Of all the myriad nerdy pop culture properties that I am passionately obsessive-compulsive about – and, trust me, there are a lot – one of the biggest is easily The X-Files. It premiered when I was in eighth grade and went off the air when I was in college (and had already been dating my wife for six months); I’ve been showing nine-night marathons at Halloweens for 11 years running now; and I can easily name at least half of the 202 episodes, probably in order. I guess you could say I’m something of a superfan.
So the recent news of Fox picking up the series for a limited-run tenth season (which, no, is not necessarily a positive development, thank you for asking) has got me to thinking that the property just might have finally obtained the right amount of staying power to make it a serious contender to be one of Halloween Horror Nights’s haunted houses, maybe even for this year. What’s that, you say? All of 2015’s nine houses have already been accounted for? Why, yes, it may be true that Universal Art and Design currently has the roster completely filled, but it’s also true that licensing deals fall apart, sometimes even at the last possible minute, which makes having backup intellectual properties a must.
But why The X-Files? There is a richness in the material that far surpasses what Universal normally requires from its IPs, and that quality derives from more than just its incredibly long nine-season-and-two-feature-film run – from the sheer diversity of the subject matter (ranging from aliens to vampires to malevolent AIs to time-travelling murderers) to the huge variety of scares that could be parlayed into the haunted house format, it’s actually hard to think of a better property to unleash on HHN.
For the uninitiated, The X-Files was broken up into two different types of episodes: the mythology installments would slowly unravel the show’s byzantine overarching narrative, which revolved around the (returned) presence of extraterrestrials bent on colonizing the planet, while the monster-of-the-week eps were standalone tales about one particular paranormal encounter or another. (Geeky side note: the films follow this same pattern, with the first, 1998’s Fight the Future, being the former and the second, 2008’s I Want to Believe, being the latter.)
Perhaps the most straightforward path for Universal to take in designing the haunt would be a straight retelling of the entire mythology, starting with the aliens’ first visitations during the last Ice Age and then jumping to their return in the 1940s, the forging of their collaboration with the American government in the ‘70s (which starts the infamous string of alien abductions), the disruption of their plans by the intrepid Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully in 1999, and their rushed attempts at creating a new conspiracy throughout the early 21st century.
(Fun fact: the series revealed that December 22, 2012 was D-Day, the beginning of colonization, but since that date has come and gone without anything even remotely approaching an extraterrestrial “viral apocalypse,” the writers have much to explain in next year’s contemporaneous miniseries. Maybe the resolution of this mystery could serve as the maze’s grand finale – God knows creator/showrunner Chris Carter would certainly appreciate any help he can get.)
There’s more than enough here to furnish a full-fledged haunt with: the grueling tests that both the aliens and humans subject the abductees to, the lurking danger of the super-creepy Black Oil (called “Purity” by the alien colonists) that takes over both an individual’s body and mind, and the hovering, menacing presence of the alien bounty hunters and replicants, who are unstoppable, Terminator-esque enforcers of the conspiracy (one can shapeshift while the other can decapitate a man with one slice of his bare hand).
But while the mythology was, obviously, the heart of the series, it was only (literally) a tiny fraction of its overall story – not only would the house’s designers be limited in their lineup of scares (hello, The Walking Dead), the unrelenting focus on aliens would result in something of a monotony. In order to fully take advantage of The X-Files’s potential – and to provide a Horror Nights experience unlike any other – it’s the monster-of-the-week episodes that must somehow be incorporated.
With roughly two-thirds of the show’s overall episodes being devoted to one particular paranormal case or another, there is a huge plethora of possibilities on hand. Luckily for us, however, a goodly number of these feature monsters – some of which have gone on to live in horror infamy – which would, of course, make for the perfect haunted house fodder, especially considering how well The Cabin the Woods managed to pull off its own beasties back in 2013’s event.
It was only the third X-Files installment (“Squeeze,” episode 103) that blew viewers’ minds as to the bizarre depths that the series could go to: Eugene Victor Tooms, an otherwise normal-looking man who just so happens to go into three-decade-long hibernations and emerges only to consume human livers. The fact that he can contort his body to ridiculous proportions – a fingerprint found at the scene of one of his crimes is several inches long – means he can pursue his prey literally anywhere. It’s hard to think of a better character to stalk you throughout a maze.
Then there’s Leonard Betts (“Leonard Betts,” 412), a man who sheds his skin, regrows severed body parts, and subsists off of cancer; summoned mystical creatures of vengeance, such as a golem (who is a hate-crime victim brought back to life in “Kaddish” ) or a tulpa (which is a creature made of dirt and compost in “Arcadia” ); and, my personal favorite, an amputee Indian beggar who can crawl up an individual’s anus and take control of his body (“Badlaa,” 810). While this (understandly) dirty-looking little guy can’t move very fast, the telltale squeak of his little cart’s wheels will send chills down your spine like no other noise.
But the most legendary of them all, of course, is the Flukeman, a fluke worm that was exposed to radiation from the Chernobyl blast and has since mutated into a humanoid shape (“The Host,” 201). The extent to which this guy is revolting cannot be overstated; should Universal adapt this wonderfully creepy monstrosity, it would not only have, arguably, one of the best in-house adversaries, it would also have a ready-made icon for the entire event on its hands (move over, Jack).
If Universal’s designers don’t want to do either a mythology- or standalone-based house – or do a combination thereof – there is one final option available to them, and it’s actually quite the doozy.
“Home” (402) is the only episode in The X-Files’s history to be banned from television (although it was ultimately aired one additional time in what was essentially a publicity stunt by Fox). With its violence (including a newborn baby being buried alive), unnerving “creature” designs, exploration of nostalgia, and, most notably, heavy role of incest (remember – this was 15 years before Game of Thrones), it’s easy to see why.
It’s perhaps best to quote the ever-handy Wikipedia’s summary:
In this episode, Mulder and Scully investigate the death of an infant with severe birth defects. Traveling to the small, isolated town of Home, Pennsylvania, the pair meets the Peacocks, a family of deformed farmers who have not left their house in a decade. Initially, Mulder suspects that the brothers kidnapped and raped a woman to father the child, but the investigation uncovers a long history of incest involving the Peacocks’ own mother.
Beyond the powerful graphic imagery, however, the episode is perfectly tailored for the haunted house treatment. The Peacocks hole themselves up into their booby-trapped-laden ancestral house, which the FBI agents and some local police backup have to storm in order to apprehend the infanticide suspects. The grand finale of the maze could be the same as the ep’s climax: the discovery of the paraplegic mother, who actually has neither arms nor legs and who is kept on a rolling board underneath the bed, brought out only when it’s time to reproduce and, therefore, continue the proud Peacock family line.
If that doesn’t get your blood pumping and your stomach churning, I don’t know what will.