Bizarre things that happened on the set of The X-Files

While there are now dozens, maybe hundreds, of TV shows, movies, books, and even video games featuring government agents investigating paranormal phenomena, in the 90s, there was only one: The X-Files. (Okay, there was Twin Peaks, too, but that one was super weird and it's not even clear if the word "paranormal" covers everything going on in that show.) On The X-Files, FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigated the strange stuff that the rest of the FBI wouldn't touch, the show's titular X-Files. Decades of these files were piled up by the government, then given over to the duo. But later the feds spend a lot of time trying to shut the X-Files down, so why did they bother in the first place? It's complicated!

Anyway, across 11 television seasons, two feature films, books, comics, and who knows what else, Mulder and Scully have sought the truth behind aliens, monsters, and basically anything you could even remotely classify as unusual. There's a deep, sprawling mythology, memorable characters, and mountains of monster-of-the-week episodes that you thankfully didn't have to watch any of the other 217 episodes to understand. And since the show basically invented the concept of internet fandoms, every single detail is recorded right here on the web.

So, with hundreds of hours of content and endless fan documentation, is it all that surprising that, on top of the weirdness happening on-screen, some very unusual things also happened behind the scenes of The X-Files?

No one liked working on one episode of The X-Files

The fourth season episode "Home" is notorious among fans of the show for being highly disturbing and violent. In the episode, Mulder and Scully are called to a small town where a baby with multiple birth defects has died. There, they meet the Peacock family, three reclusive brothers who also suffer from physical deformities. No spoilers, but it's a bleak, horrifying episode.

It was so scary that the show's producers initially rejected the episode, saying that it went too far, but relented after several cast and crew members argued in the script's favor. During filming, a crew member remarked, "This is awful, even for us," according to NME. When the show wanted to use a Johnny Mathis song in the episode, Mathis refused because the script the producers sent him was so gruesome, according to the New York Times. The production found a soundalike version instead. Even the episode's director, Kim Manners, who actually liked the script and fought for it to be made, said that an early scene, depicting a baby being buried alive, was "the most awful shot of [his] career.”

Fox execs took the then-unusual step of adding a disclaimer about graphic violence to the episode. "Home" was actually the first episode of any TV series to receive a TV-MA rating under the then-new TV rating system. After its initial broadcast, Fox banned the episode, only showing it one other time, as a Halloween special in 1999.

The X-Files nearly got an ex-smoker addicted again

The Cigarette Smoking Man was the nameless (unless you count his numerous aliases) primary antagonist of Mulder and Scully. That's strange in and of itself, because the actor, William B. Davis, was just meant to be a menacing extra only appearing in the show's pilot. He looked sinister enough that they brought him back for more episodes, eventually gave him a few lines, and, according to the show's creators, once they learned that Davis was an acting coach and a talented performer in his own right, slowly turned him into a main character.

There's just one problem — he's not called the Cigarette Smoking Man because he likes lollipops. The character smokes like a freight train and is almost never seen without a lit cigarette from his favorite brand, the fictitious Morleys. The Cigarette Smoking Man was never meant to be the character's name, fans started referring to him as that because he was constantly puffing away on them.

Unfortunately, Davis was an ex-smoker, according to the Palm Beach Post. The crew had no idea, so for his first several appearances on the show, he was smoking actual cigarettes. This was pretty horrifying for him, but he went along with it for the job. He did later admit that it very nearly caused him to start back up. Later, after the crew found out he had quit the habit, Davis was instead allowed to smoke herbal cigarettes, which were easier for him to resist because they apparently tasted absolutely awful.

Location filming on The X-Files was extremely strange

Since The X-Files was based in Vancouver, BC, the show had to spend quite a bit of time making Canada look like various places across the U.S. One of the first big challenges the production had was recreating the New Mexico desert for the episode "Anasazi." Vancouver doesn't have deserts, so the crew spray-painted a rock quarry red so that they didn't have to relocate, according to showrunner Chris Carter. That's uh, certainly a solution.

There were several location issues on the set of The X-Files: Fight the Future, the first theatrical film. The cornfield scene was particularly rough, according to Den of Geek. Corn stalks can be sharp, so when the characters ran through them, they suffered numerous cuts. On top of this, Duchovny, who is taller, was running in front of Anderson, meaning all of the corn stalks that bounced off his shoulders were smacking her in the face. Another scene set in Texas was actually filmed in California City, CA. Apparently, it was so hot that day that the cast had to wear hidden ice packs for safety. 

In a polar opposite (get it?) situation, the crew used a soundstage to simulate part of Antarctica. They ordered a fake glacier, but it didn't match the location footage, so they covered it in real ice. Because they were using heat lamps to simulate daylight, the ice melted and, combined with the exhausts from the lights, made the studio fill up with carbon monoxide. The production then had to upgrade the ventilation to clear the studio so everyone wouldn't, you know, die.

