Was any TV show more responsible for generating nightmares than The X-Files? A huge cultural phenomenon in the '90s, it managed to creep out viewers of all ages - permanently scarring kids who probably shouldn't have been staying up late to watch it, as well as adults who never quite knew what they were in for each week.
And that was what made The X-Files so scary - because the show changed genres every episode and played around with so many different types of monsters, viewers never knew going into an episode whether it might be something that they'd have a great time with, or something that might freak them right out.
Some episodes were way more disturbing than others, but we can all agree that these five episodes were among the most memorably creepy...
Squeeze / Tooms (Season 1)
When viewers think back on The X-Files, it's Eugene Victor Tooms that most will immediately remember. Introduced in the third episode of the show, Tooms was the very first 'monster of the week' (episodes one and two deal with aliens) and became the gold standard of creepy weirdness the show aspired for.
A serial killer with a twist, Tooms would hunt and kill people before feasting on their liver. Barely functioning as a human, he got by just well enough to defy being noticed by the authorities. He would hibernate in a nest constructed with newspaper and bile for 30 years before returning for a new killing spree/feeding frenzy.
Making Tooms extra scary was that he was a genuine monster with the unique physical ability to stretch his arms and contort his body to enter in and out of locked buildings. Just like the Fantastic Four's Mr Fantastic, Tooms could stretch his arms through building ventilation systems. But, unlike Mr Fantastic, on The X-Files you get the sense you can hear every one of Tooms' bones and muscles pop and move around as he did it.
Knowing they'd created one of the great iconic movie/TV villains, the producers of the show were quick to bring back Tooms a second time by the end of the first season.
Watch 'Squeeze' at SBS On Demand
Eve (Season 1)
Everything about this episode is super silly. It's about cloned girls who don't know each other killing their 'birth parents' in an effort to be reunited and the later discovery that they were created as part of a cold-war super soldier program. But it's all played so low-key and when you add into the mix some creepy twin girls, you have yourself one of the most memorable episodes of the show's run.
This is an episode that excels thanks to some really great performances. First you have the twin girls played by Erika and Sabrina Krievins. Both are internal, quiet performances until the girls meet in real life, and then the characters struggle to keep their genetically mischievous selves under control.
And then you have one of TV's great character actors Harriet Sansom Harris playing one of the adult 'Eve' clones.
This might be the most disturbing moment in the entire run of the show:
Watch 'Eve' at SBS On Demand
The Host (Season 2)
A case can very easily be mounted for the Flukeman being the show's grossest villain. Seriously... look at this guy.
A product of the Chernobyl meltdown, Flukeman is a hybrid human/fluke-worm who is murdering people from New Jersey's sewer system.
The very best episodes of The X-Files are the ones that can find the unnerving horrors that exist just out of reach of everyday life. Flukeman, with its connections to the Chernobyl disaster, feels far removed from the almost tangible horrors that the show usually revels in. But it's important to remember that this episode aired just eight years after the disaster, with its lingering effects still being felt.
As creepy and disgusting as the Flukeman may look, it is only heightened by the real-world tragedy that brought it to life.
Watch 'The Host' at SBS On Demand
Home (Season 4)
This is the episode that was so disturbing that US network Fox vowed never to screen it again. Mulder and Scully investigate the murder of an infant child who they discover is the product of multiple generations of inbreeding. By the end of the episode we are well and truly introduced to the Peacock family and their mother - a handicapped woman who is confined to a roll-out cot under a bed.
It goes without saying that this is an incredibly dark hour of television.
The idea being explored in this episode is not entirely dissimilar to Grant Wood's American Gothic. That painting depicts a rural couple standing proudly outside their home, but something appears to be not quite right: there are secrets being held in that home. Here the idea is taken further. With 'Home', The X-Files is interrogating the idea that there are still households in remote areas that have had no interest in associating with the world around them, but as the world is becoming more connected even rural enclaves fall victim to the urban sprawl. It is getting to be near impossible for these hidden worlds to keep their secrets.
Watch 'Home' at SBS On Demand
F. Emasculata (Season 2)
One of the great modern fears is the rapid spread of disease. People today travel the globe with such ease and speed that an isolated viral outbreak can become a global pandemic faster than ever before. Disease outbreak fiction was huge in the '90s and early 2000s, replaced this past decade by stories of zombies which trade on the same fears, only with enough of a fanciful distance that we don't have to confront the realities as much.
The X-Files took it one step further than the popular-at-the-time film Outbreak by increasing the grossness with the fear of watching pustules bursting from people's faces.
Watch 'F. Emasculata' at SBS On Demand
The X-Files' monsters of the week are legendary for being creepy and unsettling - prepare for some sleepless nights with The X-Files airing weeknights at 8:30pm on SBS VICELAND. Seasons 1 - 9 of The X-Files are now available to stream at SBS On Demand, with seasons 10 and 11 coming Friday, 20 March 2020.