In Terror Television: American Series, 1970-1999's "Commentary" on The X-Files, John Kenneth Muir offers a helpful classification of the show’s “subsections of horror,” breaking the types of antagonists that the FBI’s Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully face each week into ten groups:
- “Trust No One,” which involves “secret experiments” that “the U. S. government. . . is conducting on its own people”
- “Freaks of Nature,” which presents “mutants and monsters,” some of which are “just beasts,” others of which are “evolutionary nightmares,” and still others of which are “genetic mutants”
- “Foreign Fears,” comprised of “ancient ethnic legends” which happen “to have a basis in fact”
- “From the Dawn of Time,” featuring prehistoric “creatures” which “reassert themselves in present time”
- “Aliens!,” or “extraterrestrial creatures”
- “God’s Masterplan,” which is replete with “elements of Christian religion/mythology” which are “explored as ‘real’ concepts”
- “The Serial Killer”
- “Psychic Phenomena,” such as “astral projection. . . clairvoyance. . . soul transmission,
and. . . the effect of heavenly bodies on human bodies”
- “The Mytharc”/”Conspiracy,” comprised of “the history of the government’s association with aliens”
- Tried-and-trued “Standards” of the horror genre, which is populated by “the vampire. . . the werewolf. . . ghosts. . . crazy computers. . . matters of time. . . succubi. . . cannibalism. . . tattoos. . . Evil dolls. . . and the like” (353).
“In addition to these ten plots,” Muir observes, “The X-Files has also showed a commendable dedication to asking the great questions of our time, and telling stories about the most puzzling mysteries humankind has yet faced,” so that an eleventh “subsection of horror” discernable in the series is the episodes that center upon “The Mysteries” (354).
Muir’s categorization of the types of threats that the series’ protagonists face is interesting in itself, but it is also interesting because it represents an approach that writers of horror may adopt for themselves in the writing and development of their own oeuvres. A writer who writes a series, whether of television episodes, novels, or even short stories that are unified by a theme, as those, for example of Ray Bradbury and H. P. Lovecraft sometimes are, can take a leaf from Muir’s classification of the “subsections” common to The X-Files’ exploration of the horror genre.
Just as a literary genre tends to develop stock characters and characteristic settings, it also tends to evolve typical themes and situations. These situations, in fact, can, and should, support the themes, as those of The X-Files do. For example, Muir assigns the following X-Files episodes to the “Trust No One” category: “Eve,” “Ghost in the Machine,” “Blood,” “Sleepless,” “Red Museum,” “F. Emasculata,” “Soft Light,” “Wetwired,” “Zero Sum,” “The Pine Bluff Variant,” “Drive,” and “Dreamland (I & II)” (353). Taken together, he says, these episodes express “paranoia” which results from the government’s violations of “its sacred trust to represent the people,” as its agents seem “capable of any atrocity, including murder and cover-ups” (353). Eugenics experiments, bioengineered disease, experiments with dark matter, mind control, bee-delivered plague, and the like are enough to make paranoia a rational, rather than an irrational, response to the an unscrupulous government that is clearly out of control.
Muir points out eleven sources for horror; others might be space, crackpot theories or visions, the biochemical foundations of animal and human existence, arcane and mystical traditions and lore, religious cults, alternate histories and universes, conspiracies and cover-ups, dangerous self-fulfilling prophecies, solipsism, actual unsolved mysteries of crime or history (what really became of the Lost Colony of Roanoke?) and, always, of course, the seven deadly sins.