The X-Files’ First Monster-of-the-Week Was Its Best

A slimy serial killer introduced The X-Files to its monster-of-the-week format. Thirty years later it's time for Eugene Tooms to return.

Dough Hutchinson as Eugene Tooms in The X-Files
Photo: 20th Television

From their windowless sub-basement office, FBI Agents Fox “Spooky” Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) began their assignment on The X-Files chasing little green men, or rather gray, as Mulder points out during the third episode, “Squeeze.” The “Pilot” episode was about alien experimentation. “Deep Throat” was about pilots who fly experimental craft, possibly designed using extraterrestrial technology. Season 1 episode 3 was more down to earth, while still out of this world.

According to both his DNA report and FBI profile, animal control officer Eugene Victor Tooms (Doug Hutchison) would be due to wake up some time in 2023, if only he’d have stepped off that mini-mall escalator. Fan favorite Tooms wasn’t only the first monster-of-the-week on The X-Files, but one of very few monsters who showed up on two different weeks. He wedges himself into the episodes “Squeeze” and “Tooms.” Both from season 1, these episodes set a tone, and perpetrated a mythology.

Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong, and directed by Harry Longstreet, “Squeeze” begins with one of the oldest detective genre setups in literary history: a locked room mystery. A businessman is found murdered and mutilated in an office with no discernable entry points. He is not the first to be discovered in this scenario. The agent on the case, Tom Colton (Donal Logue), is no Edgar Allan Poe. He is Scully’s friend from the academy, on his way up in the bureau, and calling in a favor he promises will pay big dividends for her ongoing career. But his imagination goes no further than that.

Agent Colton believes he can save Scully from a professional life as “Mrs. Spooky.” His expertly opinionated solution? Bring her into the spookiest investigation he’s ever headed.

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The case appears to be a cut-and-dry serial killer chase, but it is dampened by the circumstances. Besides the locked-door mystery at the center of the four murders in the spree, each of the victims had their livers removed. This is enough for Scully to bring in Mulder, a known expert FBI profiler who is not averse to the odd extra job. The odder the better. After an initial badgering from the head agent on the case, Fox concludes the murders look like the job of the Reticulans, who are “notorious for their extraction of human terrestrial livers due to the iron depletion in the Reticulum galaxy.”

When Colter scoffs at the sarcasm, Mulder asks the agent to consider “what liver and onions go for on Reticulum.” Add some fava beans, and wash it down with a nice chianti, and it is an absolute delicacy to Silence of the Lambs’ Hannibal Lecter. The X-Files creator Chris Carter, however, was inspired by another serial killer while enjoying a plate of foie gras: Richard Ramirez, who terrorized L.A. in the mid-1980s. Known as “the Night Stalker,” he snuck through windows without leaving a mark on the windowsills.

Tooms leaves marks, elongated fingerprints that put him at crime scenes going all the way back to 1903, when the art of fingerprint interpretation was in its infancy, and an abominable liver retraction was committed. Murder reports from 1933 and 1963 also note impossible points of entrance or exit. Tooms is initially caught climbing up an air duct at a crime scene under surveillance. This appears to answer the locked-door mystery. The suspect gets into the enclosed spaces by contorting his body to fit through vents, under doors, between window cracks, and up the pipes and into the toilet.

It would be tempting to call most of Tooms’ encounters to be nail-biting, but when you consider he makes his way through sewers, and lives in a bile-based cocoon, you might want to wash a few fingers clean before chomping down. Tooms is one of the most frightening of all the series’ abominations, and also one of its most disgusting. So much so, when Fox first touches the suspected serial killer’s nest, made of newspapers and rancid bile, the seasoned agent can’t wipe his hands off fast enough to keep his cool, outer exterior in check. When Tooms rips the livers out of people, he doesn’t use surgical tools. He tears them open with his hands and gnaws with his teeth. Even on his animal control day job, he licks his fingers after bagging roadkill.

