I became a fan of horror at quite a young age (trust me, my parents were thrilled). I started out with Stephen King, and he did me fine, but then I discovered a new method of delivery.
Yes, it was the horror comic.
I quickly became addicted to that method of delivery for my frights, and lost more than a few hours sleep over some of those stories. After all, these works of art contained pictures, so it was the best of both worlds: I could read (I spent 25 hours a day doing that back in the day), but I could also get a visual representation (not always a good thing for an overly active imagination, but sleep is for wimps, I thought). And most of these comics also had a lesson at the end. The method was usually disgusting and creepy, but in their own weird way, horror comics, like one of my favorite childhood cartoons, did try to impart some sort of lesson at the end, usually along the lines of be a good person…or else (the “else” part was usually the creepy and disgusting part). After, all knowing is half the battle…well, you know the rest.
Well, a few later after my discover of the horror comic, it graced us with its presence on television, per my dad, at any rate.
In other words, the horror comic made its small screen debut via my favorite television show at the time, The X Files. And it was expansive: we had guys who ate livers, a mutant parasite, people with PSI abilities, and many, many more. Finally, the horror comic got the respect it deserved, in the form of a show which many people still continue to associate with “little green men,” although that association would not be wrong. However, The X Files has many “non-arc” episodes, or episodes that don’t feature UFO’s, aliens or the government conspiracy to cover up the former two. Instead, these episodes simply featured other supernatural themes, or the “the monster of the week.” And may of them had an EC Comics feel to them: they featured some kind of “monster”, often with a campy feel to it, they contained some kind of horror (which was not always campy, and many of them tried to impart a lesson at the end, which was often creepy, or sometimes even a little bit depressing (more on that later)).
And one of these “monster of the week” episodes that sticks out in my mind is the episode “Darkness Falls.” This episode features a creepy monster, some campy scares and even a sort of lesson at the end. In other words, it is an on-screen horror comic, and it works beautifully.
With that being said, here is my recap and review of “Darkness Falls.”
And, as always:
Agents Mulder and Scully are called upon to investigate the disappearance of 30 loggers from a site in Washington state. Scully feels that the task is better left to local and state authorities, while Mulder feels that there may be a supernatural aspect to the case.
The agents meet up with a forest ranger and a representative from the logging company. The logging company representative is anxious to find his employees, who have families that are worried about them. The four travel to the loggers’ cabin, but are forced to abandon their vehicle, as a tire is blown out by an eco-terrorist trap. An investigation of the loggers’ camp finds no loggers but plenty of sabotage, presumably by an eco-terrorist group.
Scully, Mulder and the forest ranger investigate the surrounding forest, and find a cocoon that contains a human body. They return to the camp, and find that the logging company representative has captured an eco-terrorist. The logging company representative demands that the agents arrest and try the man for murder of the logger, but Mulder wants to hear the man’s story. The man states that some strange bugs have attacked and killed the other loggers. He tells Scully and Mulder that these bugs only come out at night, and that the only thing that keeps them away is a light source. The group spends the night in the cabin, but keeps the lights on. The insects cover the cabin, but do not attack the humans inside.
The group finds a tree stump with a strange green ring at the core when they explore the woods the next day. The eco-terrorist tells the rest of the group that the disappearances began when the loggers felled that tree, and that the loggers have been cutting down trees that were marked to be preserved. The logging company representative becomes angry at the perceived lack of action by Mulder and Scully, and returns to the vehicles. However, he is attacked and killed by the bugs, as he did not heed the warning and had no light source. The eco-terrorist convinces Mulder to allow him to take the last can of gas along with his vehicle and search for his friends, promising to return for Mulder, Scully and the ranger the next day. When the rest of the group finds out about this, they are all furious with Mulder, even Scully, as they only have about 15-20 hours worth of light before their protection against the insects runs out. The generator stops when the sun rises.
Mulder, Scully and the forest ranger make a break the next day for the ranger’s vehicle, and are met by the eco-terrorist, who has stayed true to his word. The eco-terrorist says that his friends did not make it and succumbed to the bugs. He takes the rest of the group down the mountain in his vehicle, but his vehicle falls victim to his group’s traps. The eco-terrorist leaves his vehicle and is swarmed by the insects. Mulder, Scully and the forest ranger are also swarmed by the bugs and become trapped in cocoons. However, a bio-hazard team, who seems well aware of the danger, shows up in the nick of time, thanks to an earlier distress signal sent by Mulder. The three are rescued by the bio-hazard team and air-lifted away from the forest.
The surviving members of the expedition, which includes Mulder and Scully, are forced into quarantine, so that they may recover from their contact with the unknown insects. In particular, Scully was hit hard by the insects and needs much more time to recover. Mulder asks one of the doctors what will happen if the insects cannot be eradicated, and is told “that is not an option.”
