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Nightmare Fuel / The X-Files

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Mulder: Do not trust this man, do not talk to him, do not engage him in conversation, even if he is unarmed. Approach him only with extraordinary caution, and then only with adequate backup.
First marshall: So what's adequate backup?
Mulder: Adequate backup? Every cop you can lay your hands on.
— The FBI's briefing on Robert Patrick Modell, "Kitsunegari"

When one considers how The X-Files' theme song made whistling scary, you can bet that this show will deliver on the horror front.

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  • The theme music is creepy by itself, and the opening sequence is full of disturbing images: the human silhouette falling onto the image of the hand with the one red finger segment. Just the juxtaposition of the two pictures suggests a story — reading that the hand image is an example of Kirlian photography is unsatisfying by comparison. What's that tapping you hear in the background, just four taps over and over again? It could be ambiance… Or it could be the drums… The distorted, screaming face is particularly chilling. The fact it was sometimes cut from the opening sequence could be considered either a wonderful favor, a shame (for those who enjoy being disturbed)… or Paranoia Fuel, since one would never know when it would be included.
    • It was made worse in season 8, with one simple change. The human silhouette is replaced with Mulder, who falls into a human eye! It's very unsettling, since it's literally reminding us of the hell he is going through from alien experimentation.
  • The individual taglines for some Myth Arc episodes. Some of them are creepy on their own. RESIST OR SERVE or TRUST NO ONE.
  • Deaths and murders involving snakes. Several times. Either seriously huge snakes or lots of, lots of, lots of those animals.
  • The Black Oil hits a whole bunch of Primal Fears right on the nose, especially bodily invasion-related fears (it slithers under your skin and into your eyes).
  • All the Monsters' of the Week "Uh-Oh" Eyes. Myth Arc's Black Eyes of Evil, too. Even the vampires in the humorous "Bad Blood" have horrible bright green glowing eyes. Their attacks are seriously disturbing, complete with that hissing of theirs. Of course, could be Narm or Narm Charm to some.
  • The use of the smallpox vaccine as serial numbers in the Myth Arc. The vaccine hasn't been routinely issued since 1972, so this typically goes over the heads of younger fans, but for the older fans who were vaccinated before it was discontinued, it's the show's ultimate Paranoia Fuel.

