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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.
Not the same as Mirror Monster, which is where the scary thing is part of or only visible in the mirror.
Anime and Manga
- 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 — 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.
- Used twice in the original The Haunting.
- 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.
- 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!!!! Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.
- 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.
- 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. Jekyl 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 1999.
- Used in a moment of self-parody in Targets when Boris Karloff's elderly horror actor is startled by his own reflection.
- 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 13 th 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 8, or slamming a girl's face into the mirror in part 6.
- Milked subversion at the beginning of Friday the 13th (film): 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. As seen here.
- Michael Myers has fun with this trope, especially in Halloween: H20. 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.
- 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.
- Used by Freddy Krueger in Freddy vs. Jason in Mark's nightmare.
- 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.
- Inverted in G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown 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 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.
- 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
- 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 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.
- 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.
- The final verse of "Recognize" by Better Than Ezra:
Just before I hit the ground, I woke up in my bed.
- Used in Fahrenheit (2005 video game), though it's only the main character's mind playing tricks on him.
- The mirror room in Silent Hill 3. First blood vessels start coming out of the sink in the mirror and covering the mirror image and your reflection. Then the room itself gets covered in blood and starts draining your health. The door also locks, so you think you're permanently trapped, but you can leave once your reflection stops moving.
- The first time you look at the bathroom mirror in Doom 3.
- Several in The Seventh Guest, including the Monster Clown in the bedroom mirror, and the literal Tomato in the Mirror scene in the attic near the end.
- In Catherine if you go wash your face in the bathroom of Stray Sheep before going home, the lights will flicker, the walls will drip with blood and there will be a brief flash of th
- In Ib, Ib and Garry find themselves in a room at one point where the only thing they can do is to look into a mirror some distance from the door. Doing so reveals nothing scary, but when they turn around they find a mannequin head blocking the door. Trying to move the mannequin head doesn't do any good, so Ib and Garry have no choice but to look into the mirror again and see the mannequin head looking right over Garry's shoulder.
- There's a whole category of Creepypasta regarding mirrors.
- And now a Supercut with scenes from 36 films: YouTube Video blog post
- 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 Super Villain 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.
- During the Riff Trax show of House on Haunted Hill, guest riffer and stand-up comedian Paul F. Tompkins talked about this trope. He said it wouldn't work in his bathroom because the bathroom is so small, the monster would have to excuse himself to get behind him.
- Parodied in this Sprint advertisement http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_QPAMLsSsU
- This Burger King commercial
- 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.