“The evil that is here has always been. It has gone by different names through history – Cain, Lucifer, Hitler. It does not care if it kills one boy or a million men. If you try to stop us, the blood will be on your hands.” — Head Calusari
A photo taken before a toddler’s accidental death indicates an element of supernatural involvement, which causes our agents to take on the case. They soon find themselves in the company of the Calusari, a group of Romanian ritualists, who have been asked to help get rid of an evil force.
Radhika: “The Calusari” is a solid Monster of the Week episode, tackling the well-known horror themes of possession and exorcism. While it’s not necessarily the most original or complex script The X-Files has ever had, there certainly is a bit of a “classic” feeling to it, perhaps in part due to its similarity to famous titles like The Omen or The Exorcist.
The episode opens in a dark fashion, with the death of a small child. Two-year-old Teddy Holvey (who manages to escape his secure toddler harness) dies in pursuit of a balloon that appears to be floating with a mind of its own, after ending up on the path of an amusement park’s tour train.
Months later, Mulder — with the help of a digital photo expert — shows Scully that a photo shot moments before Teddy’s death show the shape of a child holding the floating balloon. The agents go to talk to the family (consisting of father Steve Holvey, mother Maggie Holvey, and another son, Charlie Holvey.) During this encounter, Scully spots Maggie’s mother Golda drawing a swastika on Charlie’s hand, causing her to think that the children could be victims of Munchausen by proxy via their grandmother.
More deaths follow: Steve is killed when his tie is caught in a malfunctioning garage door, and later on Golda — with the assistance of a group known as the Calusari — dies while trying to perform a ritual over Charlie. When Charlie is later questioned about the incident, he insists he wasn’t involved and that a boy named Michael was the one actually in the room. We learn that Michael was Charlie’s stillborn twin, and that his homicidal spirit has returned. Mulder brings the Calusari back on board to exorcise Michael’s spirit just before the malevolent being is able to lash out against Maggie and Scully.
I get that the callbacks in this episode may feel like overdone territory, but I still enjoy watching “The Calusari” to this day. Maybe part of it just reminds me of some of the “horror-lite” children’s programs that were on during the same time as The X-Files (I’m referring to the likes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Goosebumps), so as much as the episode is supposed to be scary, it also just generally reminds me of childhood. And childhood, even when it involves creepy shadowy tales, still holds a warm place in my heart. I also think it’s a stronger attempt at classic horror themes than previous attempts at tackling monsters like werewolves and vampires, but maybe that’s mostly because the episode is just so deliciously atmospheric that you can ignore some of its shoddier elements.
That said, I admit that the secret Romanian sect and the seemingly terrifying grandmother, all dressed in black, brandishing roosters in the name of ritual sacrifice, are perhaps a little too stereotypical. There is that sense of “Check out the weird foreign creepy people!” and while I don’t think there was any harm meant in the portrayal, it does feel a bit tired — perhaps even more so now, when one rewatches the episode in 2013.
Anyway, I know this one holds a special place in Max’s heart, as it was his first episode, so perhaps he’ll have a little more insight for us here.
Max: And this is where, as the story goes, I came in. As Radhika alluded to, and loyal readers know from reading my “My First Time” article is that “The Calusari” was my first close encounter with the program that would develop into an obsession over the years. So yeah, it does hold a very special place in my heart as a result, and rewatching the episode for this review naturally brought back all of those memories of that night in 1995.
When dealing with episodes revolving around children, The X-Files, for the most part, is able to sidestep a lot of the cliches and worn tropes of the science fiction and horror genres. This episode is no exception. It does hearken back to many a classic horror film as mentioned above, but it also marries that to the very specific kind of paranormal eerieness that is the trademark of the show. This results in a few very powerful scenes, including the death of Teddy at the amusement park and Steve getting hung by the garage door opener. They freaked me out when I was 10 years old and they still are as unsettling watching it at 28.
I can also see Radhika’s point of how it reminds her of the kinds of horror shows kids our age ate up back in the day. These were defining moments of our childhoods, where we were pushing our own boundaries and exploring our limits. I was never the one to sneak into R rated movies like some people I knew in school did, but watching stuff like this and reading Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (with its fabulously macabre illustrations) gave me my own kind of thrills and chills. Watching “The Calusari” then was something very attractive, and the fact that it is a damn good episode on its own merits is just the icing on the cake.
An interesting aspect of the episode is the collision between the generations as old world mystical practices come into conflict with the new world of suburban existence. In the gap between these lies a real sense of anomie, and from this arises tensions both in the real world and in the episode. In a way, the spirit of Michael is the manifestation of this social breakdown in the sense that in trying to distance herself from her mother’s beliefs, Maggie instead unleashes this malevolence.
It bears some mention in terms of Scully how much her own generational baggage, and her struggles with her own spiritual beliefs will form the emotional core of her journey in the series as she goes through her darkest hours. It’ll be interesting to see how Scully deals with what lies ahead, and how Mulder (who is not particularly religious) develops his own brand of beliefs, and will have those tested as well.
This late in the game (season wise), writers are often so worn down from producing the requisite number of scripts (especially on a network show), that what they churn out at this point can be tired and stale. “The Calusari” avoids this pitfall, and in fact this outing kicks off a run of solid substantial episodes that culminates in the massive season finale. We can’t wait.