind him... coming closer... closer... closer...
- Parodied in a Mexican advertisement for Renault's auto shop service. The auto mechanic is inspecting the interior of the car when he adjusts the rear view mirror —and the horrific rotted form of "Samara" pops up into view. He berates her and tells her that her car will be ready in less than seven days. She whimpers and leaves him to his work.
- Used a few times in What Lies Beneath, most prominently when the ghost seen reflected in the bathwater for the first time.
- Done in The Movie of V for Vendetta at the murder of Lewis Prothero. Prothero watches himself on the TV and mimics himself wishing to meet V face to face. He then turns off the TV and OHMYGOD,HEISSTANDINGRIGHTBEHINDYOU!!!
- Lust, Caution: The heroine closes a window, and she spots the reflection of the Villain in it—he had been sitting in a corner of the room all along, but she hadn't seen him.
- An early use of this is in An American Werewolf in London (1981), when the eponymous David Kessler sees his highly decayed Undead best friend Jack Goodman in the mirror after he closes the medicine cabinet.
- Happens twice in Orphan. The first time Kate visits the medicine cabinet, she closes the door to find nothing, the second time it's her husband standing behind her in a fake scare.
- In Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn Ash stands in front of a mirror in one scene, trying to get a hold of himself. His reflection (perhaps "Bad Ash" in his first appearance?) comes to life, reaches out, and grabs him, before telling him that he is absolutely not "okay"; he just chopped up his girlfriend with an axe!
- Double subversion in Octopus. The resident Hot Scientist is getting changed. She closes the bathroom mirror while ominous music plays in the background, then... nothing. Until she turns around, and suddenly the bad guy is there.
- In Nadja, one of the indications that Nadja is (metaphorically) preying on Lucy's mind is a shot from Lucy's point of view as she watches Jim opening the bathroom medicine cabinet: as he opens it, Nadja seems to be reflected in the room behind them, but when he closes it again a moment later, she's gone. An interesting usage considering that the actual non-hallucinatory Nadja, being a vampire, doesn't have a reflection.
- The scene in Signs where Graham pushes the television into the living room only to see the reflection of the injured alien standing across the room holding Morgan's body.
- Occurs in Flatliners when Rachel (Julia Roberts) looks in a mirror and sees the ghost of her dead father on the room behind her.
- Done well without even moving the mirror in the 1931 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Ivy, having just (so she thinks) escaped Hyde's grasp, sits in front of her mirror and toasts herself. Just as she finishes raising the glass, the door opens...
- Happens during the boat scene of The Mummy.
- Used in a moment of self-parody in Targets when Boris Karloff's elderly horror actor is startled by his own reflection.
- Technically, this happens in Cabin Fever, when you considder that the "villain" was a disease. Marcy discovers it's telltale rashes on her back when she turns around infront of the bathroom mirror. Of course, she doesn't realize yet that they are the first symptom of her disease because she thinks they are a sex injury.
- Black Swan is full of Mirror Scares.
- The scene in 1408 where Mike sees a man in a room across the street, mimicing his movements, and realizes it's him. He sees a man strike the reflection down, only to realize the killer is behind him.
- The Friday the 13th series - Jason has a knack for standing behind people when they look in the mirror◊ and sometimes using the mirror as an instrument of death, such as using a shard of broken glass as an edged weapon◊ in Part VIII, or slamming a girl's face into the mirror◊ in Part VI.
- Milked subversion at the beginning of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. A woman is getting ready to shower and stands before the mirrored medicine cabinet. She opens the cabinet, puts her toothpaste inside, and closes said cabinet. But Jason is not standing behind her in the reflection of the mirror. She then accidentally drops her purse on the floor. She bends to pick it up. The camera follows her and we can't see the mirror. She stands back up and looks into the mirror and Jason... is still not standing behind her in the reflection. She takes off her tomboyish baseball cap and obstructs the camera's view by waving her long hair around. Still no Jason. She starts to disrobe with the mirror reflecting the window, and Jason does not appear in the reflection of the window. Followed by a plot where Jason possesses various people, and one can see the true Jason if they see the possessed person's reflection. as seen here◊.
- The comic book adaption◊ would have you believe otherwise.
- Michael Myers has fun with this trope, especially in Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later. Admittedly, most of the time, they are just Hallucinations of Laurie's. But the few times he isn't...
- A less Jump Scary version in Below. A submariner goes into a very dark bathroom and looks in the mirror. As he turns his face to the left and right, it seems like his reflection's movements are just a half-second behind his. Then when he turns to face the camera, his reflection half-turns, then looks out of the mirror again.
- Shown in the trailer for Paranormal Activity 3, in which the two young sisters turn a video camera on in a darkened bathroom to try out the old 'Bloody Mary' Urban Legend, leading to a brief Jump Scare when the older sister turns on a flashlight and screams to scare the younger. As the two girls run out of the bathroom, however, they fail to notice the ominous silhouette in the mirror behind the camera.
- A Nightmare on Elm Street:
- In Freddy's Dead, Tracy is splashing water in her face in a bathroom, but when she looks up, she sees in the mirror's reflection that the room has changed into her old childhood home, where her abusive father is waiting.
