Mirrors, the Ghostly Portals to the Other Side

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Horror Mystery and Lore Scary Movies and Series
Don't stare into the mirror, or your soul will be taken
Photography by Autoestima Cidada

Mirrors are thought to be portals to another world—some believe this is another dimension, but those who believe in ghosts believe it is a portal to the other side. Many cultures still hold on to their superstitions that exist concerning mirrors, ghosts, souls, and death. In cultures that are still considered primitive by some, there is the belief that mirrors reflect the soul and that they must be avoided in order to prevent the soul from being lost—not unlike the belief that taking photographs of a person will also capture their soul. Russian folklore dictates that mirrors are an invention of the Devil due to their ability to draw the soul out of the body. This also makes sense that there are superstitions that are still held within some places of the world that all shiny and reflective surfaces, mirror or otherwise, must be covered in a house after a death. Their belief requires covering mirrors after death to prevent souls from the living being taken by those who have recently departed the mortal plane. Depending on the lore of the culture, the mirrors may actually be covered for a variety of reasons—it could be a corpse looking back at you over your shoulder, at which time the soul of the dead will have no rest.

It is incredibly unlucky for those who are ill to see their reflections, it puts them at risk of dying, so cultures that believe the soul is vulnerable during times of illness often remove the mirror entirely from where the sick person is residing. More bad luck comes when looking into a mirror in a dark room by candlelight, during which event the observer will see ghosts, the Devil or other paranormal phenomena, such as Bloody Mary. Aside from the bad luck associated with staring into mirrors that seem to be widespread within many cultures, there is also the ancient cultural relevance that should be mentioned. In Greek myth, the tale of Narcissus warns against becoming so entranced with his own reflected image in a pond that he fell into the water and drowned—then again, the Greeks believed that even dreaming of your own reflection was an omen that foretold death. Suffice it to say that there is a lot of nasty lore when it comes to mirrors and this article can only explore a few of them.

The Myrtles Plantation: The Most Haunted House in the World

The folklore of mirrors isn’t just some abstract idea that appears in stories, there are actually ghost stories about places where it is reported that haunted mirrors are still on view to the public. In St. Francisville, Louisiana, the Myrtles Plantation plays host to several apparitions, most notably the spirits of Sara Woodruff and her two children, which were allegedly poisoned by a slave named Chloe—she apparently had an affair with Sara’s husband and committed this crime of passion against his family. These spirits appear in a mirror that hangs in the location of the original mirror, which over the years has had to be replaced several times, it’s said that Sara’s face, children’s fingerprints, and claw marks appear within the reflection of the mirror. The mirror was not covered during the wake that followed their deaths, a practice during the 19th century in the Southern United States, not following the tradition therefore trapped their souls within the home, where they can only appear as reflections.

The Truth Behind the Bloody Mary Legend

Bloody Mary, the haunting presence that inspired the movie Candyman (1992)–set to be remade and released in 2020–is based on the legend of a woman who appears in a mirror after being summoned. The origin of Bloody Mary varies widely, the most popular of versions is that of Mary Worth, a witch executed during the Salem Witch Trials. Other versions claim she was a hitchhiker who was badly mutilated and then died following a dreadful car crash, while still others suggest she was a child murderer—this particular version can’t be sure whether she just murdered children in general or if it was her own child. Finally, another famous variation suggests that Bloody Mary was actually royalty, but there tends to be another disagreement on which royal Mary she happened to be. Was she Mary Tudor, Queen of France, or Mary I, the first Queen Regnant of England? Regardless of the origin of the story, it remains a popular game among teens and preteens during slumber parties, which shows how ingrained paranormal superstition is within western societies.

These games also have variations, as is the case when the tradition is passed on orally, but whether her name is chanted three times or thirteen times, the room must be darkened, with backlighting by candles or flashlights. Will Bloody Mary tell you who your future spouse is, how many children you’ll have, or if you’ll die before marriage? If you’re brave enough to find out, you’ll face the possibility of being killed, driven insane, or being taken by the mirror.

The haunted mirror of Oculus and the victims it claims
Oculus (2013)

Films that are based on Bloody Mary

Haunted Mirrors in the Movies

The Lasser Glass and Oculus (2013)

Night of the Living Dead: Social Commentary in Horror Cinema

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Featured Lifestyle Scary Movies and Series

Night of the Living Dead (1968) was hardly the first zombie film—in fact, it was the fortieth, for those of you who like useless trivia facts—but it is possibly the most memorable of the older zombie classics. It’s not hard to see why it has persisted for the last fifty-three years, enduring beyond the renown of such modern zombie sensations, such as The Walking Dead (2010 – Present) and Train to Busan/Busanhaeng (2016). What most modern films and television shows of the horror genre seem to gloss over is their captive audience. Therein lies the opportunity for commentary on the civil rights issues that are still incredibly relevant in the present day.

One notable exception to missed opportunities for commentary being Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017)—but we can get to that one later. For now, we’ll just focus on the message of Night of the Living Dead. As Tom Gunning explained in his essay, “confrontation rules the cinema of attractions in both the form of its films and their mode of exhibition. The directness of this act of display allows an emphasis on the thrill itself—the immediate reaction of the viewer,” (“An Aesthetic of Astonishment”, 122)—this thrill that we get from controversial messages and images on display within films is one of the main reasons we watch horror. Excitement is king.

They’re coming to get you, Barbara!

Johnny in Night of the Living Dead (1968)
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A line of undead ‘zombies’ walk through a field in the night

What is Night of the Living Dead about?

At face value, this movie is just a story about survivors of a zombie apocalypse stumbling upon one another, clashing personalities, and finally a begrudging combining of forces to fend off the zombie hoard that surrounds the farmhouse that they each found and decided to hunker down in for safety. One by one, these survivors each ends up dying, until we see the last man standing—Ben, emerged cautiously from his secure space in the cellar of the farmhouse to find that police and other volunteers were roaming around, killing the zombies, and reclaiming their land for the safety of the living.

Unfortunately for Ben, these rescuers are less focused on finding survivors and more focused on mindlessly putting down anything they find that moves. While that might simply be interpreted as bad luck for our main character, Romero’s decision for this ending was actually fairly controversial considering the time in which it had been created. Now you might be asking yourself, where does the conversation of civil rights factor into this? Well, buckle up, buttercup—we’re just getting started.

Night of the Living Dead (1968) Movie Poster
Night of the Living Dead (1968) Movie Poster

Controversial Social Commentary

“Curiositas draws the viewer towards unbeautiful sights, such as a mangled corpse, and ‘because of this disease of curiosity monsters and anything out of the ordinary are put on show in our theatres,’” (Gunning, 124). Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) gives us these “unbeautiful sights” in spades. Consider the special effects that were available to directors at that time—the glimpses of a woman with her face eaten off at the top of the stairs and zombies ripping flesh off of bones after an unfortunate accidental explosion of the getaway vehicle were the literal encapsulation of this concept. The intangible concepts within this film are the reflections of society and how little progress has been made since 1968.

Ben giving Barbara slippers in Night of the Living Dead
Ben giving Barbara slippers

Freud pinpoints the appeal of the horror story. He begins by discussing the etymological root of the word “uncanny” in German, a word long associated with the horror genre, demonstrating how both the word and its opposite are very close in definition and usage… ‘it may be true that the uncanny [unheimlich] is something which is secretly familiar [heimlich-heimlisch], which has undergone repression and returned from it, and that everything is uncanny fulfills this condition.’ … Freud … hit upon the key to understanding the core of the horror genre. Horror is dissimilar from much of [the] science fiction genre in which the threatening ‘monster’ (often created because of the interference of science or technology)—whether it be alien, atomic mutant, or cyborg—is portrayed as the Other which must be destroyed or controlled by science, often in conjunction with the military/industrial complex, in order to save humanity. Horror tends rather to concentrate on another type of ‘Other,’ an ‘Other’ which is very familiar and because of that much more frightening, an ‘Other’ which is rooted in our psyche, in our fears and obsessions.

James Ursini, pg. 4 of the Introduction in The Horror Film Reader

The Civil Rights Movement

From 1954 to 1968 the Civil Rights Movement empowered Black Americans and their like-minded allies. They battled against systemic racism (or institutionalized racial discrimination), disenfranchisement, and racial segregation within the United States. The brave efforts of civil rights activists and innumerable protesters brought meaningful change to the US, through changes in legislation; these changes ended segregation, voter suppression for Black Americans, as well as discriminatory employment and housing practices.

The Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

There were tragic consequences for two of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. With the assassination of Malcolm X on February 21, 1965, and the subsequent assassination of Civil Rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968. Each of these losses to the movements provoked an emotionally-charged response; looting and riots put even more pressure on President Johnson to push through civil rights laws that still sat undecided.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968

The Fair Housing Act became law on April 11, 1968. It came just days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.; too little too late, but it prevented housing discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, and religion. It was also the last piece of legislation that was made into law during the civil rights era.

Casting a Black Actor in a Non-Ethnic Role

The way the lead character Ben was written originally with Rudy Ricci. Surprisingly, however, when 31-year-old African American actor Duane Jones auditioned for the part, the decision to cast him was unanimous. Even Rudy Ricci was on board with the change in plans, stating that, “Hey, this [was] the guy that should be Ben.”

Duane Jones—the Anti-Ben

Romero recalled that Jones had been the best option when it came to casting the part of Ben, and remarked that, “if there was a film with a black actor in it, it usually had a racial theme.” He even saw fit to mention that he resisted writing new dialogue for the part just because they had cast a black lead. It was assumed that Jones was the first black actor to be cast in a non-ethnic-specific starring role, but that barrier was broken by Sidney Poitier in 1965.

Interestingly enough, the role of Ben was supposed to be a gruff, crude, yet resourceful trucker. His essence was that of an uneducated or lower class person. On the other hand, Jones happened to be very well-educated, with fluency in several languages, obtained a B.A. at the University of Pittsburgh, and an M.A. at NYU. Jones was the one who flipped the script, improvising through the dialogue to portray his interpretation of Ben as a well-spoken, educated, and capable character. Therefore, as originally written, white Ben was a stereotype whereas Jones turned the character into the antithesis of a stereotypical black ben.

So why was Night of the Living Dead so controversial?

Even though Ben is the protagonist, he was never meant to be the hero—in fact, Ben was supposed to represent just an everyday Joe, who “simply reacted to an irrational situation with strong survival instincts and a competence that, though far from infallible, surpassed that of his five adult companions trapped in that zombie-besieged farmhouse,” (Kane). What we would expect in terms of racially heated arguments, we only witness the palpable tension that displays what goes unsaid. What also may not occur to modern viewers as being controversial, is the portrayal of a black man and a white woman being locked up alone in a house together. Segregation may have begun over a decade prior, but racism doesn’t die overnight just because laws are changed.

The “Final Guy”

The tragic ending of Night of the Living Dead was a commentary on real injustices that were happening at the time, as well as a foreshadowing of an issue that has doggedly limped into the systemic racism of the twenty-first century. The world was facing its end of days. The threat of the undead rising from their graves and feeding off of the living was enough to pull everyone together to stay alive—but racism was still alive and well. Unlike most of his African-American male successors of horror, Ben does not fall victim to the black character stereotype by being the first character to die. Ben makes it to the end—the so-called “final” guy—he was able to save himself when the house was overrun by the living dead. Then, after all of his hardship, he ends up dying at the hands of the gun-toting police officers.

Ben was wielding a gun, he was clearly not a revenant, and the sharpshooter who put one between Ben’s eyes could very obviously see this—his death affected not a soul in that situation, his life in plain language was unworthy of continuing in the eyes of the men who were supposed to serve and protect the living, who instead of seeing a human being, perceived a threat. The ending that Romero’s film allowed to linger in the minds of the audience was controversial because it made people think. It made them look at the social and political issues that were washing over the United States all around them; Romero delivered in that two minutes ending, a message that was unforgettable. It has thusly endured through the culture of horror and has continued to inspire modern horror cinema.

Final Thoughts

If classical Hollywood style is posited as the norm, then filmmaking practices that deviate from it risk becoming seen as “primitive” (such as early cinema) or “excessive” (such as genres where spectacle often seems to trump narrative, including musicals and horror films).

Adam Lowenstein, “Living Dead: Fearful Attractions of Film”

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Interested in watching the full film now that you’ve read this article? Well, you’re in luck—this film is now in the public domain and can be watched online for free.

Work Cited

Gunning, Tom. “An Aesthetic of Astonishment: Early Film and the (In)Credulous Spectator.” Viewing Positions: Ways of Seeing Film, by Linda Williams, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ, 1995, pp. 114–133.

Lowenstein, Adam. “Living Dead: Fearful Attractions of Film.” Representations, vol. 110, no. 1, 2010, pp. 105–128. JSTOR. Accessed 19 Jan. 2021.

Kane, Joe. “How Casting a Black Actor Changed ‘Night of the Living Dead’.” TheWrap, 1 Sept. 2010.

Harper, Stephen. “Bright Lights Film Journal: Night of the Living Dead.” Bright Lights Film Journal | Night of the Living Dead.

Ursini, James, and Curtis Harrington. “Introduction/Ghoulies and Ghosties.” The Horror Film Reader, by Alain Silver, Limelight Ed., 2006, pp. 3–19.

The Real Annabelle and Other Truly Haunted Dolls

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Horror Mystery and Lore
Close up view of a creepy dirty porcelain doll
Photography by Patrick Hendry

Any object can be haunted, but perhaps due to the fact that dolls are physically modeled to bear a resemblance to human beings, they have more of a proclivity to be vessels of spirit possession. According to Ghosts in Popular Culture and Legend, “haunted dolls are either possessed by malign, nonhuman entities or earthbound spirits—who are usually female—either children who died as a result of a horrific accident or women who are the victims of domestic violence. In both instances, prospective buyers are cautioned to treat the dolls with respect and to rehome them with another buyer if the object becomes too much to handle; destruction would free the spirit and either cause it distress or make it more dangerous.”

The Real Annabelle doll locked up in the Warren Occult Museum
Artwork by Mary Farnstrom

An exception to the gender stereotype that plagues the haunted doll theory, is Robert the Enchanted Doll. This particular doll has been located in Key West, Florida since 1904 and is still on display in the Fort East Martello Museum. The original owner of Robert was a four-year-old boy named Robert Eugene Otto—Gene to his family—the doll was given to him by the family’s maid and activity started immediately after Gene came into possession of the doll. While the doll’s name is Robert, little is known about the spirit that haunts the doll, all is known are the stories that are told about its activity. During Gene’s childhood, Robert was frequently blamed for items being scattered across the home, as well as upturned furniture. As an adult, Gene maintained ownership of the doll, but knowing what it was capable of, he locked it in the turret of his home, where neighborhood children said they saw it staring at them from the windows, often changing places on its own.

It’s unclear as to why people still insist upon wanting to own spirit-possessed dolls, but what is clear is that it’s sure to be a trend that continues on for quite a while. One possible reason why these things continue to be items that are sought after is that there are a lot of would-be paranormal investigators who have little to no experience dealing with spirits in the first place. They get the idea that they can collect evidence and make it big if they come into ownership of a doll, simultaneously proving the existence of ghosts and the dolls they haunt, as well as making a name for themselves. Whatever their motivation, it feels like they lack the guidance to understand what they are getting themselves into and therefore are making decisions without knowing the full risks of their endeavors.

Annabelle the Doll: The Origins Documentary

The True Horror Story Behind Annabelle

Annabelle (2014) Trailer

Haunted dolls are considered a commodity in today’s culture, due to popular horror culture making them popular with horror films like The Conjuring (2013), Annabelle (2014), Annabelle: Creation (2017), and the most recent horror movie Annabelle Comes Home (2019). People enjoy the fictional horror stories so intensely that they feel a connection to haunted objects without realizing the perils that can be attached to them. The story behind The Conjuring and Annabelle franchise though is actually more real than many people realize—sure the movies are amped up to create the thrills and adrenaline rush that people so desire, but these movies were based on true accounts of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.

Annabelle: Creation (2017) Trailer

The Warren’s Museum of the Occult contains more haunted and cursed objects than any other museum presently known, which serves as evidence of the paranormal and supernatural forces that are at work within this world. Although I have never been to the museum myself, it is said that the collection is dominated by dolls that are haunted or inhabited by evil spirits—the most well-known of which is actually the real Annabelle doll. There is a rather long and convoluted history about the doll and its origin, which is further convoluted by the fictional embellishments added to the movies.

Annabelle Comes Home (2019) Trailer

What has been alleged is that the doll’s original owner consulted a medium who said the doll was actually inhabited by an evil spirit and not a ghost at all—which is when the Warrens took possession of it, had it exorcised, then locked it in a blessed cabinet to ward off any potential activity from starting at their own house. The whole story is spoken of in-depth in the book The Demonologist: The Extraordinary Career of Ed and Lorraine Warren. The real Annabelle is quite a bit different from her presence in the films, where she is portrayed as a fragile, yet incredibly creepy porcelain doll with exaggerated features. In reality, she is what seems to be a run of the mill Raggedy Ann doll, the same type that many of us girls owned as children, something that would seem soft, safe, and cuddly.

Dolls like Robert and Annabelle remain objects of scary stories and fascination for a lot of people across the world and while the idea of them definitely belongs to the public, the dolls belong in a place where they can be properly warded and kept away from unsuspecting bystanders.

Why the Dead Come Back to Haunt Us

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Horror Mystery and Lore

A common question on the minds of those who believe in ghosts, is what causes a dead person to reappear as a ghost? Unfortunately, this topic isn’t as well researched as the topic of whether or not ghosts actually exist, so there is no real scientific data to back it up—but there is plenty of folklore and a bounty of ghost culture to draw appropriate conclusions from. If you have friends like mine, you’ve likely heard the words, “if I die, I’m coming back to haunt you!” This is largely due to the extensive amount of lore that exists about ghosts and what may have caused the deceased person to turn into a ghost after passing. There are reasons that are not quantifiable by science that cause the spirit to linger after death, whether it be justice or revenge—as was displayed in The Tale of the Red Skeleton, as well as The Ghost’s Tea Kettle, the ghost usually has a reason to come back—soul-consuming grief or simply unfinished business that needs to be attended to, or settled before they can rest.

Common Apparitions That Haunt the Living

These are, of course, assumptions based on select ghost sightings, most of these sightings are ones that can be considered common, where the history corroborates any reason for the ghost to be there at all.

The White Lady

The White Lady walking through the forest
Photography by Chirobocea

As can be assumed by their moniker, a White Lady or Lady in White is a female ghost, whose apparition is always fully clothed in white. Her appearance is always associated with a local tragic legend and she appears in areas that used to be either rural or continue to be rural. The White Lady apparitions are found across the world and are especially prominent in English-speaking countries, or places where there used to be a large English-speaking community. The appearance of one of these spirits follows the history of a woman committing suicide after the heartbreak of losing a child, husband, or father—with a heavy emphasis of innocence on the part of the woman who ends up becoming the White Lady. It is theorized by ghost hunters and enthusiasts alike, that the appearance of these spirits is due to a lingering connection to the world of the living, even after death, due to the magnitude of the grief that they experienced just prior to their deaths.

The Lady in Red

The Red Lady standing alone in a room
Photography by Vladimir Fedotov

In what would appear to be direct opposition to the White Lady, the Red Lady is also a female ghost, but her sightings are attributed to a woman that was not quite as chaste. The Red Lady or Lady in Red is always associated with a woman who displayed vanity in life, a prostitute that was the victim of passion gone wrong, or a jilted lover. Not unlike the White Lady, the Red Lady is found worldwide. She does haunt different types of locations though; places that have historic value, such as old hotels, theatres, and other public venues. There is a particularly large concentration of them that are located in old mining communities, due to the commonality of brothels being such a booming business. It is important to note that in the case of this kind of apparition, the woman is wearing a red dress and is commonly thought of as a victim of objectification. Despite her poor treatment in life, she is never really described as a hostile spirit, but may not be overly friendly all the time.

The Witte Wieven

Witte Wieven amassing as fog on a hill
Photography by Ricardo Angel Gomez

The folklore of the Witte Wieven dates back to the pre-Christian era of what is now known as the Netherlands, Belgium, and France—they are the spirits of wise women, who in life were the highly regarded female herbalists and healers, who cared for the physical and mental ailments of their people. Much like the White Lady, the Witte Wieven is said to appear as a pure white apparition, but instead of a clear figure, she is more of a fog or a mist the engulfs the entirety of the location she appears in. More often than not, when the Witte Wieven is mentioned in the text, it is often cited that they were known for their ability of prophecy and generally looking into the future. These women held such a high status that upon their deaths, a celebration would be held at their burial site in their honor. With the trend of other spirits lingering on due to some type of woe, or unfinished business, it might seem strange that the Witte Wieven, according to their mythology, remain on the earthly plane in order to help and sometimes hinder those who encounter them at their gravesites and other sacred locations.

What Haunts the Dead?

It’s not quite clear if there is always a reason for a spirit to remain behind, as the spirits mentioned above are just common cases that have been reported and can easily be tracked by their notoriety. It’s important to keep an open mind to the idea that there may be another reason why these spirits are unable to move on—but with the limited information that is available on the where, why, and how of spirits and their manifestations, it is commonly believed that these spirits are equally haunted by the living as the living are haunted by the dead.