While The X-Files is best known for its epic conspiracy plot lines and the swirl of smoke always coming from wherever cancer man might be lurking, part of what made the long-running show so excellent were the stand alone, “monster of the week” episodes, as they came to be called. Sometimes terrifying, sometime hysterical, these episodes highlight the depth and variation The X-Files can reach to, and that it’s not simply alien-obsessed television.
For the purposes of this list, we’ve decided to omit both aliens and ordinary humans—otherwise the sniveling, backstabbing Kyrcek might have found himself on top.
For those who have not made their way through The X-Files yet (c’mon already, it’s on Netflix Instant), beware: spoilers lie ahead.
Episode: “Die Hand Die Verletzt” (2.14)
Actor: Susan Blommaert
For most of “Die Hand Die Verletzt,” you assume the PTA are the evil-beings lying in wait (and they are), but substitute teacher Phyllis Paddock—embodying the demon Azazel—is the true monster. Leaving behind only her pristine cursive, she’s the one who takes a number of lives as revenge for the demon-worshiping PTA’s lax ways.
Episode: “Milagro” (6.18)
Actor: Nestor Serrano
When hearts begin turning up outside of their bodies, the easy answer is Phillip Padgett, a reclusive writer who fosters an obsession with Scully. But in an unforeseen twist, it’s actually Ken Maciamento, one of Padgett’s characters who’s mysteriously come to life
in the especially odd episode—even for X-Files.
Episode: “The Host” (2.02)
Actor: Darin Morgan
One of the most grotesque monsters on X-Files, the Flukeman lives in the sewers of New Jersey after being born in the radioactive sewage of Chernobyl. Resembling an oversized tapeworm with assorted human qualities, it killed by biting and sending larvae into victim’s body, attacking and killing the host for nutrients.
Episode: “Badlaa” (8.10)
Actor: Deep Roy
The only monster on the Dogett era (those poor, sad episodes), the legless beggar always stood out in a sea of unconvincing characters and the show’s slow, inevitable demise. Although a little heavy-handed with the East-versus-West metaphor, the squeak of his wheels will haunt your dreams.
Episode: “The Post-Modern Prometheus” (5.05)
Actor: Chris Owens
The two-faced, Cher-loving, generally misunderstood Great Mutato is the best monster from a rare comedic episode. The outcome of a Frankenstein-type operation gone wrong, he’s just a lovable beast looking looking for acceptance from the black-and-white, small-town folk. Oh Great Mutato, aren’t we all?
Episode: “Detour” (5.04)
Although we never find out what these monsters truly are, Mulder speculates that they could be highly-evolved descendants of the conquistadors who traveled with Ponce de Leon’s search for the fountain of youth. Whoever they are, nothing is quite as disquieting as a predator you can’t see, especially a bark-skinned human.
Episode: “The Calusari” (2.12)
Actor: Joel Palmer
The monster wreaking all the evil-doing turns out to be Chris Holvey’s stillborn twin possessing his body. Killing his baby brother, his father and his grandmother, Michael appears both as his own entity and through his brother.
Episode: “Humbug” (2.20)
Actor: Vincent Schiavelli
A different spin on the dead-twin theme, Leonard is actually an under-developed fetus residing inside his alcoholic twin Lanny. Living in a Florida community filled with circus freaks and sideshow performers, it’s easy to place blame on the cast of characters surrounding him, but little Leonard outshines them all as he looks for a new brother to burrow inside, leading Scully and Mulder in a chase through a fun house.
Episode: “Eve” (1.10)
Actor: Erika and Sabrina Krievins
Somber-faced children always crank up the eek-factor, especially when they’re part of a cloning project gone wrong and dress in matching red jackets. Part of an experiment to create genetically modified clones (with five extra chromosomes each), they each have additional strength, intelligence—and homicidal tendencies.
Episode: “Leonard Betts” (4.14)
Actor: Paul McCrane
Few monsters of the week further the bigger X-Files storyline, but Leonard Betts is the first indication the viewer has toward Scully’s impending cancer. With the ability to regenerate any body part through a strict regimen of bathing in povidone-iodine and consuming cancerous tumors, Betts comes for Scully with the eerie and foreshadowing statement, “I’m sorry, but you’ve got something I need.”
Episode: “Irresistible” (2.13), “Orison” (7.07)
Actor: Nick Chinlund
While it appears he’s just another run-of-the-mill serial killer with a Scully obsession, his re-appearance in the seventh season reveals him to be a demon, albeit a demon with a bit of OCD and a death fetish.
Episode: “Beyond the Sea” (1.12)
Actor: Brad Dourif
While not the murderer the FBI is after, Luther Lee Boggs—a psychic inmate on death row who Mulder put away years before—is helping the pair find two kidnapped college students. Beyond being an all-around creepfest as he channels different souls from beyond the grave, he is the first monster that compels Scully to believe, remaining ambiguous about whether he has true physic talents or was orchestrating the murders with his ex-partner.
Episode: “Squeeze” (1.02), “Tooms” (1.20)
Actor: Doug Hutchison
Maybe Tooms just stands out because he was the first monster in X-Files’ monster-of-week format, breaking from plot lines of stolen sisters and government conspiracy. One of only three monsters to re-occur (alongside Donnie Pfaster and Robert Modell), Tooms has the ability to stretch and contort himself in unnatural ways, feeding on victims’ livers every 30 years to sustain himself.
Episode: “Home” (4.02)
Actor: Chris Nelson Norris, John Trottier and Adrian Hughes
Startling audiences in the mid-’90s with the story of a fully incestual family that hasn’t left their home in decades, the episode remains gruesome and captivating even several watches later. But what makes the Peacock family’s role so memorable (other than their mangled faces) is their fervent loyalty to each other at any cost.
Episode: “Pusher” (3.17)
Actor: Robert Wisden
Just a man with a life-threatening tumor, Robert Patrick Modell always crawled the furtherest underneath my skin. Maybe its the intrinsic horror of watching people who don’t want to die commit suicide in horrendous ways, or maybe its the palpable tension in the episode’s startling last scene, but Modell is our #1 X-Files monster for his even-minded sadism and downright creativity.