- Freddy vs. Jason. In Mark's nightmare, he's getting some pills to help him stay awake from the mirror cupboard in the bathroom. When he closes it again, his reflection is replaced by Freddy.
- Subverted in A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) remake, when Kris wakes up from her nightmare and goes to the bathroom to splash water on her face. Played straight at the very end.
- In The Mothman Prophecies, Gordon describes a strange hallucination which turned out to be prophetic, and started with his seeing something in his mirror that wasn't him. Later, John closes a medicine cabinet while looking away, the mirror briefly showing an indistinct face behind him which he doesn't see.
- Used in Wild Things when Kelly suddenly shows up in Sam's motel room after the trial, just before it's revealed that they were partners.
- There's a window scare in The Poughkeepsie Tapes when Tim goes into his girlfriend's dark kitchen, turns on the light, and sees the killer's plague doctor mask in the glass.
- In Just Friends Mike is shown gargling in the bathroom before closing the medicine cabinet and we see Samantha suddenly reflected in the mirror.
- Dressed to Kill has a surprise mirror shot of the killer in the closing nightmare scene.
- In Repulsion this is the first sign that Carol is more than just shy and high-strung.
- Basic Instinct. After Nick has had sex with Catherine, he walks over to the bathroom and splashes some water on his face. When he looks up, the mirror reveals that Catherine's jealous girlfriend Roxy is standing behind him.
- One happens in the 2000s remake of The Amityville Horror.
- Father Brown:
- Inverted in the story "The Man in the Passage". Three witnesses testify to seeing a man in the passage after a murder. Only the last, Father Brown, managed to see that it was his own reflection.
- Another Father Brown story, "The Mirror of the Magistrate," invokes a mirror scare. Police investigating a murder found a full-length mirror broken in the victim's front hall, but the man was actually murdered in his garden. They theorized that he'd struggled with the killer, breaking the mirror, and then fled into the garden before being killed. Father Brown realized that the killer physically resembled his victim; he'd opened the front door, saw his own reflection and mistook it for the man he'd come to kill, and panicked, shooting the mirror. Then he made his way out to the garden and found his real target.
- Used in a way in the Broken Sky series; the secret police of King Macaan, the Jachyra, can see, hear, and even travel through mirrors, or anything sufficiently reflective. This causes a number scares with the mirror being stationary, as well as the main characters being incredibly paranoid around them. Any base which the Parakka make has no reflective surfaces whatsoever.
- The Dresden Files has an Eldritch Abomination called "He Who Walks Behind." As his name implies, He is always behind you, no matter where you turn, so the only way to see Him is in a mirror. Harry first encountered Him while looking at an arcade game. It shorts out, and something appears reflected in the screen. Harry turns around; nothing there. Harry turns back; He Who Walks Behind is now standing two feet closer and smiling.
- Played with in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone with the Mirror of Erised. When Harry first looks in the mirror and sees a load of people in the room behind him, he has to fight to stop himself from screaming. However, they are actually visions of his family and only exist in the mirror itself.
- The Reflecting Eye features the Grady House, and creepy house filled to the brim with mirrors taken from the scenes of murders.
- In Smallville, Lana's monitors started staticing out. As she went to look at them, they went out and she could see Brainiac standing behind her in the reflection.
- Quoth Lovable Furry Old Grover:
''If your mirror has a monster in it, do not shout
This kind of situation does not call for freaking out
And do nothing that you would not like to see him do
'Cause that monster in the mirror, he just might be you
- Parodied in the overly long SNL sketch "The Mirror": Ellen Page, a Catapult Nightmare, a medicine cabinet, Andy Samberg's ridiculous faces. Lather, rinse, repeat, invert...
- A more humorous than frightening example but done exactly in the standard manner. In Lois and Clark, a source has tried to dodge Lois Lane by faking his death. He's brushing his teeth in front of the bathroom mirror, opens it to get mouthwash, closes it and sees in the reflection something truly terrifying: Lois Lane at 6 in the morning. Interestingly, the point about him brushing his teeth is not just to set up the gag but also a reference to the fact that Lois figured out he faked his death by the fact that he took his toothbrush. So the scene does not feel like it was shoehorned in or that the mirror trick was getting too much focus for something not that clever.
- Appears in the season 4 opening of Dexter, as the Trinity Killer claims his first on-screen victim.
- The The Twilight Zone episode "The Hitch-Hiker" ends with Inger Stevens finding the title character in the back of her car this way. It's not really that much of a scare, though, since by that point she's already figured out (and accepted) his true identity.
- This trope is also explored in "The Mirror." A Fidel Castro Expy named Ramos Clemente stages a successful coup with the help of four allies. The dictator they depose warns Clemente that he will soon begin to see enemies everywhere, especially in an ornate mirror hanging on his office wall. Clemente ignores this, but as the episode goes on and he begins to use more and more militaristic tactics, he starts having Mirror Scares of his four allies standing behind him with weapons. He orders them killed one by one, only to realize too late that the true demon in the mirror was himself all along.
