I’ve already done some talking in these reviews about the two types of episodes found in The X-Files. These are: mythology episodes and monster-of-the-week episodes. As the show was originally conceived, The X-Files would have consisted entirely of monster-of-the-week episodes, as Chris Carter was enamored of the short-lived Darren McGavin vehicle, Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Thankfully for us, though, he decided to change things up a touch and add the mythology episodes, which provide a sort of narrative backbone for the whole affair and thereby make The X-Files more than just a collection of spooktacular moments and a (mostly) coherent long-form story.
After the very well-done “Fallen Angel,” The X-Files decided to shift gears on us again and go back to the monster-of-the-week well. And as was the case with the previous pair of episodes we talked about in this space, one episode is good and the other is… meh. Not bad, just meh.
But let’s start with the good, shall we? “Eve” is a self-contained episode, as I say, but it’s an interesting departure from what’s come before because it’s actually, authentically creepy. A lot of people say they love “Squeeze” because of its horror elements, but “Eve” is a much more effective exploration of the genre. In the episode, a little girl’s father is discovered in the backyard of his house, drained of four liters of his blood — and, yes, this does kill him — but with no sign of the blood around, nor a struggle, nor anything that might point to foul play. Definitely a mystery.
The X-Files could be a show of wildly differing ambitions. Some weeks it was extremely ambitious, trying to deliver a movie-quality piece of entertainment on a television budget. Other weeks it was barely phoning it in. Last week when we talked about “The Jersey Devil,” we got a direct look at the latter. This week we’ll discuss an example of the former, but that’s not the first episode out of the gate for us today.
No, the first episode under examination today is “Ghost in the Machine,” a fairly middling piece of work that demonstrates how little it’s trying with its uninspired title. There are lots of small things wrong with this episode, but it’s far from the worst X-Files installment you’ll ever see. It’s just sort of there, that’s all.
The hook for this episode is artificial intelligence, and it wastes absolutely no time letting you know what’s going on. In the business tower of Eurisko, a cutting-edge software corporation, the CEO of the company is cutting a program the founder finds indispensable to Eurisko’s success. Within minutes the building itself has trapped the CEO in his executive washroom and subjected him to a massive electrical shock, killing him instantly. It’s literally a locked-room mystery, except that we know whodunnit right off the bat: it was the HAL-style Central Operating System, or COS, which controls the building.
This week we have a pair of “monster of the week” episodes, the sort of thing my wife, a longtime X-Phile, likes best. Unfortunately for her, the first of these two episodes, “The Jersey Devil,” is widely considered to be one of the worst monster of the week episodes ever filmed. I don’t know that this is strictly true, as there are some truly awful episodes waiting for us out there in the X-Files wilderness, but “The Jersey Devil” isn’t exactly a great hour of TV, either.
Most people don’t realize this, but The X-Files never did a straight-up bigfoot episode. This surprises a lot of folks when they hear this, because bigfoots would seem to be a perfect subject for an X-Files adventure. The closest the show ever came to bringing sasquatch to the small screen was this one, however. And it tries pretty darned hard to put a quasi-realistic spin on the topic, rather than simply going for a guy in a hair suit. “The Jersey Devil”‘s problem, though, isn’t that it can’t figure out a unique spin on the topic, but that it tries to be so unique and so off the wall that it ends up simply being kind of stupid.
The premise of “The Jersey Devil” is that there are wild people living in the woodlands outside of Atlantic City. Yes, that Atlantic City. The story doesn’t take place in Oregon or Washington state or anywhere a substantial amount of forest could maintain a population, however small, of throwback human beings, but rather in the titular Jersey. Points to Chris Carter for trying to write something that doesn’t play strictly to chiché, but come on. New Jersey bigfoot? Even Finding Bigfoot had some difficulty swallowing that particular premise.
There are a few things you don’t tell people. You don’t tell them you believe in UFOs. You don’t tell them you believe in ghosts. And you never, ever tell them you believe in bigfoot.
Thanks to the efforts of clowns and hoaxers over the past 50+ years — the name “bigfoot” was coined back in 1958 — attesting to the reality of sasquatch has turned into a prime indicator of credulity or outright stupidity. For most, the very idea that there is a large, bipedal ape species living in North America is entirely too outrageous for serious consideration. And, frankly, if one were to pay attention only to the cranks it would be way too easy to simply dismiss bigfoot as a lot of nonsense. But here’s the thing: there’s a core of real science going on concerning this creature, and while it doesn’t get the attention the freaks do, it’s still happening.