It’s no wonder Detective Frank Briggs (Henry Beckman), who investigated the liver-eating mutant back in 1963, can barely stomach the stench of ancient abnormality. “When I first heard about the death camps in 1945, I remembered Powhatan Mill,” Briggs tells the agents about a horrific location while filling them in on Tooms’ past unsolved crimes. “When I see the Kurds and the Bosnians, that room is there, I tell you. It’s like all the horrible acts that humans are capable of somehow gave birth to some kind of human monster.”

The X-Files births one monster a week, unless they are watching the skies. They delivered Flukeman, a Jersey Devil, a ravenous conjoined twin, The Great Mutato, and other sideshow attractions, but none quite match the oddity living at 66 Exeter Street, in Maryland.

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Tooms is unique in monster archetypes but fits in with classic horror. Pennywise from Stephen King’s It also hibernates for a generation and a half, but probably eschews liver to chew cotton candy. Tooms is no clown. He is closer to a vampire, feeding on humans, contorting himself like elastic man rather than turn to mist or bat, and ostensibly living forever. Vampires rest in tombs; Eugene is named Tooms.  Vampires can go to ground for long periods of time, Tooms hibernates for 30-year periods. Vampires wake up to feast on human blood. Tooms finds enough sustenance in five human livers to last through his hibernation period.

We meet Eugene Tooms as a mild-mannered dog catcher in the 1993 episode. Shy and patient, he lifts tokens from his victims in advance of their encounters. He finds himself captivated by Scully’s necklace, which he captures, marking his territory, and claiming her as his last victim before nesting until 2023. Tooms is caught while attacking Scully, who handcuffs him to a bathtub after Mulder pulls the creature from her. This never made sense to me, as we know any amateur magician can escape handcuffs, much less a creature whose stunts were done by a real contortionist with a few computer effects used for the truly tight spots. The last we see Tooms in the episode, he is eyeballing a food tray slot and calculating escape routes.

Eugene shows up again in episode 21, “Tooms,” directed by David Nutter. It appears the title character was never charged, convicted, or further investigated for any murders. He is doing time at a psychiatric facility for the crime of attacking a federal agent, and is up for parole. His lawyer thinks he has a good chance of getting out. His therapist, Dr. Monte (Paul Ben-Victor), is so assured of his patients’ turnaround he’d bet his liver on it. Physician Dr. Karetzky (Mikal Dughi) testifies she “performed several diagnostic procedures on Mr. Tooms in order to determine any organic physiological dysfunction – an electroencephalogram, chromosomal analysis, a computerized axial tomography. All of these were negative.”

When taking the stand, Mulder counters by pointing out “a preliminary examination done at the time of Tooms’ arrest revealed abnormalities in his striated muscles and axial bones. His attorney blocked further study.” He then starts showing slides of the victims of killing sprees spread out 30 years apart; in 1963, 1933, 1903. By the time Mulder says the imprisoned mutation is genetically predisposed to killing again, the judge has stopped listening, case dismissed. Tooms promises to be a good boy, and gets his dogcatcher job back.

“Do you think I’m spooky?” Mulder deadpans to Agent Scully in “Squeeze.” Tooms is memorable because he is truly creepy. Almost perpetually silent and plotting while nodding yes in submissive custody, he carries menace. Driven purely by instinctual need, his unnerving bile-yellow reptilian eyes glow as he becomes a silent, cunning, predator. It is terrifying. Even his death-by-escalator exit carries with it a universal horror.

The episode “Tooms” is also noteworthy for introducing Assistant Director Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), who finally gets the only four words Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) will utter during the entire first season. The lurking hulk of a filtered Marley 100 stands silently behind the men of authority during many bureaucratic showdowns. Cigarette Smoking Man finally breaks his silence when Skinner asks whether he believes the official report on Tooms filed by Mulder and Scully. “Of course I do,” he says. We all want to believe.

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The X-Files is available to stream on Hulu and Freevee in the U.S. and Disney+ in the U.K.