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Posts Tagged ‘The X-Files’

The Truth Is Around Here Somewhere

March 2nd, 2013 No comments

Last Saturday was a milestone for our fair campus community: the 30th Annual Insect Fear Festival. Run by the Entomology Graduate Student Association at the University of Illinois, the Festival presents our ingrained anxieties about things that creep and crawl through the prism of bad movies.

This year’s fear fest was also notable for the participation of Chris Carter (seen sitting on the left in this photo from the event), creator of the television series The X-Files, as well as Emmy award-winning writer Darin Morgan (seated to the right). They were in attendance for a screening of the 1996 episode “War of the Coprophages,” one of several that Morgan wrote during his all-too-brief time on the staff of the sci-fi/horror/conspiracy drama.

“Coprophages” (literally, feces-eaters) is a spoofy installment in which a Massachusetts community* panics in response to a series of cockroach-associated deaths. Spoiler alert: the cockroaches are really mechanical probes from another world. Or not. The X-Files was that kind of show. More on that in a bit.

One of the script’s many in-jokes is the inclusion of a beautiful entomologist named Bambi Berenbaum, named for Dr. May Berenbaum of the University of Illinois. (“Her name is Bambi?” says an incredulous Agent Scully, to which Fox Mulder replies, “Yeah. Both her parents were naturalists.”)

It’s all great fun, and not just because of the comically-large cell phones our heroes keep pulling out. It also features one of my all-time favorite TV pranks: a cockroach which appears to crawl across the viewer’s own television screen.

Watching it again with an appreciative audience reminded me of just how good this show was in its early seasons. There’s a reason that it inspired so many knock-offs.

Following “Coprophages” was a screening of the first X-Files feature film, sometimes known under its promotional title Fight the Future. Set between the events of the show’s fifth and sixth seasons, it is–to my mind, at least–sort of the Grand Unified Theory of the franchise, an attempt to tie together various seemingly-unrelated alien incursions into a single conspiratorial invasion. It’s also, arguably, the last time that The X-Files was any good.

After that, the show’s underlying mythology grew ever more convoluted, asking two questions for every one it (unsatisfyingly) answered. Fox Mulder was eventually written out when actor David Duchovny became tired of the E.T.-hunting grind. The shadow government central to the show’s backstory was eliminated, only to be replaced by yet another group of extraterrestrials.

Lured back for the series finale at the end of its ninth season, Mulder showed up just long enough to endure an interminable show trial during which the franchise irrevocably disappeared up its own ass. Even worse, the finale left hanging the prophecy of a final, all-out invasion scheduled for December 22, 2012. Yes, that December 22, 2012.**

Never mind that the hoped-for follow-up movie series never materialized. A half-hearted attempt to revive The X-Files resulted in 2008’s I Want to Believe, a film which went after a wider audience by doing away with all that monster and alien stuff and managed to attract only crickets. December 22, 2012 came and went without so much an alien-human hybrid clone to be seen.

To bring us back to the present, questions of a third film were very much on the mind of the X-Philes who attended the Insect Fear Film Festival. Chris Carter could only demur that if he was given the chance to make another movie, he’d be very interested in addressing the whole apocalyptic space invasion thing, as if in denial that that particular flying saucer had sailed years ago.

After Fight the Future screened, there was another Q&A session with Carter. I went up to the microphone and commented about how the movie marked the halfway mark of the series, that we hadn’t even gotten to the “super soldiers” or Scully’s half-alien miracle baby. (Yes, that was a thing that happened.) I said that a few years after the show ended, I’d begun to speculate that perhaps the whole thing was really Chris Carter’s meta-commentary on real-life conspiracy theories, which seem to grow ever wilder and more confusing the more one tries to explain them.

He answered, “No. We thought it all made sense.”

Which may be all the explanation The X-Files will ever receive.

*”Miller’s Grove,” named for Grover’s Mill, the town in which the first Martian cylinder landed during Orson Welles’ infamous 1938 radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds.

**This was the first time I heard about the so-called Mayan doomsday prophecy. Sadly, it would not be the last.

Categories: TV Tags: ,

31 Monsters #25: Eugene Tooms

October 25th, 2009 No comments

Hey, remember when The X-Files was a thing? A lot of you didn’t last year, when the second feature film adaptation was released for a disastrous $10 million opening weekend.

But let’s go back to 1993, when the TV series premiered as the Friday night lead-out from Fox’s The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. While I found the pilot episode of The X-Files stylish and intriguing, I suspected that it wouldn’t hold my interest for long. The whole alien abduction/government conspiracy premise seemed like it would get old pretty fast. Week two was more of the same: another spaceship, another cover-up.

Then in week three we were introduced to Eugene Tooms.

