dead ringers

Christopher Golden introduces his novel DEAD RINGERS and his top five creepy mirror movies!

Posted on October 22, 2015 in Guest Author
Tags: Christopher Golden, Dead Ringers, halloween

When I sit down to write a horror novel like SNOWBLIND, THE FERRYMAN, or DEAD RINGERS, I always find myself pulling together seemingly disparate elements – things that creep me out or that I think are cool on their own, but which become more intriguing to me when collided with other details.  From the moment of its conception, DEAD RINGERS had ghosts, dead occultists, a demon in a basement, and the Raggedy Man with his blindfold and his creepy habit of sniffing at the air to catch the scent of his prey.  What I didn’t have was a title.

The title DEAD RINGERS was a placeholder, you see.  David Cronenberg had made a cult classic film about insane twin gynecologists (yes, really) with that name, and I worried that some horror fans would disapprove of my using the title.  Then I was out to dinner with Joe Hill and asked if he had any suggestions.  He’d been reading a book and come across a word he’d never encountered before—psychomanteum.  I liked it, but I liked it even more when I looked it up.  A psychomanteum is a sort of spirit box, a freestanding construct whose insides are entirely lined with mirrors, supposedly with the intent that one might perform certain occult rituals inside the box and not suffer any ill consequences.  Look it up.

I loved it.  My friends at St. Martin’s Press were not similarly enthused.  Eventually, I came to realize that they were right.  DEAD RINGERS is a much better name for a novel, particularly this novel.  But the idea of the psychomanteum was deeply embedded into my mind and thus into the novel itself, becoming the focal point of the occult elements of the story.  It all made perfect sense to me.  Doppelgangers are mirror images, of course.  And a psychomanteum is a box of mirrors.

While haunted mirrors hold a venerable place in horror fiction – and in urban legends like that of ‘Bloody Mary’ – my love of the mirror as a supernatural presence comes largely from movies.  So, without further ado…My Top Five Creepy Mirror Movies!

5) THE LEGACY (1979) – I was twelve years old when this film hit theaters, but my first exposure to it was actually the novelization written by John Coyne, one of my favorite writers at the time.  In fact, until a few minutes ago, I had no idea this was a novelization.  I’d thought it was an original of Coyne’s that had been adapted for film.  Though The Legacy isn’t centered on a mirror, the mirror in question performs a function that is creepy as hell.  When one character is admiring herself in the full-length mirror, it shatters and the pieces fly at her, stabbing her to death.  Afterward, the mirror magically reforms, perfectly innocent and perhaps awaiting another victim.  About seven years later I came up with my first ever horror novel plot idea…and quickly abandoned it when I realized it was a mash-up of The Legacy and Poltergeist, including an almost identical mirror scene.

4) PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987) –Though perhaps the least of horror legend John Carpenter’s efforts during the height of his career, I still love Prince of Darkness for all the Carpenter-ness of it.  Donald Pleasance chews the scenery, the creepy music plays, the atmosphere is claustrophobic, and Carpenter achieves an aura of evil you can really feel, which is something few filmmakers ever seen able to accomplish.  Mix theoretical physics, Satan, and a new mythology of evil’s origins…and then try to turn an old mirror into a portal to bring the Anti-God into our world…and you have a sense of what makes Prince of Darkness so confounding and yet so entertaining.  Mirror-like portals show up in my Shadow Saga novels, and paintings perform a similar function in the Baltimore comics series.

3) THE BOOGEYMAN (1980) – I won’t go so far as to say this is a great film.  It’s not.  But somehow I still count it as a forgotten gem.  During an era when slasher movies were a booming business model in Hollywood, The Boogeyman gave us something different and weird.  We’d seen haunted mirror stories on the page and screen before, but this one is truly twisted and the central conceit is clever and unsettling.  A boy murders his mother’s abusive boyfriend in front of the bedroom mirror.  His sister is a witness and helps cover it up.  Twenty years later, the dead boyfriend’s ghost has possessed the mirror and become a vengeful spirit.  Smashing the mirror not only doesn’t help, it actually makes the situation worse, as the murderous ghost can use any small shard of the broken mirror to enter our world and continue the slaughter.  Here’s a film that could stand to be remade.

2) OCULUS (2013) – Written by Mike Flanagan and Jeffrey Howard and directed by Flanagan, Oculus immediately showed itself to be a rare thing – a beautifully executed horror movie.  In the modern era of cinematic horror, where the success of micro-budget films has brought new focus and nurtured knowledgeable filmmakers, the film stood out as an exemplary part of the new wave.  Jumping back and forth between past and present, Oculus tells the story of a young couple and their two children, and the way their lives are destroyed and corrupted by the presence of an antique, haunted mirror in the house.  In the present day, the children – now grown – attempt to find a way to destroy the mirror at last.  The film achieves a palpable sense of evil and malice exuding from the mirror.  Terrific performances by the female leads, Karen Gillan and Katee Sackhoff, lend even more credibility to the malevolent atmosphere.  Many haunted mirror films and television episodes predate Oculus, but this one tops them all.

1) CANDYMAN (1992) – Based on Clive Barker’s short story ‘The Forbidden’, Candyman is a faithful adaptation and a fascinating exploration of both urban legends and classic campfire stories.  The two are just variations on the same thing, after all.  As with the ‘Bloody Mary’ story, the myth inside Candyman claims that if one were to look into the mirror and say his name five times, the vengeful ghost will appear and murder the summoner.  Though it spawned a couple of mediocre sequels, this first film, directed by the great Bernard Rose, is a thoroughly effective and unusually thought-provoking horror film.  Even hardened horror lovers will get a special chill along the spine when they try to replicate the summoning just after having seen the film.  Go on…look in the mirror and say it.  ‘Candyman.  Candyman.  Candyman…’  You know the rest.

Now go ahead.  You have your assignment for the week.  Track down all five films and have yourself a Creepy Mirror Movie marathon.  Then pick up your copy of DEAD RINGERS and give it a read.  Find out what’s inside the psychomanteum….and what’s come out.


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