X-Files: The best monsters of the week

The latest series of the X-Files is currently on UK screens (Channel 5, Mondays at 10PM), and tonight sees the arrival of the always greatly anticipated “monster of the week” episode. In season eleven’s “Ghoulie”, two teenage girls attack one another, each believing the other to be a monster. The episode plays with cultural references such as Creepy Pasta, as it explores the myth of the “screaming skull” as well as what the real definition of a monster could be.

But as we shall see, the X-Files has a long and much-loved history of flirting with cryptids and creatures. I’m going to ignore the many human (ish) monsters that have made their way into the X-Files, and just stick to those that most of us would recognise as the real deal.

S1: E19 – Shapes

This is probably the X-Files episode that both scares me the most, and I have watched the most. Although we never really see the monster clearly, we do see it’s bulging, amber eyes and hear its panting breaths as it watches its prey from the shadows. A spate of gruesome murders brings Mulder and Scully into the jurisdiction of the Native American Tribal Police, and the legend of the Manitou – or werewolf to you and me.

In the episode, an elder explains that the curse revisits every eight years. Oh, how I wished it was a case that was returned to at a later date, but alas, it was never to be.

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S2: E2 – The Host

AKA as the flukeman, The Host sees a humanoid, parasitic organism using sewage systems to live in seclusion, away from humans. But when confronted, its predatory nature quickly comes to the surface.

S3: E22 – Quagmire

Another firm favourite, Quagmire sees our dynamic duo searching for a beast similar to the Loch Ness Monster, in a lake in Georgia. I love this episode, as it keeps you guessing all the way through, and there’s a lovely little Easter Egg right at the end too. Not an episode for dog lovers though…

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S5: E4 – Detour

A quintessential monster in the woods story gives Mulder the perfect excuse not to go to a team-building seminar, and instead drags Scully, and the two agents unfortunately (for them) hitching a ride, literally into the woods. Several disappearances and a boy’s tale of something invisible attacking him, leads Mulder to believe nature may be taking a vengeful turn against people.

S6: E13 – Agua Mala

As a hurricane bears down on the Florida coast, a contact asks Mulder and Scully to investigate the disappearance of two marine biologists. This episode is a controversial choice among X-Files die-hards, as it’s considered too funny to be scary – but it was great for two reasons. First, humour and the monster of the week episodes quickly became hallmarks of the series, and two, the late great Darren McGavin returns as Arthur Dales. Third, there’s a sea monster on the loose!

“Don’t sneer at the mysteries of the deep, young lady. The bottom of the ocean is as deep and dark as the imagination.”

Arthur Dales

S6: E16 – Alpha

A cryptozoologist and a canine biologist import a rare Chinese dog that kills those transporting it and seems to show supernatural cunning in its behaviour. More evil glowing eyes in this episode, and an interesting twist too.

S7: E12 – Cops

A clear example of how humour and the monster of the week episodes worked well together, the crew of hit show “Cops” follow Mulder and Scully as they investigate a neighbourhood monster.

S8: E19 – Alone

In season 8, it took a full-blown reptilian creature to drag Mulder back into the X-Files for a guest appearance. Just remember that folks, it was a monster of the week that brought Mulder back. You’d be watching Robert Patrick right now if it wasn’t for that scaly SOB.

S10: E3 – Mulder & Scully meet the Were-monster

This episode was greatly anticipated by show fans, not for just being the only monster of the week of the newly emerged season 10, but also for the return of writer Darin Morgan. The one-liners come thick and fast, and the twist is almost as funny.

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So, although I couldn’t quite make it to ten, perhaps tonight’s “Ghoulie” will make the list. Are you sitting comfortably? Yes? Obviously, I want to believe you, but you can’t possibly be watching the X-Files then! And remember, just like the truth, the monsters are out there.

 

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The Best (and worst) of 2017

So, as 2017 draws to a close, I’m taking a look back at some of the best and worst books, films, and TV that I had the good (and bad) fortune to fall for over the last twelve months. There may be some mild spoilers ahead, so be warned if you want to watch or read in blissful ignorance when it comes to any of my choices.

