In the 1990s The X-Files brought horror out of the theater and into living rooms. The series pushed the envelope on many occasions, but the most controversial X-Files episodes aren't just milquetoast scary or freaky. They leave scars. Arguably the most extreme X-Files episode was banned from airing for years.
Some of the most horrifying, gross, and nausea-inducing episodes of The X-Files combine the body horror of David Cronenberg films with the kind of supernatural scares for which the show is best known. These episodes twist human and inhuman bodies into a myriad of disgusting forms, pushinig the viewer into horrifying worlds that are just a shade different than our own. More than anything, they make viewers' stomachs churn.
In a series full of freaky monsters, the fluke-man takes the cake. In "The Host," Mulder and Scully search for a worm man who's terrorizing the sewers of New Jersey, but you're forgiven if all you remember about this episode is the goopy white parasitic creature that feasts on any human who gets too close.
There's a claustrophobia in this episode that takes Mulder and Scully into the depths of the sewer system, something that makes their adventure all the more unsettling. As well crafted as the episode is, in the end it's the visual of the worm man that's sticks in your mind, especially when he stretches out to slide through a transparent tube. Makeup effects artist Toby Lindala insists that his work isn't meant to simply gross people out, but that it adds to the story:
A lot of times you can't even see our work because it's seen in silhouette, or it's in the dark. But it's real and it's there. They're not trying to fake it, to shoot around it, or get lazy because they're not going to use it anyway. If it is seen, it has to be fully believable. But it's not featured. It doesn't take up the whole screen. It's not about gore, it's about telling a story.A lot for network TV?
If any episode of The X-Files pushed the boundaries of network TV it's "Home." The Season 4 episode opens with the shallow burial of a mutated baby and gets darker from there. The episode is packed with horror tropes: inbred creeps, a run down house, and something hiding under a bed - the combination was freaky enough to get this show banned from Fox for a few years.
As controversial as the episode was at the time, it didn't feel too transgressive to the two writers behind it. Glen Morgan and James Wong told the New York Times they felt the episode was a straight down the middle horror movie told in 45 minutes. Wong remembers:
The people who responded first were the executives. I remember getting a call from a producer. He goes, 'You guys are sick!' I thought, ‘What is he talking about?’ I thought we had done more extreme stuff.
Even so, anyone who watched this episode when it first aired (or even on its eventual re-airing on FX) may have been mildly scarred for life by the Peacock Family.A lot for network TV?
"Familiar:" Mr. Chuckleteeth Is A Different Kind Of Scary
Just about everything in this Season 11 episode is upsetting, if not straight up gruesome. After a child is murdered in the woods outside of a small Connecticut town, Mulder and Scully look into the possibility that witchcraft is afoot. Well, Mulder looks into the witchcraft angle. The cold open of the episode hits the audience with a dead child and a the real life manifestation of "Mr. Chuckleteeth," a human-puppet hybrid who has emerged from a children's television show.
The most upsetting part of the episode isn't in the supernatural elements of this mystery, it's in the way that a small town bands together to kill an innocent man in the street. No matter the year, it's difficult to watch a police officer shoot an innocent man in plain view of his neighbors and get away with it.A lot for network TV?
"Hellbound" could have just been a normal police procedural, except for the plot point about multiple people being skinned alive. There's a lot of that happening in this Season 9 episode, both in dreams and in the real world.
The flayed victims in this episode are pretty hard to look at, but the real most memorable moment comes when Special Agents Reyes finds skin belonging to previous victims. All in all, the episode is pretty brutal.A lot for network TV?