Tracking the Paranormal

Strange lights flashing in the night sky, mysterious, alien-like shapes hulking in an eerie forest, an inexplicable force disrupting mechanical devices, motorists disappearing for a few hours and waking up to find their bodies covered with odd punctures . . .

These recurring themes from reported UFO abduction cases have become the stark, sometimes sinister images for the opening two-hour episode of a new Fox series that dramatizes paranormal phenomena, “The X Files,” premiering Friday at 9 p.m. on Channel 2. If there is any one word that Chris Carter, the show’s producer and creator, wants to emphasize it’s “scary.” However, “I don’t mean scary in the horror-genre sense, but scary in the way that speculation pushes beyond scientific credibility to enter a realm of ‘extreme possibility.’ Films like ‘Coma’ and ‘The Andromeda Strain’ have that quality. It’s the idea that shakes up you and your beliefs, not some hideous Frankenstein monster or a hand clasping the heroine’s shoulder.” Even so, it was the hideous vampire monster in “The Night Stalker,” a highly rated TV-movie of 1973 produced by Dan Curtis, that gave Carter his inspiration to create a show like “The X Files.” “When I saw ‘Stalker,’ with Darren McGavin playing that obsessed newspaperman Carl Kolchak, it really shook me up to think there might be a twilight world of bloodsucking creatures. Of course, that’s the spectrum of the supernatural. Today we’re all more interested in modern phenomena, which has a way of really shaking up that segment of our society that’s come to believe in aliens and UFOs.”

Carter was having dinner one night with a Yale psychology professor and researcher. “When I found out he had been a consultant on Dan Curtis’ ‘Intruders,’ a 1992 drama about UFO abductions, he told me that 3 per cent of the public believed in this syndrome. I was astounded. I realized there was a topicality to this theme of the unknown, and ‘X Files’ grew out of that fascination.”

The series depicts two FBI agents — poles apart in their thinking — on the trail of various unsolved mysteries. In upcoming episodes, says Carter, they will track “biological anomalies, chemical anomalies, twists on genetic engineering and other fanciful spin-offs from modern technological advances.”

Maverick agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) is a firm believer in the paranormal, often paranoid in his obsessive search to find the answers to baffling phenomena. His partner Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), with a degree in medicine and a bent for seeking answers through scientific logic, is a total skeptic. Each week they are incompatibly thrown together on a new assignment, unaware that their chiefs are part of a top-secret government project using them to further its own clandestine causes.

In real life, the actors are just the opposite in their attitudes about the paranormal. Duchovny, who portrayed the transvestite detective on ‘Twin Peaks’ and whose ‘Kalifornia’ is now playing in movie theaters, has serious doubts about all those UFO reports. “I accept the possibility of life forms in this vast universe of ours,” he says, “but I don’t understand why, if there are aliens, they don’t land in Manhattan instead of always choosing unpopulated areas where maybe three people see them.”

Duchovny doesn’t believe much in conspiracies, either. “It’s unlikely any high-level conspiracy could last for long. The sheer amounts of people keeping the secret would eventually crack open; somebody’s death-bed confession would expose the whole thing.”

Anderson, an award-winning off Broadway actress whose film/TV career is just starting, admits that “I have this tendency to believe the most outrageous things. After all, this is a large universe we live in, and UFO stories tend to follow a pattern that, in my eyes, gives them validity.”

She finds the role of Scully a challenge to play. “She does everything she can to find a scientific answer to the mysteries, which becomes difficult after a while, because her constant exposure to the weirdest things imaginable eventually have an accumulative effect. Even so, that’s when she turns to her science and physics the most. In a way, she’s shielding herself from the unacceptable.”

Carter, whose screen writing career since 1985 has included several TV movies for Disney, tries to see both sides of each “X Files” enigma. “One half of me wants to have something set before me so I can see it with my own eyes. But another side, and we all have it, wants to take a leap of faith, wants to believe in wild things. I’d like to be driving one night through the desert or a lonely forest and suddenly see something that couldn’t possibly be happening, but is. Then I would know these strange things are going on, and I’d finally be a part of it.”

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