Books

Few and Far Between by Charlie Elder was one of the most entertaining and well-written books I’ve read in years. Told from the everyman’s perspective, the plight of some of our rarest animals and birds is explored with incredible charm, humour, and concern.

Talulla Rising by Glen Duncan is the second in the Last Werewolf trilogy. This no-holds-barred tale of Talulla and her child taking on the malevolent forces looking to rid the world of werewolves and other creatures is an absolute riot of blood, slaughter, violence, and mayhem. A great read.

The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf is a love-letter of a book, putting a well-deserved spotlight on the work and life of Alexander von Humbolt. As one of the first scientists to truly understand ecology and the connections between all living things, not to mention having more species of flora and fauna named in his honour, this book rightly puts his achievements back under our noses.

On the other hand, Hominid by R.D. Bradly just rubs our noses in it. After a promising start and a horrifying childhood encounter, bigfoot turns out to be a gentle forest giant with super powers.

Monster of the Mere by Jonathan Downes follows the exploits of the Centre for Fortean Zoology as they try to establish if a giant fish could really call one of England’s greatest nature reserves home. The premise is intriguing, but unfortunately the delivery doesn’t quite live up to the expectation. I am all for self-publishing, and I realise that costs can be prohibitive – and I can also forgive the occasional spelling or grammatical error. But averaging one a page tends to detract from the reading experience. The same lack of editing also means that Downes is free to explore wild tangents at leisure. The actual account of the investigative aspects of the ‘expedition’ could be reduced to a handful of pages at best. Perhaps its apt, given the CFZ journeyed from one side of the country to the other, but this book really goes all over the place.

If you really want to be depressed whilst reading a book, then pick up a copy of Hold the Dark by William Giraldi. From characters you can’t possibly like, to pretentiousness that’s hard to ignore, this was a perfect example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

Films

Without doubt, my top film of the year was Logan. This gritty, sombre, emotionally violent finale to the wolverine movies gives the X-Men’s anti-hero the sendoff that not only he deserves, but the one we wanted to see. And catch it in the ‘noir’ version if you can for even extra atmosphere and a little bit of extra class.

And when it comes to emotional strings being tugged, Bladerunner 2049 should have received an award for best use of original music ever. If you’re not welling up by the time you hear ‘tears in the rain’ pierce the score, then you may want to question your own humanity, let alone Decker’s.

And in joint third place, we have both Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Thor: Ragnarok. Both have their flaws, and both have proven controversial with their loyal audiences.

Star wars was probably my most anticipated movie of the year, and I personally find the running out of time storyline a huge improvement over ‘have to blow something big up’. There is some bold story telling along with impressive character development, but it is almost inexcusable that the line “I have a bad feeling about this” didn’t make the script. Director Rian Johnson says it is in there, but it is either uttered by a droid or a wookie, which is either pretentious, or more likely, sounds awfully like they forgot (if you’re not aware, it has been uttered in every single Star Wars movie to date). There are also some horrendous Disney-esque scenes, but I loved it.

Thor on the other hand, kills off a whole host of characters we have spent the last two films getting to know with explanation or ceremony, and leaves out one key character altogether, but makes up for it by squeezing every drop of comedy the God of Thunder has to offer. Both films are skirting dangerously close to getting it wrong, but have gotten away with it, at least for now.

But for an example of a film that flirted with the line of where not to go, crossed it, took a dump, and then kicked it in the general direction of the screen, look no further than Alien: Covenant. Just awful. Shockingly bad acting, a storyline that makes no sense and which took the advice of critics to ignore Prometheus a little too literally, plus some of the worst creatures and visual effects to grace the cinema ever, let alone 2017.

Other cinematic catastrophes included The Mummy, where Tom Cruise runs a bit and forgot he wasn’t making a Mission Impossible film. Russel Crow turning up as a certain Dr. Jekyll is amusing, but no where near as funny as what is meant to be his English accent.

And Underworld Blood Wars was a film where not even Kate Beckinsale wrapped in leather could distract from quite how bad things were getting for that particular franchise. Unfortunately, the tiresome war between vampire and werewolf needs a stake through the heart and a silver bullet to the head just to be sure.