- Parodied on Roseanne, with Dan getting spooked when he sees Roseanne materialize in the medicine cabinet mirror during an episode when he's trying to avoid her due to her P.M.S., and she says menacingly, "Dan...do you think I'm pretty...?"
- An episode of Star Trek had Uhura look in a mirror in her quarters and be confronted by an image of Captain Kirk...who had died just the day before! (He got better, of course.)
- Also happened in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Beverly pick up a mirror and sees the ghost that has been haunting her standing behind her.
- In an early episode of Dawson's Creek, Andie sneaks into Abby's bedroom and spots her reflection in the mirror. What's scary? Abby had died a few days before and she didn't get better
- Angel invokes this trope a few times. Usually someone is focused on something and looks up in the mirror as if to reassure themselves there's no-one behind them. Then the camera pans to behind them where it's revealed Angel is standing right there but, obviously, isn't reflecting.
- A classic example occurs in series 1 when Cordelia first moves into the flat Doyle found for her. She's cleaning her teeth in front of the medicine cabinet mirror, and the camera watches from over her shoulder using the mirror to show behind Cordelia. Cordelia opens the medicine cabinet, closes it again, to reveal to the audience that there's a dead woman standing right behind her.
- Happens in Teen Wolf, although not with a mirror. In the first episode, Scott sees someone behind him through his webcam.
- Inverted in Doctor Who: "Vampires of Venice". The Doctor looks at himself in a mirror briefly and turns around, only to run into a group of creepy vampire-like girls. He then turns back toward the mirror and does not see their reflection. Subverted in that, far from being scared, the Doctor is fascinated; "How are you doing that? 'Cause I am loving it!"
- In the Supernatural episode "What Is And What Should Never Be" (S02, Ep20), Dean sees the woman in white, now covered in blood, in the mirror on the closet door.
- The final verse of "Recognize" by Better Than Ezra:
Just before I hit the ground, I woke up in my bed.
I was dazed and I was weary and my heart was full of dread.
When I looked at my reflection, I was horrified to find
there were seven horsemen next to me, the angel close behind.
- Comedian Paul F. Tompkins has a bit about this, and how much he hates it.
- The page image is courtesy of a common fan interpretation of a special rule from Warhammer 40,000. The character (the one in the image with a cigar) is Lord Castellan Ursakar Creed, who has a special rule called "Tactical Genius", which has been interpreted to let a unit appear from nowhere. (In this case, moving the Lord Castellan and a small force through time and space to ambush, in the bathroom, the guy who's the closest thing the Chaos Space Marines have to a supreme leader). In practice, the rule allows one unit to outflank, more specifically to make a stealthy insertion onto the battle field from an unexpected quarter when the battle is underway. The part where it become Memetic Mutation is that it may allow superheavy tanks and Titans to make that stealthy insertion, and a more liberal interpretation of the rules could allow squadrons of them to appear.
- Subverted in an episode of Justice League. The dream-manipulating Doctor Destiny is stalking his ex, who goes into the bathroom to wash her face after having a nightmare. The musical build-up makes it sound like he's going to be revealed with a mirror scare, but he isn't there. He's right next to her.
- Used in Sonic: Night of the Werehog, a cartoon based on the video game Sonic Unleashed. In a Haunted House, Chip looks at his reflection in the mirror... which promptly grins at him, then lunges at him. Not all that scary, though, since all the ghosts wanted to do was take his picture.
- In The Spectacular Spider-Man, Otto Octavius is startled by his own reflection in his lab equipment, but is then frightened when he catches sight of Supervillain the Green Goblin hovering right behind him, in the process of stealing a Tech-Flight glider. This trope is later inverted when Harry Osborn holds a vial of Globulin Green up to his face, the viewer is briefly allowed to see the Green Goblin, as Harry's own, distorted reflection.
- Stacy Cornbred does this to Debbie on Celebrity Deathmatch.
- In The Transformers during an arc where a Hate Plague is going off and infecting most of the world including both Autobots and Decepticons, Rodimus Prime is currently shutting off Metroplex to make sure he won't be infected, only to look up at the monitor screen and see that an infected Ultra Magnus is coming up right behind him. Cue commercial break.
- In Jackie Chan Adventures Jade is getting her mouthwash from behind a mirror cabinet and when she closed the door the mirror reveals three Shadowkhan behind her. It turns into more of a Crowning Moment of Funny when it takes her several seconds to notice them and does so with a Spit Take to the mirror. Becomes even funnier when the Shadowkhan instead of attacking her offer her cereal, toast and other breakfast food.
- The Batman: The Animated Series episode Dreams In Darkness has this, with Bruce trying to go over clues in the Batcave, only to see The Joker come up behind him in the reflection on the Batcomputer monitor. When he turns around, he finds Alfred there instead.
- During production of one of the A Nightmare on Elm Street movies, Robert Englund once woke up and saw Freddy Krueger staring at him from out of a mirror. Mr. Englund admitted to being scared until he realized he'd fallen asleep while the make up artist was working on him.