The Big Picture
- Martin Scorsese’s episode of Amazing Stories, “Mirror, Mirror,” stands out as one of the few horror stories he tackled in his career.
- The episode follows a famous horror author haunted by a ghoulish figure in his mirror, but it’s a pretty generic horror story with little impact.
- Scorsese’s style is limited in the episode, as Amazing Stories had a rigid in-house style. Despite this, it’s still fun to see him collaborate with Spielberg.
Killers of the Flower Moon might be the most talked about movie in the world at the moment, but Martin Scorsese‘s career has had its quieter moments, too. He’s made small independent films like Who’s That Knocking at My Door, concert films like the inventive Rolling Stones project Shine a Light, and he’s even worked on TV shows —not too many, but some here and there over his multi-decade career. One of the most obscure series that he has worked on is Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories, an anthology show that the Jaws filmmaker wrangled many of the ’70s and ’80s most popular directors into working on. Folks like Robert Zemeckis, Joe Dante, Tobe Hooper, and even Clint Eastwood had a hand in it! Amazing Stories was a big deal at the time that it was airing, which is what makes it so strange that it has mostly been forgotten about these days.
Scorsese only worked on Amazing Stories for one episode, that being Season 1, Episode 19, “Mirror, Mirror.” The episode’s story came from Spielberg himself, but the final screenwriting credit is given to Joseph Minion. Interestingly enough, this is one of the few horror stories that the iconic filmmaker has tackled, with Cape Fear and Shutter Island being the two only others in his filmography. It also stands out in the greater Amazing Stories project in general, given that most episodes follow a drama or fantasy story. Scorsese’s contribution follows a famous horror author (Sam Waterston) who soon comes to find himself haunted by a ghoulish figure (Tim Robbins) in his mirror. It’s a pretty generic horror story with very little gut to it at all, hardly any Scorsese-isms, and a pretty tame finale that leaves little to no lasting impression. This isn’t really the filmmaker’s fault, though. If you watch multiple episodes, you’ll come to find that Amazing Stories appears to have a rigid in-house style for its artists. Still, little flashes of the mind behind Goodfellas come here and there… but they are rare.
Amazing Stories (1985)
Truly amazing, fantastical, funny, and odd, and sometimes scary, sad, and endearing stories are portrayed. Many famous actors, actresses, and directors made guest appearances.
- Release Date
- September 29, 1985
- Charles Durning, Paul Bartel, Sharon Spelman, Douglas Seale
- Anthology, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Comedy, Drama
- Steven Spielberg, Joshua Brand, John Falsey
- Steven Spielberg, Joshua Brand, John Falsey
- Amblin Entertainment, Universal Television
Martin Scorsese Was an Odd Fit for Steven Spielberg’s TV Series, ‘Amazing Stories’
Supernatural horror, the Amblin tone, and Martin Scorsese aren’t exactly three things that you’d expect to go together. Well, not if all of their individual trademarks would be on display. Supernatural horror is exactly what it is — a form of the genre that centers around spooky ghosts or spirits, otherworldly phenomena, and the generally unexplainable. Amblin Entertainment, Steven Spielberg’s flagship company, is responsible for at least one or two of your favorite films. We’re talking about some of the best Spielberg movies like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goonies, and Gremlins. By now, the director has broken the stereotype that all of his movies center around characters who look up into the sky in awe and wonder, but at the time that Amazing Stories was airing, Amblin wasn’t quite as diverse as it has come to be.
Then there’s Scorsese, who by March of 1986 (when “Mirror, Mirror” first aired) hadn’t stepped foot into the world of horror yet, nor had he directed anything closely resembling an Amblin film. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore has a bit of that Spielberg-ian Americana, but that’s about it. This is the guy who was hot off of movies like Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, Raging Bull, and The King of Comedy, a few of the most cynical stories ever put to screen. He was even gearing up to start shooting The Last Temptation of Christ, which has got to take the award for the darkest portrayal of Jesus Christ ever put to film (that might change depending on how you read the ending of that film). That movie was so controversial that certain theaters were burned down for showing it.
So would you ever expect Scorsese to be the one to join the ranks of Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis on an anthology show? No, but you probably wouldn’t expect Tobe Hooper either, and look at how that turned out! That’s not to say that Marty isn’t in the same tier of filmmaker as those previously stated (he actually just might be the greatest living director), but tonally, and by the standards of this show, he is an odd fit. If Scorsese was going to make an episode for Amazing Stories, it seems as if his only option would have been horror! After all, this definitely doesn’t feel like the right zone for a Paul Schrader-written Scorsese story.
