Daily Lists, TV

The 10 Creepiest X-Files Episodes



Over its nine year run, The X-Files covered a lot of ground. The show was best known for the conspiracy episodes that spun an elaborate mythology of alien invasion and government secrecy. Looking back, those mythology episodes don’t hold up as well, considering how little it all made sense in the end. They’re also pretty impenetrable for casual fans who just want to dip into the show for a little spooky fun with the FBI. Luckily, the show managed to create plenty of memorable episodes that fell outside that mythology. Some were funny. Some were reasonably tense thrillers. And a handful were goddamn creepy enough to leave an indelible impression. Given that it was a show about FBI agents dealing with the supernatural, it’s no surprise that it’s the creepy episodes that work the best in isolation, and thus hold up the best today, even if they weren’t the strongest entries in the series. Here are the 10 creepiest!

10) Badlaa

Here’s an episode that, in many ways, is kind of a letdown, but manages to stick with you as a memorably unsettling hour of television. The monster of the week is an Indian mystic who has the power to … climb inside you. Yes, you read that right — he gets up in your business, literally. When he’s not busy taking over people’s bodies by climbing inside them (a process which kills the host, naturally) he’s a horrific little half man on a wheeled cart that squeaks in the most sinister fashion imaginable. It may sound ridiculous to say that something as simple as a squeaky wheel can be so chilling, but don’t knock it until you hear it for yourself. Then don’t be surprised if you wet the bed when you hear the same sound right outside your bedroom some night as you’re falling asleep. (Season 8, Episode 10)

9) Chinga

This is probably the most controversial entry on this list, because to many people this tale of a killer doll was simply silly. That said, there is a certain, substantial subset of people who find dolls, especially antique dolls, to be as scary as any demon, monster, or clown you can imagine. If that’s you, this episode will hit the sweet/terrible spot, with its dead-eyed china doll exclaiming “I want to play” as it causes those around it to act murderously irrational. (S5, Ep. 10)

8) Die Hand Die Verletzt

Here the show provided some good old-fashioned Halloween style spookiness, with the literal substitute teacher from hell, come to wreak havoc on some Satanic cult members. Story wise, this isn’t necessarily one of the strongest episodes you’re going to come across — it’s solid, but unremarkable in that department. What sets it apart is its atmosphere, its effective use of urban myths about Satanic cults and some memorable images, like a fetal pig dissection and the human heart and eyes on the teacher’s drawer. (S2, Ep. 14)

7) Irresistible

Every once in a while, The X-Files would ditch the supernatural and stir in a serial killer plot to keep things fresh. This is one of those episodes, and the killer here is easily the creepy equal of any inhuman thing that might go bumping in the night. His name is Donnie Pfaster and he’s a death fetishist — he collects dead women’s hair and fingernails, which is unquestionably creepy and the actor completely sells it. Eventually this hobby escalates to kidnapping and killing women to feed his obsession. Naturally, he has to have Scully once he sees her lustrous hair, so he kidnaps her. The scene where he draws a bath for Scully as part of his death ritual is enough to get the skin crawling and the visceral life or death struggle they engage in as she tries to escape is a perfect capper to the episode. (S2, Ep. 13)

6) Grotesque

Here’s another one that’s essentially supernatural free — or could be, anyway, it’s not completely clear. Here, Mulder is called in by his mentor to help track down a serial killer who’s obsessed with gargoyles, claiming that they are responsible for his crimes. As Mulder gets drawn deeper and deeper into the case, he begins behaving erratically (to be fair, Mulder frequently behaves erratically, but this is erratic even by his standards). He becomes a suspect in murders that occur after their prime suspect is arrested until the final twist reveals the second killer was his mentor, who had become obsessed with the case himself. The episode works in large part because of the persistent sense of dread and uncertainty it builds up around the crimes, the suspect, and the men who hunt him. it also has a wonderful atmosphere, created by the lighting and camerawork, and some superb performances by all the actors. It’s creepy on multiple levels, all without ever explicitly including a single supernatural element. (S3, Ep. 14)


5) Unruhe

Another serial killer episode, although this one has some decidedly supernatural elements thrown in for good measure. Those elements come in the shape of spirit or thought photography, caused whenever the off-putting, lazy-eyed, stilt-walking killer is nearby. He thinks the weird shit that the photos pick up are demons, and he’s “saving” his victims by lobotomizing them. Admittedly, the photos are unsettling and bizarre. Still, as terrifying as the photos are, it’s got to be worse to be strapped into a dentist’s chair and lobotomized without anesthetic by an enthusiastic and clearly insane amateur. (S4, Ep. 4)

4) Squeeze

The show got started with the creepiness early with “Squeeze,” a now-classic episode about a mutant who needs to feed off human livers every 30 years to survive. He can also contort his body into impossible shapes to squeeze through air ducts and other tiny spaces — a talent that comes in handy when murdering people for their livers. A lot of its creep factor comes from the superb performance of Doug Hutchison as Eugene Victor Tooms, a role he would reprise later in the same season in an also-creepy episode called “Tooms.” Hutchison would go on to be creepy in lots of other stuff, too, including real life, where he married a 16-year-old girl when he was 51. (S1, Ep. 3)

3) Folie a Deux

This is as close as The X-Files ever came to doing a zombie episode, and it is a doozy. A call-center employee begins seeing his co-workers as living dead and his boss as an insect monster, eventually taking everyone in the building, including Mulder, hostage. Turns out, he only seems crazy, as Mulder begins seeing the same visions (again, the possibility that Mulder is simply nuts plays a part in the episode, which adds to the fun). The episode’s climax finds Mulder restrained in a hospital bed as the insect creature comes after him to make him yet another zombie. A zombie nurse tries to stop Scully, but she gets a glimpse of her true, dead form in time to know that she needs to shoot first and ask questions later. The creepy bug man, the zombies, and the use of darkness all contribute to making this one a first-class skin-crawler. (S5, Ep. 19)

2) Home

There’s “kinda spooky with the lights off” creepy, and then there’s “oh god, what is it, make it stop, get it off me” creepy and this episode falls squarely in the latter camp. Somehow it mashed up the most appalling elements of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Eraserhead and every horrible fan fiction that ever appeared on this site into something that was somehow, barely fit for television. The plot can be basically boiled down into Mulder and Scully vs. inbred mutants, but the execution, from the tense direction to the gut-churning makeup work, was a home run. Sure, you’ll need a shower and possibly therapy once it’s over, but it’ll have be worth it. (S4, Ep. 2)

1) The Host

Here’s another episode that draws a lot of its creep from its bad guy. Only here, instead of a serial killer with a supernatural secret we get a disgusting half-human monster called the Flukeman that lives in the sewer and wants to eat you and/or impregnate you with its horrific fluke-spawn. The creature here is one of the all-time grossest of the series, and the fact that it lives in the sewers and pulls at least one victim down through the toilet is enough to give you the willies every time you use the bathroom for weeks afterward. Seriously, is there ever a time you’re more vulnerable? Way to go for our weak spot, X-Files. (S2, Ep. 2)

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