As many kids who grew up in the 90s will attest, The X-Files was never a show that lacked for scares. Being the show that popularized the so-called “monster of the week” format to begin with, The X-Files has been the bane of many a child (and adult) who was trying to get to sleep on a late Sunday night.
However, even among the catalog of episodes in Chris Carter’s stand-out science-fiction chiller, there is one that stands head and shoulders above the competition when it comes to truly unforgettable scares.
“Home” first aired in The X-Files 4th season, all the way back in 1996. It was subsequently banned from television after only a single airing. Though it would eventually return to the screen in series marathons and syndication, it’s worth noting that it was the only episode in the series’ 9 season run to ever hold this distinction.
So what was all the buzz about? Well if you weren’t around on that particular Sunday, back in 1996, some of the images and plot details might sound a bit tame in this day and age, where grim shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones regularly command the attention of those gathered at the proverbial water cooler.
Rest assured, however, that an episode of television that opened with the discovery of an infant buried in a shallow grave was pretty serious stuff 22 years ago. More disturbing still is the tale of how the ill-fated newborn ended up buried in a field, only to be found so soon by a children’s baseball team.
The disturbing tale takes on a fresh sense of disgust after FBI agents Mulder and Scully, the agents assigned to the titular “X-Files”, discover that the baby died of dirt inhalation… meaning it was buried alive. The reason why is somehow even more stomach-churning, as it is revealed that a local family, the Peacocks, have been in-breeding for generations.
This prompts the agents to form a theory that the three living brothers of the family must have abducted a woman, who they have been raping in order to try and produce a healthy child. The truth, as the agents discover when they attempt to arrest the brothers, is much, much worse: their mother, armless and legless, under an upstairs bed, has been having sex with her sons for years… and this is far from the first child to end up buried in their fields.
“Home” draws much of its inspiration from the types of horrific tales that have dominated pop culture for decades. While films like Deliverance and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre cast an obvious shadow over an episode like this, viewers might be shocked to find that a major inspiration came in the form of Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography, where he described his account of staying at a tenement home.
As Chaplin put it, he was escorted upstairs in a country home by the owners, where he met their son, living under a bed. “A half man with no legs, an over-sized, blond, flat-shaped head, a sickening white face, a sunken nose, a large mouth.” The boy apparently delighted in “flopp(ing) around while they sang and danced.”
Still, even outside the realm of freaky incest mutants, born with hideous deformities, “Home” has plenty to keep you up at night. Take for example a brutal scene that sees the Peacock brothers invade the home of the local sheriff after he issues an arrest warrant for them.
What follows is a truly tense and utterly horrific scene that sees the sheriff attempt to defend his hidden wife with a bat, only to have the bat wrenched away from him and used to smash his head in, all while his stunned wife watches from underneath their bed. With the brother’s work done, viewers breathe a sigh of relief that the carnage is over.
However, the writers double down, just as the audience is lead to believe that the horror is over. An errant sound leads the brothers to discover the sheriff’s wife, and she too is beaten to death with the bat as the episode cuts to a merciful commercial break.
Even the climax is a more frightful and violent affair than fans would have come to expect, as the agents are forced to wield normal household implements like pitch forks to put the brothers down once and for all, after they’re firearms turn out not to be enough.
Still, this being The X-Files, fans would be remiss by this point in the series if they weren’t jarring themselves for one last good scare. As the stretchable Tooms, the hideous flukeworm and countless other memorable creations would demonstrate: it’s almost never over when it comes to this series.
“Home” closes with the discovery that while Mulder and Scully were battling the two younger brothers, the eldest escaped with what’s left of his mother to try and make a new family.
It’s a real downer of an ending, and not just because the villain of the story escapes, but because the audience is left to ruminate on what that will be like, based on what they have already seen.
For all of these reasons and more, “Home” lives on in the annals of The X-Files storied history as an hour of chilling depravity and unceasing terror. Even in the company of 208 other episodes of murder, mayhem and paranormal activity, no single episode in the series approaches the gut-wrenching fear and disgust of “Home”, one of The X-Files‘ absolute best episodes.