    Season 1 
  • Eugene Victor Tooms, possibly the most popular (and most terrifying) monster to appear on the series. Once you see him in action, you'll never go near another air vent again. His introduction in "Squeeze": after an establishing shot of a busy city street at rush hour, the camera settles on a sewer grating and slowly, slowly zooms in on it. Pretty soon, we begin to see a pair of cold, yellow eyes staring predatorily out. He then kills a businessman, and the last shot before the opening credits is the vent closing again, with the screws being tightened. It was only the third episode of the series (and the first standalone), but it set the tone for the entire show. One of the scariest episodes ever.
    • Skip all the way to the end of the episode: Tooms has been put in prison, but notices that there's a hole in his cell door through which he can escape. He begins to smile in a way that's indescribably innocent yet perverted at the exact same time, and this HIDEOUS sound effect plays over and over again as the screen fades to black.
    • His reappearance in "Tooms" is no slouch either: whenever he looks for his next prey, his POV slows down and all colour apart from his next target bleeds out. This shows us just how much of a stalker Tooms really is.
    • When Mulder finds Tooms' cocoon inside a shopping centre's escalator, a bile-covered hand attempts to grab him. Cue Tooms emerging from his nesting place, naked, feral and trying to kill Mulder. It's so jarring to see such a reserved killer revealing his true colours like this.
    • All this culimates in his final fate. Mulder escapes the escalator with the help of Scully, and turns on the machine. Cue Tooms screaming and being dragged in, with a growing vertical smear of blood being a clear sign of how he went out.
  • "Ice": "We're not who we are", although admittedly possibly coloured because it's basically The Thing (1982) but science-y.
  • "Eve": The Eves themselves are chilling. Twin Telepathy and Creepy Twins notwithstanding, Enfant Terrible as a result of genetic manipulation that, according to the doctor who did it herself (one of the few surviving Eve clones), accelerated instead of improving the hereditary psychotic problems all Adams and Eves have. And who knows what the Adams would've been like.
    Eves 9 and 10: We just knew.
  • "Fire": People being set on fire and burning alive is very chilling (ironically). And there's even children are trapped in a burning building twice!
  • "Beyond the Sea":
    • The beginning of the episode has Scully's parents over at her place for a dinner. After they've left, she wakes up on the couch later at night and sees her father sitting on the armchair. She says she thought they had gone home already, but he doesn't even react. The phone rings, she turns away, looks back and her father has disappeared. She answers the phone and her mother tells her her father died of a heart attack an hour ago. Just the way he's sitting there, with a glassy stare, lips moving but no words coming out.
    • Both of the scenes where Luther Lee Boggs is being led to his own execution. He may have deserved it for all of the people he killed, but the long shot of him being led down the hall, being strapped into the chair, the way he starts hyperventilating and crying, and the slow, barely-restrained sense of panic building through the whole thing as he KNOWS he's about to die.
  • "Darkness Falls" has a swarm of strange, glowing insects (theorized to be extraterrestrial in origin) awakened from thousands of years of dormancy when an illegal logging project accidentally cuts down the old-growth tree they had been trapped in. The insects only appear in the dark, but when they do, quickly swarm and kill anything they find, wrapping their prey in a spider-like web. The majority of the episode has Mulder, Scully, two police officers and an environmentalist trapped in a cabin in the middle of the wilderness with little time to escape and gasoline to keep any light on.
    • In the beginning of the episode, we see the logging crew discussing escape options, and it's pretty clear they're screwed from the get go. They end up splitting up in an attempt to take their chances. Even before seeing the bugs, it quite conveyed a fear of the unknown. As night falls, one man gets his ankle broken, and the bugs descend on him and Dyer as they're helpless to do anything.
    • In the end, Mulder, Scully and the last police officer are stuck in a jeep that just ran over caltrops, meaning that they are stuck. And it's nighttime, so those insects swarm the car and attack the three. By the time decontamination services arrive, the occupants in the jeep are already covered in webs. They were rescued and treated in the end, but let us get this straight: it was said that Scully would have died if she stayed trapped in her web cocoon for 2-3 more hours. This means that simple bugs that survived years of volcanic activity came this close to killing our beloved X-Files duo, moreso than the Syndicate!
    • The ending, where it sheds doubt on the success rate of quarantine services.
      FBI Rescue Man: The government has initiated eradication procedures. They’re quite certain that by using a combination of controlled burns and pesticides, they will be successful.
      Mulder: And if they're not?
      FBI Rescue Man: That is not an option, Mr. Mulder.

