Inspired by Kumail Najani's X-Files Files podcast, I am spending November revisiting one of my favorite shows (the first several seasons at least) of all time, the X-Files. And because the monsters were always a delight, that's where I'm focusing my gaze.
This week, I am diving into the humanoid but not human monsters of the show. This is a little difficult to give the rules on, but here's the best way I can describe them. They are not aliens (those would be the aliens, a later list), obviously. They are also not animals or creatures of non-human shape (think bugs, fungus, invisible animals, and so on, again, another list). They are also not purely human (like Cigarette Smoking Man) or humans with abilities (like Tony Todd's never sleeping Preacher character). And yes, that will be a list too.
These guys, essentially, are the beasties that walk like men, sometimes even look like men, but are, in reality, some kind of mutants. They can be obviously nonhuman, like a razor teeth bald earless creature who feeds on brains, or damn near human, like a liver eating stretching creature who you could walk past on the street without noticing.
That's probably not the most stringent of rules and I'll probably break them, but that at least gives you an idea where my head is at.
Enough chatter. Let's get to it!
X-Files Humanoid (but not Human) Monsters of the Week, in Order of Personal Preference (and by no means fully comprehensive)
15.) The Kindred- As a kid/teen, I was always fascinated by the idea of something overwhelming yourself, your inherent character, and reducing you to your more base instincts or desires. A reflection of the internal hormonal torment of an adolescent projected outward?
Perhaps. In any case, the Kindred really hooked into this as they seduced through touch left and right and the consequences of succumbing were deadly.
Ok, yeah. Clearly I was processing transitioning from being a child to a teen. Jeez...that's incredibly Freudian.
In any case, these Amish-esque characters hit that sweet spot. The fact that they could all transition sex/gender at will and seemingly reproduced in a clay cave was just icing.
14.) Ubermenscher- I dig golems of all kinds and I thought this was a fun take on a "modern" version, a "protector" built of garbage, not clay. The monster benefits, though to be honest, from being part of an episode that was a nice solid hit job on gated communities and featured Mulder and Scully undercover as "the Petries," a gag that slayed me thanks to Nick at Night.
13.) Samuel Aboah- One of the many different takes on vampirism, Aboah was an immigrant in America who needed to feed on the pituitary glands of others to stay alive, leaving them chalk white. Similarly, the longer he does not feed, the more white he goes.
I liked this quite a bit because a.) it actually felt a lot like a Kolchak--X-Files biggest TV inspiration--sort of monster brought modern, a trick the X-Files managed less and less as the seasons went on and b.) it nicely towed the line between myth and science in a way that left both Mulder and Scully in the right, arguably, but episode's end.
12.) Leonard Betts- The eponymous episode that featured Betts debuted after Super Bowl XXXI in 1997. As a kid, my parents were always fairly strict about bedtimes so, I think, this was the first Bowl I was allowed to not only watch in its entirety, but also watch the show the network aired after. Thus, "Betts" the episode and Betts the monster will always have a special place in my heart.
The creature work on this episode was incredible and what's Betts condition reveals about one of the two show leads is a stunner.
11.) Virgil Incanto- Another of the X-Files several variations on vampires Virgil fed on fatty tissue through his victims' mouths. He also utilized dating sites to select them, a choice that ground the X-Files very much in its time, a time where internet dating was bizarre and dangerous, as opposed to now when it is how 30% or so people meet their spouses.
The episode also has echoes of Silence of the Lambs and Virgil is one of the least pitiable monsters of the series. He has zero empathy or remorse for what he's done and while he needs the fatty tissue to survive, he seems to far more delight in it than simply doing what needs to be done.
10.) The Fear Monster- While I didn't really like this COPS take on the X-Files (I didn't go in for the gimmick episodes, see also the one on the Jerry Springer show) I did really enjoy the villain of the piece, a creature that looks like whatever the person seeing it most fears.
Although over the course of the episode, the Fear Monster takes on things like a virus, it typically presents as something in human or near human form (a werewolf, Freddy Krueger) and thus I decided was still appropriate for this list. Plus, it is called a monster right in the name.
9.) Mrs. Paddock/Azazel- Seemingly a school teacher in a town full of devil worshippers, Paddock/Azazel seems far more likely to be a or THE devil by episode's end. A wonderfully sly take on a demon that is further buoyed by an episode that plays as a pretty effective takedown of kneejerk faith and our tendency to claim religiosity far more than practicing it.
8.) Robert Roberts- Another vampire variant, this one is elevated by a truly excellent actor and an impressively sad conclusion that makes it clear just how tragic and tortured a monster Roberts was.
7.) Chinga Doll- I'm not down with your dolls as murderers trope (think Chucky) because while dolls can sometimes have a creep factor--my wife and I once stayed in a bed and breakfast in California that had a cabinet in our room filled with nothing but dolls' heads...it was chilling--they never seem scary as active characters.
The Chinga Doll, however, nicely skirts the issue by being an entirely passive and malevolent all at once. The doll, without being spoilery, leads to plenty of deaths, but does it all without lifting a finger.
6.) Ellen Adderly- Another tragic monster figure, Ellen has a mental illness that takes physical form and acts very different than the devoted wife and mother every would. Unaware of her "other" until it was nearly too late, Ellen survives her episode physically but is left broken in nearly every other way.
The episode itself was also a nice bit of commentary on the rising Mommy Wars obsession with perfection (still going today) that often leads people to act incredibly ugly to perpetuate their sense of self.
5.) Greg Pincus- I remember the special effects on this guy being rather dodgy, but the sense of fear and paranoia he brought out in the episode being wholly convincing. Pincus is a shape shifting monster that may only be in Mulder's head, the result of some particularly damaging events. While you might never doubt Mulder being right (he is the lead after all) the way Pincus moves through the episode convinces others he is just a normal guy is undeniably scary.
4.) Leonard- Another example of great creature work, Leonard is scary and sad and lonely and murderous in equal measures. His diminutive nature and parasitic quality only further how effectively he makes you feel sympathy and horror towards him, often at the same time.
3.) Edward H. Van Blundht, Jr. (Eddie)- Just hilarious. A shape shifting con artist with a tiny tail who takes Mulder's look for a ride and, in doing so, echoes every viewers critiques of how Mulder chooses to live his life while looking so damn good.
2.) Eugene Victor Tooms- The scariest monster in X-Files history, bar none. One of the most direct nods to Kolchak, Tooms is an amoral manipulator with a power set that makes him nearly impossible to keep out or imprison. A nearly perfect monster.
1.) Flukeman- For me, the most iconic monster of the entire series. Flukeman is a monster in shape, but utterly animal and thus not something with malevolent motivation. And yet, to not treat him (it?) as a monster is to be foolish. He's like a bear in a suburban neighborhood, except his bite makes you a host for more of him and he's almost entirely unkillable. Not the scariest (see #2) but the first monster that always comes to mind for me when I think of the show.