In the early ’90s, The X-Files was a cultural happening, right up there with Pogs and the Bartman. It hit at a perfect moment, spawning catchphrases and racy fan fiction that helped shape the early days of the Internet. With The X-Files: Fight the Future and The X-Files: I Want to Believe airing this month on IFC, we thought we’d revisit some of the scariest episodes the show ever produced. Wake up your inner ’90s child, and let them know they won’t being going to sleep tonight, because the truth is out there, and it is freaking terrifying.
12. “Our Town,” Season Two
We all know small towns have something to hide, at least on The X-Files. That certainly proved true in this second season episode that made us rethink our eating habits. When The X-Files did horror, the writers always strived to find a new slant on an old genre. Here, that meant taking the iconography of cannibals, masked murderers and factory farming, and whipping them together into a uniquely scary stew. “Our Town” isn’t a perfect episode, falling into cliché at times (Scully pulls the damsel in distress routine for the umpteeth time), but it more than makes up for its faults with some genuine scares.
11. “Chinga,” Season Five
What do you get when you combine the greatest horror show of its time with the greatest horror author of the century? The answer is this fifth season episode, penned by Stephen King himself, about a mind controlling killer doll come to life. Whether it’s clawing out your own eyes, or stabbing yourself with a hammer, this stuffed little lady is impossible to say no to. While the episode received mixed reviews, for any fan of King, it’s a must watch. If nothing else, the surprise the network got when they learned that “Chinga” is actually a curse word in Spanish must’ve been pretty terrifying.
10. “Eve,” Season One
Nothing is scarier than twins. That’s just a fact. But what if those creepy twins were just the tip of the iceberg? What if countless clones were made in some secret government lab, all with one purpose… Murder! That’s the idea here, as Mulder and Scully face off against a ragtag band of grimy killer clones, who will just as soon bite your head off as look at you. “Eve” was a creepy first season episode that demonstrated what a mastery of genre the show would have moving forward.
9. “The Host,” Season Two
For any of us that have worried about what monsters may be lurking in the toilet, this episode confirmed our very worst fears. An early effort at the “Monster-of-the-Week” format that would come to define the show, it’s far from a perfect episode. But what it does do effectively is create a creepy monster with a freakish sucker face that plays on our unspoken fears of the unknown. An early indicator of what this show was capable of, “The Host” (and Flukeman) still freaks us out enough to make the list.
8. “Folie à Deux,” Season Five
There’s nothing scarier than losing your mind. That’s what this season five episode explored, when Mulder found himself seeing monsters no one else could. Was he cracking up? Or were they real (and unstoppable) because no one would believe him? Which is really more terrifying? A spooky outing full of fun ideas and creepy visuals, this was one of the few episodes that made you wonder if Mulder was going to find a way out of it in one piece.
7. “Irresistible,” Season Two
The X-Files would do anything for a scare, even if it meant dropping the supernatural for an episode and showing us how terrifying man can be without all the aliens and ghosts to get in the way. “Irresistible” focused on a Scully-obsessed serial killer who takes misogyny to the next level, killing women and keeping their hair and fingers as trophies. The episode stands out thanks to a furiously creepy performance from Nick Chinlund, who imbues his killer with an oily smugness. Featuring one of the show’s all-time best guest spots, this episode really showed why you should trust no one.
6. “Die Hand Die Verletzt,” Season Two
Everyone knows that substitute teachers are a bunch of pushovers. Well, that doesn’t seem to be the case in Milford Haven, New Hampshire, where desks are filled with student’s eyes and hearts, instead of homework. This season two episode explored what happens when those we trust with our kids prey upon them. While the story was fairly conventional, the scares were intense, playing out ritual sacrifice and supernatural suicide against a backdrop of typical high school drama.
5. “Patient X,” Season Five
Most of the truly scary, full-blown horror episodes of The X-Files were stand alone, and separate from the show’s larger mythology. This episode is different. Diving head first into the show’s labyrinthine plot about alien invasion, “Patient X” showed how terrifying visitors from outer space could be. There’s lots of dark moments here. Bodies burned alive. Alien infections. But none compare to the visual of the infected, their bloody eyes and mouths sewn shut, coming for us all. One of the most striking visuals the show ever came up with, it was a moment that turned an episode that was for true blue fans into something that could freak out just about anybody.
4. “Sanguinarium,” Season Four
Talk about medical malpractice. This fourth season episode explored the trust we place in our doctors to not go batty and start ritually sacrificing us while they’re all up in our guts. Plastic surgery was just becoming a way of life in the ’90s, which meant it was a fertile subject for satire. And what is horror but satire with blood? X-Files creator Chris Carter saw the potential in exploring the glamorous industry’s dark underbelly of vanity and pride. It’s not much of a leap from paying a doctor thousands of dollars for the perfect body to selling your soul for one. And, of course, there’s plenty of blood to boot.
3. “Field Trip,” Season Six
This sixth season episode was a head-trip, for both the characters and the audience. What’s real and what’s a hallucination? In the episode, Mulder and Scully both find themselves under the effects of a potent, psychotropic spore that causes them to vividly hallucinate. We see them kidnap aliens and die horrible deaths, all while still trapped inside their own minds. Each time we think they’ve made it free, we realize this is just another layer of fantasy. A mind-tripping horror show that leave us on the edge of our seats, “Field Trip” was one of the most innovative and freaky episodes in the show’s run.
2. “Detour,” Season Five
You’re lost in the woods, being hunted by a monster you can’t see. AND you have to deal with some serious sexual tension with your work wife to boot. That’s the premise of this classic episode from the show’s fifth season which pits Mulder and Scully against nature itself, by way of a chameleon-like “Monster-of-the-Week.” The monster in this episode was one of the show’s best, blending into its surrounding just enough to be anywhere, while always tipping us off with its disturbing, glowing eyes. If we can all agree to ignore its similarities to Predator, this is one of the show’s very best episodes.
1. “Home,” Season Four
One of the most controversial outings in the show’s history, this season four episode was so brutal, so graphic, and so disturbing that some fans felt like they’d been betrayed. In a sense, this episode posits what would happen if Mulder and Scully wandered into The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but with a bit less chainsaw, and bit more inbred freaks. The show would never again create freaks as disturbing as The Peacocks, who were almost scarier for their way of life than their brutal murders.