Martin Scorsese Tackles Horror in His ‘Amazing Stories’ Episode “Mirror, Mirror”
This Amazing Stories episode is an oddity in Scorsese’s otherwise impressive filmography. “Mirror, Mirror” is basically a 24-minute campfire story. It begins with a world-famous horror author, Jordan Manmouth, being interviewed about his work on The Dick Cavett Show (with Dick Cavett actually playing himself). Afterward, he goes home and turns a kid away from his doorstep, one he assumes is there to show him some of his own attempts at writing. Manmouth initially seems to be a genuinely nice guy while he’s talking to Dick Cavett, but he shows his true colors with the way he treats this kid. That night, Manmouth begins seeing a decrepit, eerie figure in the mirror. This thing slowly creeps up on the author, only for him to turn around and see that it isn’t really there. However, every time he looks in a mirror, the figure is there again, getting closer and closer every time.
The author panics every time he sees the figure in the mirror, leading to his mental state slowly deteriorating. Eventually, the figure catches up to him and starts choking him from behind. This is about what you’d expect from a monstrous figure who keeps going for Manmouth’s neck, so initially, the ending of the episode feels par for the course. Things get weird, however, when Manmouth is seen struggling in one shot, then the camera cuts to his girlfriend, then back to him, and he’s suddenly horribly disfigured and closely resembles the figure in the mirror. He stands up and hurls himself out of the window, ending his suffering once and for all. His disfigurement is the most random way for this episode to end and doesn’t feel earned at all. Manmouth was being choked to death, not sliced and diced! For an episode that already didn’t have much of any tension, this reveal offers up a bit of a laugh, then leaves your memory pretty quickly. It’s not the best.
The disjointed ending of “Mirror, Mirror” doesn’t feel like Scorsese’s fault, though. Amazing Stories had nothing on its contemporary anthology shows like Tales from the Darkside or Tales from the Crypt. Not only are Amazing Stories’ week-to-week episodes not as strong as those shows, but the horror in “Mirror, Mirror” isn’t even on par. That said, it’s not too far off. “Mirror, Mirror” does have that charming ’80s made-for-TV horror tone that loads of others rocked at the time, it just happens to be trapped within the confines of a cheesy series. The episode is by no means a miserable or unenjoyable watch, it’s just not that scary. You can still have fun with it!
Spielberg’s ‘Amazing Stories’ Rarely Let Its Directors Exercise Their Styles
Sadly, as someone who came to this episode excited to see Scorsese exercise his style in a 24-minute anthology horror story, this episode doesn’t have much to offer in that aspect. By and large, it plays like most other Amazing Stories releases. This show doesn’t have the flat cinematography of a sitcom or anything, but it also doesn’t exactly let its filmmakers shine. Scorsese only has a few seconds to exercise his creativity in this episode, at a moment when Manmouth is locking up his house. The edit brings on a quick-cut, rapid pace as he slams doors shut and races around his home to safety. For just a moment, “Mirror, Mirror” has that iconic Thelma Schoonmaker editing style that we all love so much.
Unfortunately, that moment comes and goes pretty quickly. By and large, this episode doesn’t feel any different than the stories that many other filmmakers have directed for anthology horror TV shows. If you missed the opening card that said “Directed by Martin Scorsese”, believe me, you wouldn’t have guessed it. It doesn’t have very much style, and it isn’t all that scary, but it does feel straight out of the book of Tales from the Crypt and Tales from the Darkside, so at least we have that! Who doesn’t love those shows? Scorsese might have just wanted to work with his buddy Steven Spielberg (and make a quick buck), and who can blame the guy?
Martin Scorsese Is a Master of Many Genres, Including Horror
We all know that no matter what genre Scorsese tackles, he’ll probably be able to do so masterfully. They might not have known it in 1986, but these days, we’re well aware that Scorsese can go down the horror route if he chooses to. Cape Fear, for example, toggles on and off between horror and thriller, but no matter which avenue it takes, it’s still terrifying (with one of Robert De Niro‘s most underrated performances, as well). Then, there’s Shutter Island, Scorsese’s most direct feature-length effort in the horror genre. The movie has elements of noir and mystery, but it’s also clearly inspired by loads of pre-70s supernatural and gothic horror movies, even though it isn’t inherently supernatural or gothic itself. Scorsese can do scary all he wants, he just doesn’t choose to do so often.
The story for “Mirror, Mirror” actually had the potential to be Scorsese’s most straightforward effort in horror, and had it not been for the restraints of 1980s TV or the schmaltzy, cheesy, rigid nature of Amazing Stories, maybe Scorsese could have flexed on us a bit more. While Martin Scorsese’s contribution to Amazing Stories might not have been the most… “amazing” episode of TV ever, it is fun to think that he and Spielberg got to collaborate on another project. Thankfully, since then, we’ve been able to see what Scorsese is truly capable of in horror, and are continuing to enjoy new releases from him to this day.
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