Monday, January 24, 2011

One Villain, Two Episodes: The X-Files Freaks Us Out With "Squeeze" and "Tooms!"

The Good: Scary, Moments of character, Special effects
The Bad: Acting is still pretty shaky, Second episode is rather plot intensive
The Basics: Two very good episodes of The X-Files (though "Tooms" is a bit predictable), "Squeeze" and "Tooms" tell a mutant-of-the-week story that holds up fairly well over multiple viewings.

Just as the essence of comedy is surprise, the essence of fright is surprise as well. It's difficult to be made afraid of the same thing twice or three times. This is especially true in movies and television; when you know where the creature is coming from and when, it's hard to get freaked out by it. Nothing beats the first time for scary movies or television.

That said, sometimes creepy works just as well for fans of science fiction horror and The X-Files did that remarkably well during it early seasons. In the first season, it is no surprise to fans that "Squeeze" and "Tooms" would be released on video together and less of a surprise that the episodes would hold up so well over the years. Unlike a lot of horror, "Squeeze" and "Tooms" has a far more lasting horror concept than just the moments its villain bursts out of confined spaces. The idea is a simple and simply terrifying one: what if there was someone who could easily get access to the most intimate places and stymie detectives because of a lack of point of entry . . .

In "Squeeze," Dana Scully is approached by an old classmate of hers who is trying hard to work his way up the FBI ladder. Stuck in Baltimore, working on a case involving murders with victims whose livers were extracted, he requests Scully's unique perspective. After an investigation, with Mulder tagging along, despite the obvious disdain the other agents have for him, Scully works up a profile and during a stakeout, she and Mulder capture a man squeezing through the air vents.

The man is Eugene Victor Tooms and despite fitting the profile, the FBI does not have enough evidence to hold him. Mulder, dismayed by this, digs up an x-file with the same modus operandi and becomes convinced that Tooms might be some form of mutant who needs human livers to sustain him during thirty year hibernations. As Tooms stalks his next victims, Scully and Mulder work to prove that he is the right man and he possesses abnormal abilities that allow him to accomplish these murders without an obvious point of entry!

In "Tooms," months of confinement have not sat well with Tooms, who is one liver shy of being able to hibernate for the next thirty years. Mulder and Scully, having discovered he possesses genetic abnormalities that allow him to dislocate his skeleton at will and slither through the narrowest of spaces, attempt to convince a parole board of the danger he represents. Unfortunately, Mulder comes across as more of a lunatic than a scientist and Eugene Victor Tooms is remanded to the custody of two foster parents for observation.

Mulder, already on thin ice with the FBI, begins an unauthorized stakeout of Tooms' residence in an attempt to keep him from killing again, while Scully aids one of the former detectives to work on a Tooms murder in exhuming a body which might prove Eugene guilty once and for all. With time running out, Tooms finds a way to stalk his prey and fulfill his requirements for another cycle!

"Squeeze" is incredibly original and as the third episode in the series, its purpose was quite clear; the episode was designed to convince viewers that The X-Files was not going to deal with extraterrestrials or government conspiracies in every single episode. "Squeeze" establishes the "freak of the week" phenomenon and the case is an intriguing one. Without a point of entry, multiple people are being killed and their livers are being torn out. It could be a simple gross concept, but The X-Files develops the concept fully by creating an animalistic man who is simply doing what nature demands of him. In the process, the usage of liver becomes practically explained and the villain is defined in a plausible and creepy way.

It is no surprise, then, that Tooms would return for a second appearance. The character was so well-conceived and the backstory on him was so rich that he makes for a natural subject for one of the first season's few sequel episodes. It is clever and compelling and the suspense will please drama fans as well as horror/science fiction aficionados.

The X-Files, when "Squeeze" was presented, was still working diligently on character aspects to help define Mulder and Scully. As a result, the acting is very shaky, especially Gillian Anderson. Unfortunately, Anderson is given far too many moments where Scully simply stares with wide-eyed concern at the camera, Mulder or (in the case of "Squeeze") a former classmate while exposition is given. Anderson does that fairly well - if at some somewhat inappropriate moments or for just a little too long - but it does not help the character of Scully establish herself as a tough, interesting character to watch.

Conversely, guest star Doug Hutchison, who plays Tooms, dives right in with a powerful and deeply creepy performance. Perhaps best known outside The X-Files for his role as Ifty in I Am Sam or more recently for his role as the leader of the Dharma Initiative on Lost (reviewed here!), Hutchison has the ability to take on roles that challenge him physically and completely alter his body to suit the character. In the case of Tooms, he is meek and shy when need be, explosive and animalistic when the role calls for it. And hey, anyone who is willing to crawl through conduits naked, covered in bile-colored slime is pretty dedicated to the role! For Hutchison (and the viewer), that effort pays off as Tooms is one of the most enduringly creepy villains in the entire run of The X-Files.

David Duchovny, like Gillian Anderson, seems like he is still getting used to the role, but he does give a performance that seems distinctly Mulder. To wit, Duchovny is able to deliver the one-liners the character would become associated with. Duchovny plays Mulder as an outsider who has been more or less living in a basement his entire life, yet is deeply invested in finding the truths that will shape the world. In these episodes, that involves a lot of deadpanning and a bit of running.

For fans of science fiction horror, this video remains a decent investment, though its impact lessens with pretty much every viewing. The overall plot is a little predictable, but it is still exciting and good television.

[Given that VHS is a rapidly dying medium, a far better investment would be The X-Files - The Complete First Season, reviewed by me here!
As well, those who already love The X-Files will find The X-Files - The Complete Series to be an even better buy and it is reviewed here!
Thanks for reading!]

For other shows with supernatural characters, please visit my reviews of:
Fringe - Season 1
True Blood - Season 2

"Squeeze" - 9/10
"Tooms" - 8.5/10
VHS - 8/10

For other television episode and DVD reviews, please visit my index page for an organized listing.

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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