The mid-1980’s saw director Martin Scorsese experiencing a bit of a rough patch in terms of his career, with his attempts to branch out and experiment with his aesthetic largely falling flat. When his 1985 independent feature AFTER HOURS experienced modest success, he was able to pull out of his tailspin and right himself. In a bid to get more work under his belt, Scorsese would turn to the realm of television for the first time. That same year, Scorsese’s contemporary Steven Spielberg had launched an anthology television series called AMAZING STORIES. Over the course of the show’s short run, it would feature contributions by several key members of the Film Brat generation of filmmakers, with Scorsese in particular adapting a story by Spielberg himself that was further fashioned into a screenplay by AFTER HOURS screenwriter Joseph Minion.
Titled “MIRROR, MIRROR”, Scorsese’s episode of AMAZING STORIES finds him tackling the horror genre for the first time. Actor Sam Waterston plays Jordan Manmouth, a successful and famous horror novelist who doesn’t actually believe in any of the spooky hokum he peddles. That is, of course, until he starts seeing a mysterious black-clad phantom (played by Tim Robbins, randomly) lurking behind his reflection in the mirror. As the intensity of the phantom’s mirror appearances mount, he spirals into terror and insanity. But is the phantom really out to get him, or is it just another product of his overactive imagination?
After the goofy opening credits featuring positively prehistoric CGI, “MIRROR, MIRROR” unfolds primarily under the harsh light of day—a curious choice for an otherwise gothic tale that would be right at home among the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Due to the producer-centric model of television at the time, Scorsese doesn’t have as much creative leeway here as he does in his feature work, rendering the story instead with a straightforward, rather unremarkable look. This approach is reinforced by production designer and regular Spielberg collaborator Rick Carter’s set design, which paints Jordan’s suburban house in the hills in a modern, yet sterile white patina that feels more like a museum than a home.
“MIRROR, MIRROR” is a fairly anonymous piece of work, bearing almost no evidence of Scorsese’s hand at all except for surface things like the presence of his regular background actor Harry Northup in one scene as a security guard, or the open acknowledgment by the characters of movie culture. The appearance of Robbins’ phantom plays into this, resembling Lon Cheney’s frightening visage in the iconic Universal silent monster film, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925). As Scorsese’s first stab at the horror genre, “MIRROR, MIRROR” is a fairly effective chiller, but it doesn’t show a great deal of growth, artistically speaking. However, his participation with the medium of television would recapture the attention of Hollywood executives, who would give him the opportunity to reclaim cinematic glory before the close of the decade.
AMAZING STORIES: “MIRROR, MIRROR” is currently available via Netflix streaming.
Produced by: David E. Vogel
Executive Produced by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Joseph Minion
Director of Photography: Robert M. Stevens
Production Designer: Rick Carter
Edited by: Joe Ann Fogle
Music by: Michael Kamen