Maybe it was the strange IMDB review Of BURNED AT THE STAKE I read yesterday or, perhaps, a recent article I read on women in horror films (I’ll link to it below), but today I felt compelled to share a horror film that is “female centered,” so to speak.
Actually, my own reading of horror films, including those that seem to directly address issues related to gender, is resistant to this kind of labeling. I tend to think that the horror genre, by nature, pushes the boundaries of gender norms or even transgresses them. “Female” and “male” are usually far from centered. Such concepts are often marginalized and expelled to the border of horror’s psychological narratives (being displaced by reversals and hermaphroditic monstrousness). Of course gender norms are depicted and exploited in horror movies, but they tend to subvert themselves within horror conventions that collapse the “male demonic” and the “female demonic” within each other. In most slashers even the killer and “his” victims could be interpreted as part of one identity: the male audience is free to identify with female victims and the female audience is free to identify with male victimizers (while the very dynamic of “victim vs. victimizer,” including its gendered representation, is often called into question.)
Although the conventions of the horror genre cannot be said to specifically reflect an exclusively “male” or “female” imagination (any more than any other aesthetic convention), it should still be noted that most horror films are primarily conceived of and created by men (as are most movies). So, when I refer to MIRROR, MIRROR as a “female centered” horror movie, I mean that its conception and execution (writing, production, direction, acting, and so on) were, to a notable degree, the responsibility of women.
And what women! Karen Black (the queen of Kindertrauma) and Yvonne DeCarlo are up front and camping it up. Karen Black, in particular, is obviously having a gay old time switching wigs in almost every scene she appears in and the unfortunately named Rainbow Harvest is excellent in the lead as a shy, gothy teenage girl with shades of Wynona Ryder. MIRROR, MIRROR is often described as a cross between HEATHERS and CARRIE and, in truth, there’s nothing particularly unique about the plot. It’s the execution, including the opportunity for all these actresses to shine, that makes it worth watching.
So could MIRROR, MIRROR be described as rare or weird in the manner of most films I post? Well, not if you judge it by content, critical reception, or availability. Entertainment Weekly gave it good reviews upon its release and I remember it playing regularly on cable. It spawned several (mostly awful) sequels and not too long ago a MIRROR, MIRROR box set was released with the entire series in a novelty package. At the same time I have a feeling this film may have been overlooked by many serious genre fans. I, for one, generally changed the channel when it appeared on cable and, as cable channels began to limit themselves to more contemporary movies, an airing became more and more rare. In many ways it appeared “mediocre” compared to similar films that came later (like THE CRAFT) because its visual aesthetic was not overtly striving for attention getting originality. This leads to me suspect MIRROR, MIRROR has been unfairly dismissed by more than one horror fan who should be giving it a second look.
Oh, yah…this is the second horror movie I’ve posted this month with a character played by the dude who played Larry (“this is my brother Darryl and my other brother Darryl”) from Newhart. I love you, Larry…
Article from The Guardian on women in horror: