Dir. Douglas Hayes, 1961
Note: I have an hour long bus commute to and from campus this semester and I’ve found that I can usually read for about 20 minutes before I get car sick. In an attempt to find something else to pass the remainder of the time I’ve started to watch some episodes of classic anthology series for the rest of the time. Each Friday, I’ll post a review of a classic episode from a fantastic (horror/sci-fi) anthology.
As a kid, I had a vivid nightmare about a mirror. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. Mirrors tend to be up there with dolls, clowns, and closets on the top 10 list for nightmare fodder. Mirrors have also been a staple of film and TV horror (from a segment in Dead of Night to the American remake of one of the weaker J-horror films), in part because they are metaphors for understanding how we use and interact with these visual media forms. These can be psychological (like Lacan), spiritualist (cf. the work of Jeffrey Sconce), or a mixture of both (Charlie Booker’s Black Mirror or the Arcade Fire song it was named after). I watched this episode on my own black mirror, on my 8″tablet on a bus ride most of the time seeing my own reflection. Mirrors, traditional or technological, are what we look into to see ourselves (for Booker this usually results in terminal narcissism, but in the occult practice of catoptromancy looking into a mirror is a way to obtain supernatural guidance).
“The Hungry Glass” (written by horror legend Robert Bloch) is about a young couple, Gil and Marcia, who have recently purchased a gorgeous, old home by the sea. The locals have told them stories of the house and its many mirrors,which appear to have driven it’s previous owner insane. The locals say she still haunts the place, but Gil doesn’t buy it. The first night at the house Gil and Marcia have a conversation with Adam and Liz, the realtor and his wife. It’s a lighthearted evening, the sophisticated Gil poking fun at the superstitious locals, until Liz sees a spectre over the ocean. After his, Marcia begins to believe the house is actually haunted and discovers a secret attic where the mirrors are hidden.
“The Hungry Glass” is an effective horror story because it combines it combines supernatural and psychological horrors. The episode nicely takes advantage of its gothic, haunted house motif. The supernatural atmosphere is created in large part by the B&W cinematography by Lionel Lindon (The Manchurian Candidate). One of the contradictions of horror is that we are often attracted to that which horrifies us, and Lindon makes the most of the gothic mansion and its many mirrors (some of the shots are quite the technological feat if you’ve ever tried to photograph a mirror) making them simultaneously pretty and creepy. However, the payoffs in the episode are more psychological than supernatural, reaching a climax that is quite grotesque for 1960’s TV, still packs a punch today, and must have been terrifying for the time.
The direction by Douglas Hayes is efficient; his camera moves at just the right times to emphasize without being too overly dramatic. But overly dramatic is perhaps the best description for one of the issues of the episode: there are some classic Shatner-esque line deliveries. Compared to the subdued and rather cool attitude of the rest of the elements in the episode, these feel a bit abrupt. The other issue is probably a archival one; the music mix is far too loud.