That One Time Scorsese Went Full Horror

Dustin Waters
Dustin Waters is a writer from Macon, Ga, currently living in D.C. After years as a beat reporter in the Lowcountry, he now focuses his time on historical oddities, trashy movies, and the merits of professional wrestling.

Despite his diverse catalog of films, Martin Scorsese has never veered into directing a full-on feature-length work of horror. But that doesn’t mean the Killers of the Flower Moon director hasn’t dipped his toes into the genre in the past. 

In 1986, Scorsese directed an episode of Amazing Stories, the anthology series helmed by Steven Spielberg. The story for the episode, “Mirror, Mirror,” was created by Spielberg, who apparently decided to call in a favor from Scorsese, who released The Color of Money that same year. Throughout the episode, we see Scorsese pay homage to horror directors of the past, which isn’t much of a surprise considering his appreciation and breadth of knowledge about film history. 

The episode stars Sam Waterston as Jordan Manmouth, a horror writer who takes a bit of pleasure in the offensive nature of the films based off his works. During an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show, Manmouth states, “Well, I think the whole point of this work is to disturb and excite people.”

Manmouth is in the grips of a publicity tour. He’s worn down and tired of the endless self-promotion. It’s not too difficult to pick apart the subtext there from Spielberg and Scorsese. 

In keeping with the episode’s title, Scorsese films his lead in extended mirror shots. You find yourself wondering if you’re seeing the real thing or merely a reflection. I see what you are doing there, Martin Scorsese. You may be new to this TV thing, but I think you’ll do alright. 

After a relaxing soak in his tub, Manmouth looks in his bathroom mirror and sees what appears to be a burglar breaking in through a window. He turns in a panic to find nothing. Interesting side note: the attacker was apparently played by Tim Robbins. This was the same year that the Shawshank Redemption star appeared in Top Gun and Howard the Duck. I have no takeaways from this. It is just a statement of facts I felt important to share.

The tall dark specter who continues to appear in the mirrors proves simplistic, yet frightening in the classic boogeyman sense of the word. Waterson calls his lover, Karen, to come over, but he only gets her answering machine message. Again an imitation, a reflection of the real thing. 

At this point in the episode, Scorsese begins to incorporate some red stylized lighting, similar to what he used in the opening of Goodfellas four years later and what you’d find in Italian Giallo horror films, like Dario Argento’s Suspiria from 1977. 

Manmouth continues to see the intruder lurking behind him in reflections. He calls the police, but is again met with a recorded message, this time informing him that all the lines are busy. 

Manmouth eventually falls asleep. As he awakes, we see Scorsese recreate a famous shot from Hitchcock’s Psycho — the camera slowly pulling away from a close-up shot of an eye. Marty seems to be having some fun with this. You love to see it. 

Manmouth continues to spiral out of control. In the reflection of a security guard’s sunglasses, he spots the man in black trying to strangle him. This causes him to lash out at the guard and earn himself a brief stay in lockup. The scene concludes with this shot, which is just fantastic. 

Karen bails Manmouth out of jail and the two return to his home. Together they walk from mirror to mirror in hopes of overcoming his delusions. Still, the man in black appears. 

In an effort to preserve her friend’s sanity, Karen covers all the reflective surfaces. Unfortunately, a pushy entertainment news crew forces their way into the home and begins filming an interview. Manmouth again lashes out at the man only he can see. 

Scorsese lends a lot of screen time to the psychological toll these visions are taking on his main character. Waterston leans into just how pathetic Manmouth has become, unable to even look himself in the mirror. Karen is the real hero of this piece. She removes all the mirrors from Manmouth’s home, gives him some sedatives, and even climbs into bed wearing a tight-fitting pencil skirt to comfort her manic beau until he falls asleep. 

Unfortunately, Manmouth gazes into his love’s eyes only to see the man in black finally stretch a garrote across his throat. Manmouth wrestles for a moment before transforming into the disfigured man in black and leaping from a nearby window. 

The ending is reminiscent of the conclusion of The Exorcist, which sees Father Karras possessed by a demon before hurling himself down those infamous Georgetown stairs. I like that Scorsese was able to pack so many homages to classic horror cinema into a single 30-minute episode of television. “Mirror, Mirror” isn’t anything elaborate or deep, but it’s always nice to see a brisk slice of horror masterfully told.  

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