The X-Files #38: Die Hand Die Verletzt

"Better hide your Megadeth albums."
ACTUAL ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: Mulder and Scully investigate a high school run by devil worshipers.

REVIEW: From the sly satire in the teaser, repressed school staff as Satanists, and one teacher actually turning out to be a demon, you might well wonder where Buffy is when we need her. The answer to that, of course, is "still a couple of years out" (the film was a couple of years old, but was strictly vampires). Whether or not Crowley High School sits on a Hell mouth, it becomes the site of a strange ritual murder, so our favorite FBI agents are called in (cue crazy edit from kid getting choked to Scully letting go of something, I think new director Kim Manners is one to watch for). At first, the teachers sound like Christian prudes, until their worship of "Azazel" is revealed, and from them on, there's a sustained ambiguity. Is there attitude marked by false moral outrage? Or can you be both cultists AND members of the moral majority? From their point of view, we discover, the kids they're trying to indoctrinate are getting all kinds of bad ideas from media, things that pollute the faith as much as any faith. It's an interesting point of view, and quite logical.

Of course, they themselves have polluted their faith by foregoing certain darker rituals - there is bloodletting, but no actual human sacrifice - and more recently, forgetting to even say their prayers. That makes the devil rather angry, and it's used kids playing at (un)Dead Poets Society to manifest in the real world and take its revenge on its disobedient flock. Its main form is that of substitute teacher Mrs. Paddock, through which a certain amount of body horror is achieved. She teaches biology, and her dissection pig embryos are even nastier when they seem to come alive. As Satan's representative, she's extremely manipulative, and not just in the figurative sense. The scenes where she voodoos people into committing suicide are quite disturbing. And if you don't like that, how about the way she has a python eat a man and digest him in a few minutes? Mulder and Scully's shower death would have been quirky and terrifying as well.

There's a lot of black comedy in Die Hand, from funny parachute zingers after frogs fall from the sky, to the dark parody of classroom dissection, to "Spooky" Mulder using his "powers" to make a man break a glass of in his hand. At the center of the episode, however, is a teenage girl's harrowing description of her abuse at the cult's hands. It turns out to a hodgepodge of confused repressed memories (I think we can believe that given that her stepdad rejects the faith when his brethren throw her under the bus), but it nevertheless keeps the episode from inciting too much hilarity. My one complaint stems from it though. That's four times in a row The X-Files have used rape as a plot element. It's in danger of becoming as overused as rainy crime scenes (that, at least, isn't always under the makers' control, and is normally well used). Whether it happened or not is academic.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A sly high school satire that prefigures as much as predates Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. Good, creepy fun, but for an overused trope.


Toby'c said...

"you might well wonder where Buffy is when we need her. The answer to that, of course, is "still five years out""
Forgive the pedanticism, but 1997 - 1995 = two years.

Siskoid said...

Aw yes, sorry, for some reason I always think of Buffy as starting in 1999 for some reason.


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