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Collage with a man looking into a scary mirror Illustration: Rafael Alejandro for Polygon

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Evil movie mirrors, ranked by how evil those mirrors get

Exploring the terror of what lurks behind mirrors

There are certain tropes and symbols that recur throughout horror fiction — undead creatures, restless spirits, uncontrollable transformations. They tap into the part of the human brain that needs explanations and hates ambiguity. So it’s not surprising that mirrors, those image-flipping sheets of silvered glass, land on that list. Even on a good day, there’s something unsettling about your reflection, and fright flicks throughout the years have pulled out mirrors for all manner of scares.

In the spirit of accuracy, I recently watched every movie I could find with an evil or supernatural mirror and ranked them by how well those mirrors worked. This includes possessed mirrors, mirrors as portals to bad places, mirrors that create monsters, and even a few uncategorizable entries. These rankings don’t reflect the movies themselves, only the mirror scenes, so let’s get reflecting.

38. Paranormal Activity 3

The Paranormal Activity series taps into nearly every overused horror trope, so it’s not surprising that malevolent mirrors have taken a turn in the found footage barrel. In the third installment, two people videotape themselves playing “Bloody Mary” in the bathroom, but (after a fake-out) a malevolent spirit is released that scratches the older one and causes a ruckus outside. We don’t see anything in the mirror itself, because we never see anything in any of these movies, so this one barely counts.

37. Urban Legends: Bloody Mary

One of the best-known tall tales around mirrors is Bloody Mary, where if you chant her name three times in front of a mirror she will materialize and murder you. This direct-to-DVD flick posits Mary as a murdered high school girl in 1969, who pops up in 2004 after being summoned by a group of outcasts and goes on a murder spree. There’s not a whole lot of mirror action here.

36. They

The portals in this 2002 effort appear in numerous locations, but one of them is a bathroom mirror so here we go. Four people afflicted by night terrors discover that they’re actually being tormented by mysterious creatures from another dimension who breach into our world when they sleep. Not a lot to recommend with this one but a decent mirror scene nonetheless.

35. Amityville: A New Generation

When a mirror from the cursed house in the first Amityville Horror winds up in a boarding house (through an absurdly convoluted series of events), it brings with it a demon that leaves its reflective prison to take on other forms and murder the residents.

34. The Skeleton Key

In this mediocre 2005 hoodoo movie set in a decrepit Louisiana plantation, a young hospice aide takes a job looking after the elderly inhabitants of the house. She soon discovers that two former slaves have been using their magic to hop into new bodies, entrapping people through a full-length mirror that transplants their personas. It’s not anything special, but it’s an evil mirror so it counts.

33. Mothman

The Mothman legend we all know and love is that of a mysterious cryptid who hangs out in the West Virginia boonies. But in this straight-to-DVD stinker, our boy is repurposed as a spirit summoned by a Native American chief named “Cornstalk” that can only enter our reality through reflective surfaces. What exactly this has to do with the Mothman is up for interpretation.

32. It Chapter Two

The malevolent spirit that manifests as Pennywise loves himself a carnival, so there’s naturally a hall of mirrors scene. When Bill charges into the funhouse to keep the clown from feasting on another child, he gets trapped in a hallucinatory maze of reflections that baffles and delays him long enough for It to get another meal. Are these mirrors supernatural and evil or physical and just annoying? Hard to tell, but we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

31. The Changeling

There’s only a brief mirror bit in this 1980 Canadian psychological horror entry, but it’s done well. When a composer mourning the death of his wife and daughter moves to a Seattle mansion, he is assailed by supernatural forces until he unravels a mystery that stretches back almost a hundred years. One of the incidents involves a mirror shattering into his face, and it’s a short, sharp scare that works great.

30. Night Of The Demons

In general, partying in an abandoned mortuary isn’t recommended. When a group of teens breaks into Hull House and holds a seance, a demon appears in a mirror and then breaks out of the crematorium that’s been holding it. It’s a very brief scene, all things considered, but getting the first peek at the creature is something special.

29. The Boogeyman

Typically the childhood scourge of bedtime comes out from the closet or under the bed, but in this 1980 horror cheapie the Boogeyman is actually the ghost of a woman’s dead boyfriend trapped in the mirror he was stabbed to death in front of … by her son. Oedipus much? Anyways, 20 years later the spirit comes back for vengeance in increasingly bizarre ways wherever even a small piece of the broken mirror is found.

28. From Beyond The Grave

British studio Amicus Productions knocked out horror anthologies at a steady clip throughout the ’60s and ’70s, with this one being its final effort. In From Beyond The Grave, a quartet of customers of an antique shop find themselves cursed by their purchases. The first segment stars David Warner as a man who purchases an antique mirror and is captivated by the spirit within to murder people until it builds the strength to leave its reflective prison.

