Ten Terrifying Real Events That Inspired the X-Files
The X-Files contain numerous episodes that are filled with fantastic creatures and exotic story lines that captures the viewer and titillates the mind. While the various topics of The X-Files seem to be created from whole cloth woven by imaginative minds, for a number of the episodes the series writers actually found inspiration from true occurrences that have happened throughout history. Listed below are ten real events that inspired some of the best episodes of The X-Files, demonstrating that truth is indeed stranger than fiction.
10. Duane Barry
This disturbing episode depicts Scully and Mulder delving into the case of Duane Barry, a violent mental patient who believes that he’s been repeatedly abducted by aliens. During her investigation, Scully discovers that Barry has brain damage as a result of a gunshot to the head, leading to him becoming a pathological liar with psychopathic tendencies.
Some aspects of this episode are based on the case of Phineas Gage, a 25-year old railroad worker in Cavendish, Vermont. Gage suffered a severe brain injury after a 13 pound metal bar used to tamp sand on top of an explosive charge caused a spark that shot the bar through his face and skull. Until his injury, Gage had been an even tempered individual, but his personality changed drastically after the accident. He showed signs of aggression and fitfulness, and was suddenly prone to the use of disturbing profanity, all behaviors that he hadn’t demonstrated in the past. It was believed that this change in his behavior was due to the severe damage to his frontal lobe as a result of his injury. Gage’s case was believed to be the first to definitely prove that brain injuries can produce marked personality changes.
While most of The X-Files episodes center on the paranormal or conspiratorial, Irresistible takes a different approach with the introduction of Donnie Pfaster, a budding serial killer who crosses paths with Scully and Mulder. After losing his job as an assistant funeral director for taking a lock of hair from a dead woman, Pfaster moves on to exhuming dead bodies to remove hair and fingernail clippings to add to his collection of trophies. Pfaster eventually resorts to murder to satisfy his macabre desires. As the episode progresses, Pfaster seems to change in appearance, further frightening his victims. Initially, aspects of necrophilia were going to be included in this episode, but the network refused to air it if the writers did so.
Donnie Pfaster was strongly based on the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who committed his first murder in 1978 at the age of 18. He was finally captured in July 1991, confessing to having murdered 16 young men since 1978. Dahmer killed most of his victims by strangling them to death, but he also experimented on some of them, dripping acid or boiling water into holes drilled in their skulls in the hopes of creating a zombie sex slave. After killing them, Dahmer would have sex with his victims before dismembering them for ease of disposal. Dahmer also kept trophies, with the skulls being his favorite item to keep. He would also sometimes eat parts of his victims, making him a cannibal as well as a necrophiliac. According to his surviving victims, Dahmer’s appearance seemed to change during the course of their captivity, adding to his twisted creep factor.
In Space, Scully and Mulder visit NASA to investigate the possibility of shuttle sabotage resulting in an aborted launch. Another launch is scheduled, and initially it seems to be a success, but contact with the shuttle is soon lost and the shuttle crew finds themselves in danger of incineration by the sun. It’s soon revealed that Gemini astronaut Col. Marcus Belt is keeping secrets. During a 1977 mission, he had a strange encounter with the “face on Mars”, now he is being influenced by an astral presence that is apparently determined to see the destruction of the shuttle mission along with the crew and the NASA program itself. In the end, Belt leaps from a window in an attempt to be free of the possessing force.
Chris Carter, the creator of the series was inspired to write this episode after reading news articles about the face on Mars as well as pareidolia, where the mind perceives a familiar image from random patterns. Carter also capitalized on the disappearance of the Mars Observer, which occurred around the same time this episode was in production in August, 1993.
In this episode, a serial killer has the uncanny ability to project images of his darkest fantasies onto undeveloped film. Scully and Mulder are assigned to the case after photos developed at a pharmacy reveal a young woman screaming, surrounded by a distorted background. While searching the killer’s apartment, Mulder finds a camera that repeatedly produces the same image of the young woman seen earlier at the pharmacy, leading Mulder to the conclusion that the killer is somehow projecting his desires onto the film.
Two different individuals were the basis for this episode of The X-Files. In the 1960s, Ted Serios, a Chicago hotel worker developed a talent for “thoughtography”, a unique ability to project mental images onto film by concentrated thought. His ability rekindled interest in paranormal photography due to the fact that he used Polaroid film, whereas others who claimed to have this ability used film and procedures that were both complicated and easily manipulated.
Mass murderer Howard Unruh was the other individual who was the inspiration for Unruhe. On September 6th, 1949, 28-year old Unruh went on a killing spree dubbed the “Walk of Death”, killing 13 individuals and injuring three others before being apprehended by police. His reasons for the killings involved personal grudges that he held against his neighbors and local shop owners. Unruh is generally considered to be one of the first “lone wolf” mass murderers that have led up to the workplace and school shooters that we see on the news today.
6. Fresh Bones
After a Marine drives his car into a tree, committing supposed suicide while working at a Haitian refugee camp, Scully and Mulder head to Haiti where they soon discover rumors that the detainees are being abused by the camp commander. As they dig deeper, suggestions of curses and voodoo surface, with hints that the government may be at the root of it all.
Two articles about higher suicide rates amongst military personnel posted in Haiti inspired Howard Gordon to write this episode. A 1994 article stated that three soldiers had committed suicide over a three week period, with morale, living conditions, and native reception all being named as possible issues for higher suicide rates. It was determined that the suicide rate there was 15 times the U.S. national average, and the assignment seems to have had an unusually negative effect on the soldiers stationed there in comparison to other locations that are potentially more hostile.
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