11 Horror Movie Cliches, And How They Can Be Done Right
The Mirror Scare
THE GOOD: When it comes to this classic, though overused, horror trope, it's hard to find a better positive example of its use than in Don Coscarelli's 1979 cult classic Phantasm. Featured in the very last scene of the movie, as Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) enters his room thinking that his experience with the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) was all a dream, he is startled when he closes his bedroom closet door only to see the villain's visage in the mirror. After a moment of total shock, the Tall Man growls "Boy!" and an alien dwarf pulls the protagonist through the mirror, presumably to die.
THE BAD: While the mirror scare can be an effective tool, what ruins it is when filmmakers use it to just send a quick jolt up the audience's spine. A perfect instance of this cheap version can be found in Jaume Collet-Serra's 2009 movie Orphan. Like many of the worst examples of the cliche, it begins with a woman (in this case Vera Farmiga) looking at into her bathroom cabinet's mirror. Upon closing the door, suddenly her loved one (in this case Peter Sarsgaard) appears over her shoulder, only to apologize for scaring her (perhaps they should be apologizing to us for using such a cut-rate gag).
WHAT WE'VE LEARNED: A proper mirror scare needs commitment on the part of the story and the direction - a slow build and a great set up can lead to wonderful results.
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