X-Files Flashback: ‘Scary Monsters’

Scary Monsters

Season 9, Episode 14
Director: Dwight H. Little
Writer: Thomas Schnauz

“Scary Monsters” is one of The X-Files episodes where its The Twilight Zone roots are showing. The choice to center the “monster of the week” around a young boy isn’t all that daring, but it is an effectively creepy decision. As the proud father of two children myself, I speak from first-hand knowledge that… well… kids are creepy sometimes. Particularly when they scream out for you in the middle of the night. Or when they can’t sleep and stand over your bed, watching you sleep but afraid to wake you up. That’s creepy too. “Scary Monsters” doesn’t quite reach that level of terror, but it’s an effectively jarring outing.

The episode begins with little Tommy seeing something in his bedroom mirror. Frightened, he calls out to his father who explores under the bed and sees something indeed scurrying around the floor. His father, however, reassures Tommy that everything is alright and backs out of the room, shutting the door. When Tommy sees the creature again, he screams and runs for the bedroom door, which doesn’t open. His father is holding it shut from the outside. Later, Scully is approached by Agent Layla Harrison (Jolie Jenkins, effectively continuing her awe of our agents) about a potential X-file where Tommy’s mother stabbed herself to death 16 times in the stomach. Scully is reluctant to participate, so Harrison cons Doggett and Reyes into investigating the events. Dubious, Doggett and Reyes are concerned when they meet the boy and his father. When they try to leave the isolated cabin in which the two are housed, the car won’t start because some kind of creature has exploded in the engine.

Meanwhile, Scully is accosted by Harrison’s boyfriend (Brian Poth, hilariously toting a dead cat for love) who delivers a dead cat that once belonged to Tommy. The cat has signs of chewing into its own stomach. Scully contacts the local sheriff to investigate after being unable to reach Reyes by cell. At the cabin, Reyes and Doggett begin to understand the cause of the events as Tommy begins drawing pictures illustrating grotesque events inflicted upon the three agents. Reyes begins freaking out when something appears lodged in her stomach. Harrison begins crying blood. Doggett opens a door and falls into a pit that contains hundreds of insects. Apparently, none of this is real, however, as it is evident that the boy is mentally altering their reality, causing the hallucinations that eventually lead to self-mutilation. Doggett shrewdly convinces Tommy that he is setting the house on fire, and Tommy’s over-active imagination begins to see the flames around him. Tommy passes out, and all of the creatures disappear. He is then institutionalized where his treatment is a process of killing his imagination by subjecting him to dozens of television shows simultaneously.

“Scary Monsters” gets a great start by playing with the childhood tropes of the creatures under the bed. It then twists that conceit by having the child under duress generating the trauma. The tragedy of the situation, of course, is the death of his own mother, and the episode never really digs into why Tommy causes these events in his victims. Nor if he’s even consciously aware of doing it in the first place. Yet, the concept of creepy-crawlies under the bed, under your skin, or crawling over you is an effective scare for The X-Files. Yes, it’s basically ripped from multiple The Twilight Zone episodes. Consider it an homage or plagiarism. Your pick.

I don’t really have any strong objections to “Scary Monsters” honestly. It’s a decent episode that flows well and elicits scares by preying upon our basest of frights. My only nit with the episode is in the way Harrison’s dialogue wraps the episode. The character was initially dubious of Doggett and Reyes, comparing them unfavorably to the Mulder and Scully she comically idolizes. By the end, she is a convert and basically says, “Mulder? Mulder who? John Doggett is awesome sauce, and no one should miss that creepy Mulder guy!” It’s as if the writers were addressing real-life complaints about the state of The X-Files at the time, and it’s likely they were. Unfortunately, “Scary Monsters” marks the episode during which the cast discovered the show had been cancelled. Even fangirl Agent Harrison couldn’t have saved them now.

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