27. Peeping Tom

There are no paranormal elements to the mirror in this 1960 thriller, but it’s certainly evil enough to snag a place here. Carl Boehm plays a photographer who murders women, using a round mirror mounted on the top of his camera so they can see their own faces as they die. At the end of the film, he drives his knife into himself, capturing his demise as the grand finale of his project.

26. Grim Prairie Tales

Two travelers swap ghost stories around a campfire in this Western horror oddity made on a shoestring budget in the Mojave Desert, shot by Janusz Kamiński, who would go on to shoot Schindler’s List. The fourth tale is about a gunman, played by Scott Paulin, who kills a rival in a shootout but is then haunted by his ghost. In one notable scene, he’s shaving with a straight razor when he spots the apparition in the mirror as it grips his arm and tries to force him to slash his own throat.

25. The Watcher In The Woods

When an American family moves into a rural English manor, one of the daughters starts seeing the apparition of a blindfolded girl in the house’s mirrors. It turns out she was the victim of a ritual gone wrong that swapped her with a mysterious creature from another dimension, and now can only communicate through reflective surfaces.

24. Conan The Destroyer

This doesn’t have the bombast of the John Milius original, but it’s more colorful and weird. One of the best bits comes when Conan is forced to battle a gross monster in a hall of mirrors, defeating it by shattering the glass around him. It’s then revealed that the beast was the wizard Thoth-Amon in disguise, played by pro wrestler Pat Roach.

23. Hellraiser: Bloodline

The fourth installment in the long-running franchise saw director Kevin Yagher pull his name off the finished film to have “Alan Smithee” take the credit, so you know it has to be good. Wait, no, it’s not. That said, the movie is full of mirrors, and it includes one memorable scene where the cenobite Angelique pulls a man through a mirror and decapitates him, leaving his headless corpse to plop to the floor with a sticky thump.

22. A Nightmare On Elm Street

The 2010 reboot of Wes Craven’s franchise is perfectly fine, but not all that necessary. It does have one great mirror scare at the end, though, as Jackie Earl Haley’s Freddy stabs through the reflective surface to kill Nancy’s mother and pull her into the dream world. It’s a better version of a similar effect from the original, which used an unconvincing blow-up doll pulled through a window.

21. The Conjuring

James Wan’s 2013 franchise-starter throws a lot of stuff at the walls, much in the mode of its inspiration Poltergeist. One of the primary methods that the paranormal forces (mustered by the spirit of the witch Bathsheba Sherman) use is a music box with a mirror inlaid in the lid, which also displays the evil doll Annabelle.

20. Dark Mirror

This 2007 low-budget chiller features a family of three that moves to a Los Angeles house with massive windows and mirrors. The mother, a photographer, soon discovers that anybody she takes a picture of dies horribly. The culprit is the spirit of one of the home’s prior owners, a painter who was betrayed by her husband and possessed by a supernatural force that made her images real.

19. Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Razor-gloved murder aficionado Freddy Krueger is a creature of dreams, so he loves optical illusions. In the climactic scene of Dream Warriors, Freddy creates a hall of mirrors in Joey’s dream to suck in the team of teens who have hypnotized themselves to confront him. Obviously things don’t work out for them, but Joey finds his voice and screams so loud the mirrors shatter and release our heroes.

18. Prince Of Darkness

When a group of quantum physicists become trapped in a Los Angeles monastery while investigating a tube of mysterious green fluid that might be Satan, a frenzy of possession, murder, and other supernatural shenanigans kicks off. The devil’s plan is to summon an even worse dude, the “Anti-God,” into our plane through a mirror, and a few reflective surfaces are shattered in the attempt.

17. Snow White: A Tale Of Terror

The magic mirror in Disney’s Snow White was the progenitor, but this odd 1997 horror flick goes one better. In the reimagining of the famous fairy tale, the mirror itself is the cause of the stepmother’s homicidal impulses. Sigourney Weaver plays Claudia Hoffman, driven by jealousy of her stepdaughter Lilli to use the mirror’s dark gifts to torment and murder. In the movie’s climactic scene, Lilli stabs the mirror itself with a shard of glass, making it explode.

16. Oculus

Mike Flanagan’s Oculus revolves around a cursed mirror named the Lasser Glass, which has the ability to induce hallucinations when it’s gazed into. When the Russell family encounters it for the first time, it leads to the deaths of parents Alan and Marie. 11 years later, the surviving children must contend with the mirror’s eldritch effects as they try to prove that it killed their parents.

15. Mirror Mirror

When teenage goth Megan Gordon moves to Iowa from Los Angeles in this 1990 flick, there’s not much she likes about her new house except for a huge, ornate mirror. Bad news! There’s a demon in it, which starts messing with her bullies and, eventually, killing people. Megan rolls with it, but when her mother gets mangled in the garbage disposal she turns against her reflective friend and eventually sacrifices herself to stop it.

14. Mirrors

This 2008 horror movie gets right to it in the title. A night security guard at a burned-out department store is tormented by visions in the many mirrors still standing, but inside them is a demon that manifested when the building was a psychiatric hospital, or something. It’s a pretty huge mess but there are a lot of clever scares and reflective effects to enjoy, so it ranks decently.

