During quarantine, I decided to pass time by watching The X-Files, a sci-fi drama series about two FBI agents who investigate paranormal activity that originally ran on Fox throughout the 1990s. When the show first aired in September 1993, showrunner Chris Carter said that he wanted to “scare the pants off people.” And while his later writing decisions regarding the show’s long and confusing mythology arc certainly made me feel a lot of ranged emotions, the show succeeded in creating some of most terrifying “monster of the week” episodes on television. Here are a few to catch up on this Halloween weekend if you’re looking for a scare.
1) “Squeeze” (S1E3):
This early season one episode not only spends time introducing and developing the beginning of Mulder and Scully’s partnership, but also the beginning of the show’s terrifying monster of the week episodes. The agents investigate a series of murders that don’t make any logical sense – the victims had been found inside locked rooms with no other ways to get in with their livers ripped out. Mulder and Scully piece together that the culprit is a man named Eugene Tooms (Doug Hutchison), who can stretch and contort his body to fit in small spaces like air ducts and chimneys, and uses the livers of his victims to create a bile-made cocoon for himself to hibernate in until he reawakens in 30 years. The unsettling plot and even more unsettling performance from Hutchison earned this episode a sequel episode later in season one.
2) “Ice” (S1E8):
“Ice” is one of my favorite episodes of the entire series. Inspired by The Thing (1982), Mulder and Scully are sent to a remote research base in Alaska to investigate a murder-suicide case, accompanied by a group of scientists and their pilot. The mission quickly goes south upon discovering a parasite-infected dog at the base, and the agents’ trust in each other is shaken when one of their companions is found dead with his throat slashed and the group begins to turn on each other. “Ice” has a great setting, a stellar performance from the actors (even from a pre-college admissions scandal Felicity Huffman), but what makes it so terrifying is its plot that draws from multiple common horror tropes – cabin fever, a lost signal, and threat of a virus that is very topical to audiences right now.
3) “Eve” (S1E11):
What is interesting about “Eve” is that the episode’s cold open leads you to believe that maybe this will be an episode about vampirism, which is not out of the realm of possibility for this show. But the actual monsters of this week’s episode are surprisingly more sinister than that, being the result of a secret cloning project and not the work of Dracula. The agents investigate a murder of a Connecticut man who has had his blood drained from two incisions on his neck. Mulder immediately jumps to paranormal conclusions after talking to the man’s young daughter, but the case becomes more intricate when an second, identical murder happens in California at the exact same time as the first, and that the second victim’s daughter is completely identical to the first victim’s. While the “scary twins” and “evil kids” tropes are very much overused in horror media, in my opinion, I think that The X-Files gave it a unique and unsettling spin.
4) “F. Emasculata” (S2E22)
What makes “F. Emasculata” so horrifying in 2020 is that the episode’s panicky premise over a contagious virus is very much relevant to us right now. Mulder and Scully are sent to investigate two escaped prisoners, and become suspicious of the situation when the prisoner is put under quarantine by the CDC. It is quickly revealed that the population of the prison are all infected with a strange virus that causes bursting boils and death, and that the escapees are at risk of infecting the rest of the population if they aren’t returned. While I have mixed feelings on this episode due to its use of a prison setting and my stance on prisons, the episode does make interesting points about the dehumanization of prisoners, and its themes about the government’s lack of transparency about an infectious virus are a lot harsher in hindsight when doing a viewing of the episode in 2020. Also, watch this episode with an empty stomach.
5) “Chinga” (S5E10)
Last on this list is an episode that was co-written by horror author Stephen King, which means that this episode was filled with some of horror’s most commonly well known tropes like evil, possessed dolls and witchcraft. Scully is on vacation alone in Maine (a shout out to King’s home state) when she finds herself investigating an incident where an entire grocery store of customers gouges out their eyes. The only people to not do so are a woman named Melissa, who is rumored to practice witchcraft and has horrible visions of people dying, and her daughter, who carries a strange, very visually unsettling doll. Not only is this episode terrifying, but it shines in showing that Scully is just as capable of handling a paranormal case on her own without Mulder in the picture, who only appears in this episode via phone call to make a few Chucky references.