    Season 2 
  • "The Host", in which a giant mutant flukeworm that looks part human goes on a sewer rampage biting people. However, the most horrifying moment of the episode was not the flukeman himself, but the scene in which a bitten worker THROWS UP A FLUKEWORM IN THE SHOWER. AHHH!
    • To make matters worse, this isn't some genetic throwback, or a creature from space, or a mythological monster; it's just an ordinary, terrestrial parasite that was irradiated after the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
      Scully: Mulder, nature didn't make this thing. We did.
  • The subliminal messages people start seeing all over the place in "Blood", such as "KILL 'EM ALL." Oh God…
  • The scenes and descriptions of Duane's torture in "Duane Barry". Real or not, the sight of a man strapped to a table, immobile and terrified, as a drill slowly lowers itself into his open mouth to drill his teeth... it's enough to make anyone flinch.
    • Scully looking out her living room window at night during a rainstorm — and seeing Barry on the opposite side, staring right at her before he smashes through the window and abducts her. The tension leading up to the scene is palpable, and it's a very real fear for women who live alone.
  • "Irresistible":
    • Keeping Donnie Pfaster's demon form in quick, darkened glimpses was how you do it right. Or very, very wrong.
    • Donnie Pfaster. They Look Just Like Everyone Else! indeed. As if the first time wasn't bad enough — they brought the bastard back for a sequel episode!
      "Are you crying for your sins? Or for yourself?"
      "No, Reverend. I cry for you. Because… you cannot kill me."
  • "Die Hand Die Verletzt" (German for "The Hand That Wounds):
    • Picture this: its a small town high school somewhere in Middle America. It looks like any other school, sort of vaguely Christian and conservative like you'd expect a small town high school to be. It's not, as the faculty members are actually Satanists, and have been abusing their students for their unholy rituals. The episode is a reference to the Satanic Panic trend from the 1980's, except it's actually REAL this time.
    • One of the school students is having hallucinations while her biology exam requires her to dissect a fetal pig, which comes to life in her mind as she cuts it open. What's more, the teacher casually tells the students they will get "bonus points for dissecting the heart".
    • Eaten alive by a python?!note 
    • Mrs Paddock, the substitute teacher and one of the members of the cult, mysteriously disappears at the end after forcing the other members to kill themselves.
    • There's the teacher's snake eyes. Hell, everything about that teacher was terrifying. Even the font she chalked her final goodbye message in seemed really creepy. She was heavily implied to be a high-level demon who decided to stop by just to punish the cultists for not paying proper tribute to her and essentially tricked Mulder and Scully into helping make her job easier.
    • The school is named after Alistair Crowley.
    • The worst part? The cult isn't even DEVOUT, as the episode plays the devil-worshipping teachers like the kind of hypocritical Christians you often find in these kinds of communities, who don't particularly want to follow their religion to the letter.
  • "Red Museum" has a subplot where Mulder and Scully discover a hidden camera and stacks of video tapes behind a family's bathroom mirror. Earlier, you see the eyes of the a man watching the woman undress as he breathes heavily. She has two boys. And in confession, he says he loves those boys.
  • "Fresh Bones": A person emerging out of a small cut in Scully's hand, fingers first. Oh God, oh God, oh God…
  • "The Calusari": "Be careful. It knows you now."
  • "F. Emasculata" is a germophobe's worst nightmare. Especially the part when the escaped convict's boil bursts at his girlfriend's face. You can see all of the gunk that's on her face and you can almost feel the germs on you.
  • "Soft Light": The clear despair and self-loathing Tony Shalhoub's character feels for what he is inadvertently doing, and the genuine fear and horror as he tries to warn people away from his shadow is bad enough… but what the shadow itself does… This is taken up to eleven when he faces his ultimate Fate Worse than Death.

    Season 3 
  • "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose":
    • The horrible vision of the charred, bloody doll.
    • Clyde Bruckman's dream. The fact that he has it every single night just adds to the Fate Worse than Death nature of his entire existence.
    • It's also implied that Mulder was unable to sleep after Bruckman told him about the dream. Think about that: just hearing about it was disturbing enough to keep Mulder, who is no stranger to intensely scary shit, awake.
  • "2Shy": Two words: human soup.
  • "The Walk":
    • Surviving trying to drown yourself in boiling water? Primal Fear squared!
    • A woman swims slowly through an empty pool, watching her shadow projected onto the pool ceiling. Something bad's gonna happen here... and then a second shadow starts catching up with hers.
  • "Syzygy": Summoning up Bloody Mary by a perfectly ordinary mirror found in every household and just repeating her name.
  • "Pusher" gives you an evil bastard who can control you with his mind, forcing you to shoot yourself, or set yourself on fire, or even induce a heart attack using nothing but words over a telephone.
  • The premise of "Wetwired", where a subliminal TV signal causes you to have hallucinations based on your worst fears and anxieties and subsequently become dangerous and violent, is Paranoia Fuel enough. It really starts getting creepy once Scully gets affected, both because she's a viewpoint character and because the paranoia that results is so opposite of her normal personality.

