Monday, April 4, 2016

Mirror Mirror (1990)

... aka: Cauchemar Miroir (Nightmare Mirror)
... aka: Reflexo do Demônio (The Demon's Reflection)

Directed by:
Marina Sargenti

Deciding to get away from Los Angeles and start a new life after he husband passes on (and because her shrink recommends it), widow Susan Gordon (Karen Black) purchases a new home in a small Midwestern town that she and her troubled teenage daughter Megan (Rainbow Harvest) promptly move into, little realizing that a murder has already taken place there. Unlike Susan, who's kooky and aloof in that very distinctive Karen Black kinda way, puts up a bubbly appearance for the world at large and dresses in bright flowery dresses and a variety of big hats and “glamorous” wigs, Megan is sullen, pale, standoffish, can't get enough black in her wardrobe and overdoes it with the dark eye shadow and lipstick. Yes, she's Goth with a capital G and, while that may fly in the big city, it makes her an easy target for ridicule in her new small town; most especially at her high school. I'm not sure what middle schools and high schools are like nowadays for kids. Hopefully some of the newer anti-bullying policies and more awareness on the subject have helped matters somewhat but if you were a teen in the 80s or 90s, especially one living in a small town, all that acting or dressing “different” got you was a target on your back.

Immediately after Megan walks into her homeroom on her very first day, the snickering and finger pointing begins. Naturally, the most popular of the bunch, well-endowed rich girl Charlene Kane (Charlie [Spradling]), turns out to be the meanest, but none of them are anywhere near as sadistic and vicious as teens seen in other outcast-strikes-back flicks like CARRIE (1976), JENNIFER (1978), Terror Train (1980), EVILSPEAK (1981) or SLAUGHTER HIGH (1986). In those movies, the cool kids were doing things like dumping pig's blood on heads, tricking nerds into beds with naked corpses, taking incriminating nude photos and trying to get their unpopular targets raped, kidnapped or even killed. You know, things cruel enough to conceivably make one snap. In this one, they laugh, whisper and say the occasional rude, bitchy thing but keep their hands to themselves. Megan is lucky enough to find an ally in Nikki (Kristin Dattilo) right away, who befriends her on her first day of school, helps protect her and even gets her boyfriend Ron (Ricky Paull Goldin) to at least tolerate her. Not only that, but Charlene's good-looking jock boyfriend Jeff (Tom Bresnahan) finds himself attracted to her. In other words, she's hardly in a Carrie White type of situation. Still, some of her peers are decidedly not nice and manage to get on Megan's bad side. Luckily for her, a helpful little gift was left behind from the previous tenants (one rumored to be a witch): an antique mirror that has the ability to grant wishes. Only these wishes come with a nasty kick since the mirror is actually a portal to “the other side” where demons dwell.

Megan first learns of the mirror's power when she wishes her deceased father was still around. He shows up later that night in her bedroom, only in corpse form, and she quickly wishes him away. Because she asked it for something, the mirror then begins working its magic and takes it upon itself to start acting out Megan's innermost desires (whether she really wants it or not); eventually taking possession of her. The mirror bleeds and fester with flies, gives Charlene a nasty nose bleed and makes a science teach (Stephen Tobolowsky) have an asthma attack so bad he has to be hauled off on a stretcher. And then people start dying. All the while, Megan builds up enough self-confidence to be a bit more assertive and starts dressing sexier. Elsewhere, antique dealer Emelin (Yvonne De Carlo), who's in charge of sorting through the belongings from the old house, stumbles upon a diary from the previous tenant which talks about the mirror and its powers. She then studies up on her demonology and comes to the conclusion that she has to try to find a way to get it back again, even if that means breaking into the house and stealing it.

There's a decent amount of blood and gore to help offset just how derivative the whole thing is, including a stabbing, death by flying shards of glass, clawed demon hands emerging from the mirror to make someone's head a bloody mess, a lip getting bitten off and maggots festering in a chicken wing to ruin pet cemetery owner William Sanderson's din-din. The two most memorable bits are Black painting the kitchen red when her hand gets stuck in a garbage disposal and the voluptuous Spradling providing some nice nudity before getting hot steamed in the locker room shower. There's the occasional bit of strange humor (some of which is actually amusing) and clever POV shots from inside the mirror looking out, which utilize a blue hue and distorted sound. This also boasts above average performances from most of the cast. Black is her usual scene-stealing self as the quirky yet self-absorbed mom, De Carlo contributes a nice character bit and nearly all of the younger actors are good, most especially the extremely likable Dattilo as the fun, non-judgmental nice girl that pretty much anyone would want as a friend. Well except for Megan, who can't seem to appreciate much of anything. Speaking of Megan, I do have one major complaint about this one and that's with the casting and scripting of this all-important central role...

While Harvest isn't completely terrible in the part, what she does here could best be described as flat and uninspired. Though the script doesn't do her any favors, her character is almost completely devoid of personality. She's neither interesting nor sympathetic. She's just kind of there looking a bit bored. One gets the feeling that the petite, wide-eyed actress was cast simply because she resembles Winona Ryder, who just played a Goth teen in the horror-comedy hit Beetlejuice (1988). The hair and wardrobe people even style her exactly like Lydia Deetz. The difference? Well, Lydia is good-hearted, drolly funny, clever and likable behind her morbid facade while Megan is pretty much the polar opposite of all that. It's also difficult to get behind the character's “revenge” when she's befriended by a very cool chick her first day of school, gets the attention of the hottest guy there and has a mother who's actually interested in improving their relationship, not to mention the fact that the worst thing the bullies can come up with to do to her is organize a “Dress Like Megan” day and come to school all Gothed out. Lydia would have found that amusing.

The original VHS release from Academy came with a holographic cover featuring the mirror demon reaching its hands out with a tilt of the box.

Filmed in the summer of 1989, this received a limited theatrical release in 1990 from New City Releasing before being ushered out onto home video in 1991. Director Sargenti, formerly a music producer and a director of music videos and commercials, went on to make the TV movie Child of Darkness, Child of Light (1991), which also featured Dattilo. Producer Jimmy Lifton composed the score and went on to direct, produce, write and score the first of three sequels: Mirror Mirror 2: Raven Dance (1993). He also produced Mirror Mirror III: The Voyeur (1995), co-directed by Virginia Perfili (who appears here as a teacher) and Rachel Gordon and Mirror Mirror IV: Reflection (2000), directed by his wife, Paulette Victor. All four titles were bundled together for a DVD release through Starz / Anchor Bay.

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