The HoloFiles

The X-Files’ Transition From Horror To Comedy

By Josh Bate

The X-Files is one of the most beloved TV series of all time and has garnered an immense following since it premiered nearly 30 years ago. The early episodes tapped into the post-Watergate political distrust to form a fascinating look into life in the U.S. in the late 20th century, as well as exploiting the general public’s fascination with aliens, which grew considerably after the Roswell phenomenon of the 1950’s.

Despite the main plot focusing on aliens, much of the one-off, isolated episodes were based in the horror genre, so much so that an early episode in season 4, titled Home, was shown on Fox only once and, for a time, banned from syndication. This is far from the only example of the series venturing into the scary genre, as the earlier seasons were full of horror episodes that helped the series earn its reputation. In more recent years, however, and in the latter seasons of the original run, The X-Files has drifted away from horror in favor of comedic episodes.

As stated, a large defining aspect of The X-Files’ earlier seasons were these spooky episodes. Even in the third episode, titled Squeeze, the scares come often as a viscous supernatural serial killer goes on a murder spree every thirty years. The design of the villain, Eugene Toombs, is one of the most memorable of The X-Files, a real feat given the incredible work that went into creating the monsters, aliens, and supernatural entities that Mulder and Scully encounter.

Another memorable horror episode of The X-Files is Die Hand Die Verletzt, which features a group of Satanic cultists who begin to relax their beliefs, prompting a demon sent by the devil to visit the small town they occupy. The premise alone is a frightening topic, as is Mulder and Scully being kidnapped and prepared to be sacrificed so the group could make up for their lapse of faith, but the episode also features some incredibly disturbing subplots, including the sexual assault and impregnating of a young teenager that the two FBI agents encounter. The episode feels more like a modern day indie horror-thriller than an outing of 90’s television, and is a great example of how The X-Files was truly ahead of its time.

Of course, one of the core strengths of The X-Files is its ability to shift genres depending on the premise of a given episode, and more comedic outings were established early on with Humbug in season 2. Still, the amount of forays into comedy increased considerably as the show went on, both in the original run and the more recent seasons. Episodes like Bad Blood, in which Luke Wilson appeared as a mild-mannered vampire in an unforgettable guest star role, increased in frequency after the halfway mark of the show’s original nine season run.

Star David Duchovny often had a hand in creating these comedic episodes. For example, the first episode that the actor wrote and directed was season 6’s The Unnatural, which was a flashback heavy feature that centered on an alien baseball player. Duchovny also wrote and directed Hollywood A.D., which was even more comedic in nature and even included some famous cameos like Gary Shandling and Tea Leoni. Duchovny has always had great comedic timing and a natural instinct for the genre, and the show made great efforts to utilize the unique talents of its co-lead.

The latest two seasons of The X-Files, 10 and 11, were divisive with audiences, particularly due to the continuation of the main alien conspiracy plot line, which some considered to be too drawn out. However, there were some episodes that were immediately embraced as classics in the form of Mulder and Scully Meet the Weremonster and The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat. These are, again, two comedic episodes, and the presence of these outings show the transition away from horror. Scares will always be a part of the core of The X-Files, but the show adapted after relying so heavily on horror for years, instead choosing to go in a different direction that also fit the characters and this world just as well.

Images courtesy of Fox and Disney

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