X-Files Flashback: ‘The Calusari’

Season 2, Episode 21
Director: Mike Vejar
Writer: Sara Charno

In “The Calusari,” The X-Files revisits one of its most fertile genres – the “kids be creepy as shit” vein of horror. The best thing these episodes do is find The Perfect Child that either fortunately or unfortunately (depending on your vantage point) has the look of a Damien. In this case, young Joel Palmer embodies young Charlie Holvey, a potentially disturbed child, so effectively that he’s able to convey a foreboding sense of evil without much dialogue at all. If you’re wondering where that talent comes from, then look no further than my earlier statement – “kids be creepy as shit.”

“The Calusari” opens at a local park that is surrounded by a small train track and working locomotive. Young Charlie and his family are meant to enjoy balloons and ice cream until Charlie’s 2-year-old brother lets go of his balloon and falls into his ice cream, ruining the day as little brothers are want to do. I blame the parents because all of this could have been avoided if they’d simply tied the balloon to the child’s wrist, but whatever… Incidents escalate until the small child chases his second balloon (formerly Charlie’s balloon) into the path of the oncoming train which is unable to stop and kills him on the spot. Flash forward a few months and Mulder and Scully are investigating the crime – the reasons of which are slightly mysterious… Something about the father working for the State Department. At any rate, they discover through fancy photograph filtering that an entity was indeed dragging the balloon against the wind into the path of the oncoming train.

When they investigate, they find a whole batch of crazy. First, the house seems supremely possessed with fires randomly raging in the fireplace and spotty power outages. Also, there is a Romanian grandmother whose comic ancient ways – protecting the child by drawing a swastika on his fist – go against the grains of traditional family bonds. Scully is convinced that the grandmother was harming the twins because she suffers from Munchausen by proxy. After the father dies from a mysterious garage door hanging, the grandmother calls in the titular Calusari – Romanian priests – to cleanse the house and the boy using the blood of dead chickens. Charlie’s mother kicks the Calusari out of the house, and Charlie takes revenge against his grandmother by BRINGING THE DEAD CHICKENS BACK TO LIFE TO PECK HER TO DEATH. Clearly, one of the more inventive deaths on The X-Files to date.

When questioned about the incident, Charlie claims a boy named Michael did it – Michael being the stillborn twin he never knew he had. Convinced Michael and Charlie need to be separated, Mulder joins the Calusari in an exorcism ritual over Charlie, stopping Michael just before he kills Scully and his own mother. The spirit is separated from Charlie, but the leader of the Calusari warns Mulder that “it knows you.” The end.

“The Calusari” is an average-to-good episode of The X-Files. It is effectively tense and unnerving thanks to Joel Palmer’s performance as the boy. Kudos, too, to Helene Clarkson as his mother, Maggie, for effectively looking frightened and bewildered for much of the episode. The Calusari and grandmother scenes are also well-staged and efficiently unsettling thanks to the vast cultural differences between the Romanian and American families. I also found the grandmother’s death by chicken to be one of those great scenes where you can’t quite believe what you’re seeing, but you know that it’s completely, amazingly bonkers.

I have minor quibbles with the Michael side of the equation as it wasn’t developed well enough to be anything but a swift resolution to a complicated plot. The X-Files sometimes dangers in, largely thanks to the limitations of 45-minutes of television, too quickly resolving complex plots with a single, swiftly resolved explanation. It’s aliens. It’s a ghost. He’s possessed. Many people claimed the episode was a retread of The Exorcist, but I don’t really fault it for that. Just because it dabbles in an exorcism doesn’t make it a copy of that film. It doesn’t even attempt to elevate itself to that level. Instead, it looks for quick, cheap thrills that could be quickly dealt with.

Overall, “The Calusari” isn’t something I’m going to remember a week or two from now, but it was entertaining enough in a pinch. It did take guts to make the chief antagonist a possessed little boy and have him clearly lead to the death of his much younger brother. That’s not something easily pulled off. In that light, the episode was indeed an effective outing. It just doesn’t really grow beyond that central point of shock value.

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