Investigating a series of murders in which the livers of the victims had been removed–by hand–skeptical FBI agent Dana Scully and her “believer” partner Fox Mulder learned that similar deaths had occurred in 1963 and 1933. Staking out one of the crime scenes, they captured the unassuming Tooms attempting to enter the building’s air vents.

Mulder’s line of questioning, which attempted to link the suspect to the decades-old killings, led to Tooms’ early release. But Fox soon realized that the strangely elongated fingerprints found at the murder site were a match for Tooms’ if they were similarly stretched.

Sure enough, Eugene Tooms was revealed to be capable of abnormally squeezing and contorting his body. The weirdness didn’t stop there, either. Effectively immortal, Tooms needed to consume five human livers every 30 years before reentering a state of hibernation. The agents discovered his “nest” made of newspaper and bile.

Eventually Tooms was captured, but not before attempting to snack on Agent Scully’s liver. He came back for a rematch later that first season, dying when caught in the mechanical belt of an escalator.

The episode “Squeeze” proved that there would be more to The X-Files than the UFO of the Week. Over the next few years, there would be killer cockroaches, a detachable conjoined twin and a horrid flukeman among the bizarre parade of monsters.

Sadly, The X-Files eventually disappeared up its own ass as the underlying “mythology” of alien invaders and shadowy government types became so convoluted as to defy comprehension. After nine seasons, it finally went out in a blaze of unsatisfying, apathetic nonsense. But for several years, the scariest place to be was watching Fox on a Friday night.

Categories: TV Tags: , ,

How To Make Ten Million Dollars In One Weekend (A Play In One Act)

July 28th, 2008 No comments

Setting: A movie studio executive’s office.

Executive #1: I’ve got an idea! Let’s make a feature film version of The X-Files!

Executive #2: The X-Files? Wasn’t that canceled?

Executive #3: Six years ago.

Executive #2: And hasn’t it been about nine years since anyone cared about it?

Executive #3: Yep.

Executive #2: Plus, didn’t we already make that movie?

Executive #1: Sure, but this one will be completely different!

Executives #2 and #3: How so?

Executive #1: Well, remember all that stuff about aliens?

Executive #2: You mean the central premise of the TV show and the first movie.

Executive #1: Yes. But, come on, everyone knows that “mythology” didn’t make any fucking sense in the end. And we want to make this flick accessible to a general audience.

Executive #3: The people who weren’t interested in The X-Files during its nine-year TV run.

Executive #1: Of course! Because nothing gets people to plunk down eight bucks for a movie ticket like a tie-in to a long-dead show that they never watched when it was free.

Executive #2: Hey, didn’t the series end on something of a cliffhanger?

Executive #3: I think that the aliens were going to destroy the world in 2012…or something. I lost track, or possibly fell asleep.

Executive #1: Erm…yes, but alien invasion films are expensive and shit.

Executive #2: Plus, that’s just so Spielberg.

Executive #1: Right, so we’re going to completely fail to follow up that dangling end of the world plot line and make one of those “monster of the week” episodes that the fans liked so much.

Executive #2: The fans that we’re not pitching this toward.

Executive #3: Oh, I remember those stories: the flukeman, the squeezy-guy, the killer cockroaches. Those were cool!

Executive #2: So, it’s gonna be about the flukeman?

Executive #1: No, no, nothing like that. Instead, we’ll make it more like one of the other episodes. You know, the ones that were pretty much like every generic horror film that’s come out in the last six years.

Executive #2: Umm…

Executive #1: Plus, we’ll market the film in such a vague manner that no one will have any idea what it’s about. Except that it features Mulder and Scully.

Executive #3: Those two characters that appeared in the TV show that the people we’re trying to attract didn’t watch.

Executive #1: Okay, I sense that you’re not really getting it. How about this? We end the film with Mulder and Scully…

Executive #2: The people that the summer movie audience doesn’t care about…

Executive #1: …and they wave at the camera!

Executive #3: Wait! Doesn’t that pretty much fly in the face of the show’s dark, pessimistic mien?

Executive #1: Mien? Isn’t that a pretentious word for a movie executive?

Executive #3: Sorry.

Executive #2: Getting back to that “waving” thing, wouldn’t it also be unbearably cheesy?

Executive #1: Yes…but…we’ll put Scully in a bikini!

Executives #2 and #3: Brilliant! We’re sold!

Executive #3: So, when should we release it?

Executive #1: I was thinking that the best time would be the weekend immediately after the premiere of The Dark Knight.

Executive #2: You mean, the summer’s most anticipated geek fest?

Executive #3: Starring America’s favorite recently-deceased actor in an acclaimed, head-turning performance?

Executive #1: That’s the one!

Executives #2 and #3: Genius!

End Scene.