So is there an undiscovered ape species in North America? That’s still an open question. I tend to think the answer is yes, but that’s based on the aforementioned serious study that’s going into this, and not repeated viewings of Finding Bigfoot. I don’t believe bigfoots are as large, nor as numerous as some contend, but I do believe something’s out there and it’s only a matter of time before conclusive evidence is uncovered. One need only look to the example of the mountain gorillas of Rwanda to understand why I feel the way I do.
In the meantime we’re still waiting, and in the gap between science and speculation there’s a lot of room to do what we humans love to do: storytelling. There’s the unfortunate rise of “bigfoot erotica” — I’ll link to none of that here, thank you — but there’s also stuff like Willow Creek, a found-footage horror film all about a close encounter with sasquatch in the wild.
Directed and loosely written by Bobcat Goldthwait, who is an admitted bigfoot enthusiast, Willow Creek concerns itself with a happy couple on their way to northern California to visit the site of the famous Patterson-Gimlin film. The Patterson-Gimlin film is, for many, the first piece of bigfoot-related material they ever see, (sort of) clearly showing one of these creatures in motion, in the wild. It’s compelling stuff and has never been equalled in all the years since 1967, when it was filmed.
My wife have been viewers of the Syfy competition series, Face Off since its first season. We were interested in seeing how visual effects makeup artists do their thing, particularly under severe time constraints, and the show has not let us down. I’ll probably pass on another season, largely because I think I’ve seen enough variations on the same complications that there’s no real reason to continue, but the show is still good and if you haven’t watched it yet, you ought to.
Anyway, one of my favorite contestants from prior seasons was Miranda Jory. She was on the show twice. The first time around she seemed a little bit out of her depth and didn’t perform too well, but when she was invited to a season that featured veterans versus newbies, she had clearly picked up a step or two and went all the way to the end. She didn’t win, but her stuff was very, very good. I started following her posts on Facebook shortly thereafter, and though she doesn’t post often, occasionally she does post something interesting.
On one particular day she encouraged all of us out there to seek out a documentary called Nightmare Factory. It wasn’t available on DVD or Blu-Ray (and still isn’t), but it was streamable on Netflix. She called it required viewing, so I dropped it in my queue and a few months later finally got around to watching it. Her recommendation was solid, as Nightmare Factory is an enjoyable and informative film. I wouldn’t call it essential, but it’s still full of interesting things.
Nightmare Factory is about visual effects, but rather than take on the entire field and its various practitioners, it focuses on Greg Nicotero of KNB Efx Group. Nicotero is a long, long, longtime contributor to the visual effects community and something of a legend among those who practice the craft today, even as he continues to turn out excellent work in such things as The Walking Dead. He’s actually appeared on the show as a zombie in a couple of different episodes, so there’s no doubting his enthusiasm for it.
Despite everything, I can’t bring myself to hate 1996’s Scream. By all rights I should, because Scream completely reinvented horror movies not as vehicles for terror and/or revulsion, but as ironically detached commentaries on themselves. We’re only just now starting to climb out of this hole, with the better part of 20 years spent watching horror films poke fun at the genre instead of doing what they’re supposed to do, which is scare us. But Scream, despite its assault on the fundamentals of horror cinema, remains a good film. Smiley, from 2012, made 16 years after Scream, is a throwback to the Scream-authored trend and is just about as disappointing as you can imagine.
I probably never even would have heard of Smiley if it hadn’t been for all the movie channels we were getting until recently. While perusing the listings for a channel devoted to such entertainments, I saw the description of the film, about a serial killer who chooses his victims through the internet, and figured what the hell. I recorded it. I watched it. I was not happy.
To start with, the summary of the film was incorrect. It had some elements in common with the actual story, but for the most part it was entirely different. In Smiley it is posited that somewhere in the bowels of the internet there is a murderous being who, like Bloody Mary, can be summoned with a simple ritual. When engaged in a chat with someone, a nasty-minded individual need type, “I did it for the lulz,” three times and the eponymous Smiley will immediately appear and butcher the other party.
Of course, this has maximum effect if you’re using something like Skype or, as the film initially shows us, a Chatroulette knockoff. If someone were to be killed while using Facebook Messenger, they would simply stop typing. Not very dramatic. Add a webcam into the mix and everyone can see the bizarre, smiley-faced murderer killing his victim in full color. High-def, too, if you have the equipment.