Honourable mentions should go to Beauty and the Beast, John Wick 2, Wonder Woman, and Murder on the Orient Express, and even Justice League, all of which I enjoyed.

But dishonourable mentions should be awarded to xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, The Great Wall, Ghost in the Shell, and Transformers: The Last Knight. All were terrible, but not quite in the league of insult as those mentioned above.

TV

I’ll stick to the good stuff on the small screen, as I tend to only catch the stuff I know I like.

Let’s start with Billions. This is without a doubt one of the best written, most griping bits of television out there. A warring hedge-fund ‘king’ and a District Attorney get to grips with what real power can do, only to discover what it does to the people surrounding them.

And of course, winter eventually arrived and Game of Thrones delivered dragons on a scale we were never expecting. Unfortunately, we will have to wait until 2019 to find out how it all ends, as it’ll almost certainly beat the long awaited book to the finish line.

So, there you have it – my 2017 in books, film, and TV. On to new discoveries in 2018!

Not Finding Bigfoot

I have a confession to make. I watch Finding Bigfoot, and I enjoy it. Though when I say I enjoy it, I mean it makes me laugh and I find it amusing, as any actual investigation and research is as absent as the hairy hominid itself.

Picture the scene if you will. Sir David Attenborough quietly and stealthily approaches a large male silverback gorilla in the forests of Rwanda. The entire crew and the game rangers accompanying them hold their breath at this cautious and historic attempt at first contact. Fingers reach out, an unsure grunt and warning is issued. Everyone freezes, and relaxes as the alpha bruises over and gently begins to groom Sir David’s flaxen hair. Suddenly, the gorillas look up collectively, startled by the arrival of a drum line trooping through their feeding ground to a particularly good rendition of the Radetzky March. Dave has his arms ripped off in the ensuing panic and the gorillas charge, using the pulped bodies of the little drummer boys to beat the now silent percussion skins. The game rangers look to the crew in horror, who shrug and explain they had it on good authority this was a standard way to look for big monkeys.

And that good authority comes in the form of the presenters of Finding Bigfoot, Matt Moneymaker (clue in the name folks), James ‘Bobo’ Fay, Cliff Barackman and Ranae Holland. Other ways of stealthily approaching primates include organising fireworks displays, performing rock concerts, shouting as loud as you can into the woods, and if you’re Bobo, falling down a lot and generally crashing through the timber like a wrecking ball. It will come to you as no surprise, that despite the show’s title, Bigfoot is yet to be found.

That said, what really draws me in to the show are the witness encounters. These often come across as very genuine, although the dodgy reconstructions less so it has to be said. Cliff and Ranae are definitely my preferred half of the team, Cliff being an experienced field researcher who seems to put up with the shenanigans because he gets to do his thing on TV, and Ranae being a research biologist who thinks they’re all nuts, but amusing.

Matt in particular makes some amazing claims biologically for an animal yet to actually be discovered, and its behaviour observed officially. I have growled at the TV more than once as he has casually explained Sasquatch’s ability to make its eyes glow red – something not just biologically unheard of, but frankly impossible. We’re not talking about eye-shine or reflection here; he means the full on, self-igniting superman-style laser vision, apparently available at will and not catalogued in any other primate, scratch vertebrate, ever discovered. They should use the bats they keep handy for tree knocking on him every time he says something unquantified, but that would mean he’d get hit in the head a lot, which some suspect may already be the case anyway.

Bigfoot is one of my favourite cryptid creatures, and I think of all the things that might be out there, it’s one of the more likely. Even famed primate expert Jane Goodall has gone on record to say she is fascinated by the accounts and won’t deny they exist and hopes very much they do. There are good examples of evidence and some very good research being done, but you won’t find it on Finding Bigfoot most of the time.

A great source for material on all things Bigfoot can be found at the relatively new Sasquatch Chronicles website, where you can also listen to their podcasts and read their blogs. Be warned though, just like me, they don’t think the big fella is all that cute and cuddly!

http://www.sasquatchchronicles.com