    Season 4 
  • "Home":
    • ALL OF IT. The episode has the distinction of being the only one in the show's history to be banned from network TV. Honestly, it's surprising it ever made it to air in the first place, but it was something like five years before it was shown again (as part of a Halloween scare-fest, of course). It was also rated TV-MA. A network TV show getting a rating like that (even today) is unheard of.
    • "I can tell you don't have no children. Maybe one day you'll learn… the pride… the love... when you know your boy will do ANYTHING for his mother." AUGH.
    • The opening birth sequence, with the scream and shot of the umbilical cord being cut, is simply horrifying. After the baby is born, the Peacock brothers then take the baby outside during a massive storm and proceed to bury it alive. To add on to that the entire scene is accompanied by a truly disturbing score.
    • The dead baby in the fridge next to snacks and drinks is disgusting. Somewhat of a visual example of Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick. And then the shot of the extremely deformed baby itself…
    • The scene with the sheriff and his wife getting beaten to death and the accompanying music… *shudder* The cheery song "Wonderful, Wonderful" has become linked with creepiness in the minds of fans.
    • It's one of a few episodes that has nothing supernatural or paranormal in it, just massive human depravity. The Peacocks aren't aliens or ghosts or mutants, just human monsters created through centuries of seclusion and madness.
  • "Teliko" gives us a man who steals the pigment from his victims.
  • The pictures from "Unruhe". Very creepy in themselves, but consider that one crazy guy takes them as a proof that you need a lobotomy. With an ice-pick through your eye.
  • The scene where the plastic surgeon in "Sanguinarium" is removing his own face, but really the whole episode is filled Squick and Nausea Fuel. Vomiting needles. Bathtub full of blood. A guy getting his organs ripped out by a liposuction device. Gruesome plastic surgery accidents. Don't EVER watch this episode with a full stomach.
  • "Terma": Picture yourself in Alex Krycek's shoes. You have encountered a group who all don't have their left arms. You manage to convince them that you ran from the Krasnoyarsk gulag tests, so you're safe and can sleep well that night, right? Dead wrong. Out of absolutely nowhere, you are forcibly awakened by the men and held down. You can see one of them holding a heated knife, kneeling down and amputating your left arm. All you can do is scream and feel every single ounce of pain for God knows how long.
  • "Leonard Betts":
    • The storage locker sequence. Giving birth to your another duplicate body through your mouth? That is just sick and wrong! Needless to say, this was an episode with some in-universe squick, and Mulder and Scully have very strong stomachs and are tough as can be.
    • The titular character needs to feed on the cancerous cells of others in order to regenerate his body. He's also a very gentle person who hates hurting others, and apologizes to his victims before killing them. That's tragic and creepy enough. And then he comes face to face with Scully...
  • In "Synchrony", the villain (who is the future version of one of the researchers, Jason Nichols) tries to kill the scientists. His reason? Their research will lead to the creation of time travel, which will be available for everyone. Everybody will know everything, there will be no future. Nichols describes this world as that one without hope. The most horrific part? We don't know if he succeeded to avert this future, as Lisa, his girlfriend scientist, continued her work...
  • "Small Potatoes": The Monster of the Week (a man who is a shapeshifter) impersonates Mulder for the few days, while the real Mulder is trapped in a hospital cellar. Though the entire episode is pretty comedic, and while Mulder manages to get out, the fact that everyone around actually took the fake Mulder for real can induce heavy amounts of Paranoia Fuel.

    Season 5 
  • "Detour":
    • Two simple red, glowing lights become a symbol of fear after. To make it worse, the beginning scene that shows the glowing red eyes coming from the ground is used as the main menu on the DVD for the episode. The last shot of the episode — the eyes opening up under Scully's hotel bed — was incredibly creepy.
    • The pit with the bodies.
  • The cursed doll from "Chinga". Particularly the way it speaks when attempting to kill the mother. "Don't play with matches. Let's play with the hammer."
  • "Bad Blood", despite being a Lighter and Softer comedy episode, has a very creepy scene where Mulder is drugged and cornered by a vampire. Even without the supernatural element, it's still scary for having Mulder slowly losing consciousness and unable to move while someone with horrible intentions walks toward him.
  • The entirety of the titular character in "Patient X". Kidnapped, tortured, infected with the Black Oil and then having his eyes, nose and mouth sewn shut to prevent it from escaping.
  • "Folie à Deux". Your boss is a horrible insectoid creature who vibrates like he's out of sync with reality and can move faster than you can blink. Worse, he's systematically turning your coworkers into the living dead, and everyone thinks you're delusional because you're the only one who can see it.

    Season 6 
  • "One Son" ends with the death of most of the Syndicate by the Faceless Rebels. You could be cheering for the sinister organisation's demise and the rebels' victory... if not for the fact that the Syndicate had their wives and children with them. This really emphasises just how determined the rebels are at stopping alien colonisation from happening at all. It doesn't help that there is a Scream Discretion Shot after the group are surrounded in a circle by the rebels.
  • "Field Trip". Particularly freaky were the scenes where reality seeps into the hallucinations in the form of gooey yellow acid, and especially when a whole room, including the people in it, dissolves into the acid. The whole concept of the episode is both Nightmare Fuel and Paranoia Fuel.
  • "Monday". Imagine experiencing the trauma of the day where your boyfriend dies, but worse (he takes a bunch of innocent people with him), and knowing there is nothing you can do to stop it. Now imagine experiencing that day FOREVER! The woman even says she is in hell. Mulder somehow breaks the loop, but considering how many times he personally looped, one can assume that woman had experienced that day for months, years, or possibly even decades. Hell indeed.