13. House

This 1986 cult classic has a rep for its innovative and effective effects. When horror author Roger Cobb moves into his dead aunt’s house, he finds himself tormented by Vietnam flashbacks as well as spiritual shenanigans. One of the hubs for these events is the mirrored bathroom medicine cabinet, which Roger breaks with a footstool to reveal an infinite void full of nasties.

12. Mirrors 2

The direct-to-DVD sequel is actually better than the first film. It takes us back to the haunted department store, but this time the malevolent spirit is a young female employee who was drugged and murdered at the store’s grand opening party, and buried in the basement. Now her ghost is looking to get revenge on the men responsible in a number of pretty solid mirror kill scenes.

11. An American Werewolf In London

There are so many great scenes in this movie, but the bit where protagonist David Kessler is in the bathroom and gets the hell scared out of him when his dead friend Jack appears to him in the mirror is an all-timer. Like the rest of the film, it’s simultaneously hilarious and horrifying, as Jack’s state of decay is conveyed with tremendous Rick Baker makeup.

10. The Broken

Cracking a mirror is an omen of bad luck, especially in 2008’s The Broken. In that movie, doppelgangers identical to regular people but with the positions of their internal organs reversed enter our world through shattering reflections. They proceed to murder the originals for unknown reasons. Great paranoia vibe in this one, along with a lot of breaking glass.

9. Dead Of Night

One of the earliest films on this list, this surprisingly good 1945 horror anthology has a segment built around a cursed mirror that belonged to a cuckolded husband. The man suspected his wife of cheating on him and killed her before slitting his own throat in front of the mirror. Its new owner then became possessed by the spirit of the glass and nearly duplicated the crime before the mirror was shattered.

8. Poltergeist

Tobe Hooper’s 1982 horror classic is relentlessly innovative in the ways it torments the Freeling family and the people in their orbit. One of the most memorable scenes involves Dr. Marty Casey, an investigator called in to help figure out what’s wrong with the house. Alone at night, he stops in the kitchen for a snack and sees maggots spawning from meat. He then runs to the utility room to wash his face only to see his own flesh peeling from his face in a grisly display. It’s a sharp, effective bit.

7. Phantasm

This cult classic is best-known for the reflective metal murder balls used by the film’s antagonist the Tall Man, but it has a great evil mirror scene as well. In the movie’s coda, as our surviving hero Mike is getting ready to pack up and leave town, the presumably deceased Tall Man appears in Mike’s bedroom mirror, thrusting his hands through the glass and pulling Mike inside. It’s a great bit that perfectly fits in with the dreamlike logic of the movie.

6. Candyman

Based on a Clive Barker short story, the Candyman is a malevolent spirit that haunts Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing projects, summoned by having his name chanted five times into a mirror. The movie’s prime mirror scare comes right at the end, as Virginia Madsen’s character has her own name used to summon her for revenge.

5. The Legacy

Richard Marquand’s 1978 directorial debut is a fascinating little Gothic horror tale about a Los Angeles couple summoned to a British mansion where the decaying lord of the manor has assembled his heirs. Things aren’t quite what they seem, of course, and a spectral force starts murdering them in entertaining ways. The movie’s mirror scene is a really good one, with the reflecting glass exploding into a deadly spray of shards that impales a woman, then reassembles itself.

4. Poltergeist III

The original Poltergeist has one very good mirror scare, but the second sequel is built around reflections almost all the way through. It’s certainly not as good a movie, but the myriad uses of mirrors and surfaces to show the spirit world and the machinations of the evil Henry Kane are excellent, letting it rank higher on this list. Great practical effects by Cal Acord still look convincing today.

3. Into The Mirror

This 2003 Korean horror film was the inspiration for Mirrors, but a bunch of stuff changed along the way. A police officer traumatized from his partner’s death takes a job working security for an abandoned, fire-damaged shopping mall. While the American version of the film trades on jump scares and gore, this one is slower, more contemplative, and significantly more ambitious. Some of the coolest trick mirror shots you’ll ever see are found in this one, so hunt it down.

2. The Shining

Mirror imagery appears throughout Stanley Kubrick’s all-time horror classic. The Overlook Hotel is full of reflections, from the dead twins tormenting Danny to the mirrors in every scene where Jack interacts with the ghosts. But the most iconic scene comes when Wendy looks into her bedroom mirror to see Danny’s lipstick-scrawled “REDRUM” reversed to “MURDER” on the door.

1. Evil Dead II

The many supernatural shenanigans that plague Ash Williams across the Evil Dead franchise are too abundant to list, but one of the most iconic comes when he gazes into a mirror inside the cursed cabin and releases an evil doppelgänger of himself. Sam Raimi is a master of camera cuts and practical effects, so this low-tech scene still feels real and surprising decades later.