One X-Files crew member was electrocuted on set

Movie and TV sets can be very dangerous places. Just like any other places that deal with construction and building, there are countless safety regulations that need to be observed when working with dangerous equipment. Even following all the rules, though, accidents do happen, and they can sometimes have extremely tragic outcomes. Unfortunately, The X-Files is no exception.

On July 31, 2000, during pre-production of "Within," the eighth season premiere (and first appearance of Mulder's kinda-sorta replacement, John Doggett), the crew was setting up for filming on a staircase in the rain, according to the BBC. While standing on some metal scaffolding, crew member Jim Engh was killed and five others injured when a high-tension power line carrying 4,800 volts touched the metal of the scaffolding and electrocuted them. Engh went into cardiac arrest on the scene and was pronounced dead at the hospital. A sixth person was also injured on the ground.

Five of the injured were treated and quickly released. One was admitted to UCLA Medical Center in critical condition, and since there were no followup reports about the incident, they hopefully made it through okay. Production shut down for several days, and the studio conducted an investigation, but things apparently got back on track and the episode premiered on November 5, 2000.

Animal wrangling on the X-Files set was a challenge

While animal wrangling for any production is trepidatious, for a show like The X-Files, which featured all kinds of dangerous critters, it was especially fraught. In the episode "Signs and Wonders", where Mulder and Scully encounter an Appalachian snake-handling church, director Kim Manners insisted on using real rattlesnakes and as few special effects as possible, according to the X-Files Episode Guide. Rattlesnakes are venomous, and some can even be deadly. There were about 30 total for the episode, and a professional snake wrangler and medical services were standing by the whole time.

On the set of The X-Files: Fight the Future, they also had a snake wrangler, but for a very different reason, according to Den of Geek. While filming in the desert outside California City, CA, the cast and crew were vulnerable to the Mojave green rattlesnake, one of the aforementioned rattlers that can be deadly and make the desert their home. The Mojave green has some of the most potent venom on Earth, and is both neurotoxic and hemotoxic, meaning it affects the brain and coagulates the blood, which can quickly be fatal.

In Fight the Future, there's a scene where a bee walks out from under Scully's collar and along her shoulder. This was achieved through some bizarre means. The set's bee wrangler handpicked bees that walked more than flew, then used a pheromone trail and a small fan to direct the bee where to go. The bee successfully pulled off its big scene 12 times.

The X-Files set was very uncomfortable for vegetarians

While being on the set of a sci-fi/horror show would probably require doing a lot of stuff that would make you uncomfortable, one thing in particular the show liked to do was put its vegetarian actors very difficult situations. Duchovny and Anderson were both vegetarians at the time, yet for the episode "Red Museum", they not only had to spend time on a slaughterhouse set with hanging meat and blood everywhere, they even had to film a scene where they eat ribs. There's no word on whether the ribs were real or not, but it must have been at least somewhat awkward.

One particularly bizarre moment happened on the set of the episode "Humbug" in a scene where Scully uses sleight of hand to pretend to eat a live cricket in front of Mulder and a few sideshow performers. In real life, the crew made a fake cricket out of candy for her, at the last minute, Gillian Anderson decided to actually pop a real cricket into her mouth after seeing Enigma, a real-life sideshow performer, eat several for real in various takes, according to People. There's even video of the incident. She later admitted in a Reddit AMA that she didn't eat the cricket, spitting it out after the director called cut.

And Doug Hutchinson, who played creepy contortionist Victor Eugene Tooms in two episodes of the series' first season, was a vegetarian who got cast as someone who literally ate human flesh, though he apparently enjoyed the role otherwise according to The X-Files: The Official Collection.

An obsessed X-Files fan crawled through a cornfield

Fans of The X-Files were (and still are) known for being very dedicated and enthusiastic about the show, to put it mildly. These self-named X-Philes loved to find out any info they could about the show, and their online interactions were some of the first examples of spoiler culture on the internet. Fans would look at set photos, casting announcements, and any other pieces of info they could get their hands on to get an idea of what the show was going to do next and get a heads up on plot developments.

One teenage fan took things to the next level, though. According to Den of Geek, the fan, who was described as "obsessed" with the series, found out that filming was occurring for The X-Files: Fight the Future movie near Bakersfield, CA. Later, this would turn out to be the filming location for the infamous bee colony scenes in the film, where Mulder and Scully run from thousands of swarming bees carrying a manufactured virus.

The teenage fan apparently crawled a mile through a cornfield also featured in the film (which must have taken quite a while) to sneak onto the set and record the production with a video camera. The crew had no idea the obsessed fan was even there until the footage from the fan's camera ended up on the local news the following day. Can you say security breach?