    Season 7 
  • Rob Roberts' true form in "Hungry". His sharp, pointed teeth and black eyes were particularly disturbing.
    Rob: Do you believe in monsters?
  • Even with its crossoverness, all of "X-Cops" has to be mentioned. It's Your Mind Makes It Real cranked up to eleven. And the camera never catches the monster, only the aftermath. And did we forget to mention that all this was filmed on a Shaky P.O.V. Cam, heightening the terror?
    • Special mention goes to the introductory scene, where Dep. Wetzel sees something that makes him run like hell, with him and the cameraman getting into the car. But then, the car is flipped over. The sheer banging, glass shattering and screaming makes it a scene to unnerve you.
  • Mulder being taken by aliens in "Requiem". It seems somewhat peaceful Mulder to simply walk into the beam with the other abductees, only for the Alien Bounty Hunter to walk in and face Mulder. The former's smile is unnerving, because this is essentially business as usual, while the latter has a look of silent fear, immediately regretting his decision. It's almost as if the two of them know what will happen to this unfortunate, new arrival.

    Season 8 
  • Mulder's experiences being taken by aliens, seen in "Within": Mulder is bolted to a stone chair through his wrists and ankles, has his cheeks stretched wide with what looks like fish hooks and wire, and we watch as a drill is sent through his soft palate. Yikes.
    • And then there's the little circular saw that starts vivisecting him. Yikes is right. His screams certainly don't help, either.
  • "Invocation", especially when Scully plays the tape backwards. *shudder*
  • "Via Negativa". Not only can this person kill you in your sleep, but they can also control you to murder someone else.
  • "Badlaa". Orifice Invasion at its most squicky.
    • The idea that the Indian begger can make himself invisible. The sound of squeaky wheels should not be that terrifying. The scene where the kid is running down the street and he can't see what's chasing him, but can only hear the "squeeeak, squeeeak, squeeeak…" of the wheels behind him… *Shudder*
    • At the end of the episode, Scully evidently shoots the Indian begger dead at a school in Maryland, yet the closing stinger shows him back at the airport in India from the start of the episode, with absolutely no explanation for how he got there, or how he's still alive. ''If'' he's still alive, that is....
  • "Deadalive":
    • Mulder's resurrection. He has been dead and buried for months, but he gets better. How? It's super creepy when you imagine that his body has been embalmed and decomposing, or that he might have been cremated. In addition, people are only slightly disbelieving and by the end, apparently nobody is freaked out by this. When did people like doctors and skeptics like Doggett start to take the paranormal this easily? Why is nobody freaking out?
    • When Billy Miles comes back to life as a Super Soldier, he takes a shower. This causes him to shed his entire human skin, letting a shit ton of blood fall from his body.
  • "Existence" has Billy Miles carrying the nightmare fuel in this episode. As a Super Soldier, he is indestructible. No bullet or car can stop him, and how does he kill, you ask? Swinging his hand to chop people's heads off!

    Season 9 
  • "Hellbound", which is about people being skinned alive. It gets even worse: those deaths are a particularly horrific case of You Can't Fight Fate, as the murderer and the victims are part of a death-and-rebirth cycle that started when four miners flayed a man alive in a claim dispute and were acquitted. All five are now bound together, with the four miners repeatedly being reincarnated to eventually die those same awful deaths at the hand of the reincarnated victim, who always winds up being a representative of the law so as to ensure that all the deaths avoid being investigated. The worst part? Despite Reyes' best efforts to end the cycle, the victim-turned-murderer is shown to have been reincarnated yet again at the end of the episode, and literally nothing will change.

    Season 10 
  • All the deformed children Scully sees in "Founder's Mutation", if only because they look so disturbingly realistic.
  • All the murder scenes in "Home Again", with the Bandage-Nose Man literally ripping his victims apart with his bare hands. There's also a homage/callback to "Home", in which Petula Clark's cheerful "Downtown" plays over one of the most brutal and horrific death scenes in the series.

    Season 11