Mind = blown.
I remember enjoying this episode when I first saw it 20+ years ago (eek, that is a scary), but I don’t think the impact was quite as great as it was when I first watched it. Sometimes, 20+ years is actually a good thing.
One of my favorite things about this episode was that Mulder was…well, Mulder was Mulder! I know that statement isn’t really earth-shattering, but let’s show some appreciation for my show boo! The episode was unsettling and actually did have a serious undertone, but Mulder managed to lighten things up a bit, in his typical dry, almost deadpan way, like when he told Scully that it would be a nice vacation in the woods…ha! You kill me, Mulder! Well, no, I take that back, you are the one with the gun, after all! But still, props to some appropriately placed humor!
Another thing I noticed about this episode: the beginning of the ‘ship. Yes, we are back there again…
This was a pretty early episode, but even in this episode, you can see the chemistry between Mulder and Scully beginning its slow but still crackling burn. Even this early on, the show was intent on teasing about Mulder and Scully: was something going on between these two? Where would it lead? Would they or wouldn’t they? And did we want them to? This is evident at the end of the episode, when Mulder looks in on Scully as she is recovering from her ordeal after their “nice” vacation in the woods, and is told that Scully has had an especially tough go of it, and may not even survive. The look of concern and caring on Mulder’s face as he speaks to the doctor about Scully is something that is a little more than platonic, and a great precursor of what was to come, ‘ship wise. And I loved it!
As I said before, this episode had quite the EC Comic book feel to it, even though it did actually have a serious message. However, more than a few of the scenes had that almost campy, yet still kind of creepy vibe that those comics also had.
For example, we have the cocoons that the extremely pissed off bugs used to dispose of those who got on their bad side.
This was certainly something that I could imagine happening in one of those horror comics I read as a child. It is a little campy, but kind of icky (aka awesome) at the same time. And when people were being attacked, I could practically see the comic book screams (Aaaahhhh, anyone?) above their heads, even though it was a television show.
And then there were the “bugs” (if that’s what they actually were) themselves. True, it was the 90’s, and we didn’t have the special effects that we have now. However, the bugs still managed to be creepy and (you guessed it) campy at the same time. In other words, even the bugs had that comic book feel.
As I said before, this particular episode does have a serious message, much like the comic books I remember from my childhood.
One thing that I have noticed in horror comics and even in horror movies is the theme of “just desserts.” Karma, if you like.
In horror comics, people often did very bad things to other people. Parents neglected or abused children. People tried to cheat death in some way (the horror comic Strictly From Hunger was an example of this, and was responsible for many a sleepless night as a child). Husbands beat up wives. Wives cheated on husbands. People would murder other people and try to cover that up. And this was before any “monster” or anything supernatural came into play.
And just how did that work out for those committing the wrongs?
Well, not very well. Not very well at all. Enter the karma. And usually, that’s when the supernatural element came in: after the “human” horror had been committed.
And I noticed that vibe in this episode. The loggers were cutting down trees that were not supposed to be cut down. The environmentalists were also not in the right, as they had set up booby-traps to attempt to sabotage the loggers. As stated above, this did not work for those committing the wrongs. All of the loggers, including the liaison, were killed by the bugs. All of the environmentalists, even the “ally”, were also killed by the bugs. There was even some in-fighting among Mulder, Scully and the federal ranger, and that nearly cost them their lives, if not for the well-timed arrival of a suspiciously well-informed bio-hazard team. Just desserts, indeed.
And the ending to this episode…like, whoa?
Like, definitely whoa, actually.
Yes, there were survivors at the end of this episode, namely, Mulder and Scully. But…
So. Many. Dead. People.
The body count to this episode was high, that was for sure. So many dead loggers. And quite a few dead environmentalists as well. And the manner of death was gruesome.
And the “bad guy” appeared to survive. Sure, the doctor told Mulder that being unable to eradicate those insects was “not an option.” But then again, a certain governor of Michigan made a big show of publicly drinking the water from Flint, and we know what happened there…
So did anyone really believe that those insects had actually been eradicated? Mulder seemed a little skeptical, in fact. And he was right to be skeptical. Often, we are led to believe that those in authority will do the right thing. But not even those in authority always do the right thing. Maybe even those in authority are more likely to do the wrong thing, leaving the rest of us to reap the consequences for a long, long time.
Well, that’s it for Darkness Falls. Join me next week for the reunion…the reunion of Mulder, Scully, Skinner and the rest of the gang in the much awaited (well, for me anyway) X Files renewal!
Tune in next week…same bat time, same bat channel!