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Topic Nominated The X-Files script that was too bleak to air

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Cult horror author Thomas Ligotti explains why his nihilistic take on the sci-fi series never made it to TV

Their search for truth has seen them do battle with vampires, zombies, aliens, and elasticated mutants hungry for human offal. But what would Mulder and Scully make of a case that brought them face-to-face with “the strange and awful truth” of existence? “Crampton”, an unproduced screenplay for The X-Files, offers a clue: co-written by cult horror author Thomas Ligotti in 1998, the script plunges our detective leads into a world of illusion, suggesting conspiracies of a different kind.

If only the 2018 iteration of The X-Files were so ambitious. Last week, the new series premiered to middling reviews, following a first rebooted season that could not have felt more like a period piece if Mulder and Scully had rocked up wearing corsets. The original X-Files, of course, remains a hugely influential show and pop-cultural motherlode of pre-millennial tension. One difficulty with bringing it back is that television has become so much weirder since then: Black Mirror continues to mine a potent seam of techno-paranoia, while shows like Top of the Lake (in its first series) and The Returned evoke an otherworldly atmosphere far richer than anything Chris Carter’s show used to conjure. Even Twin Peaks, itself an influence on The X-Files, amped up the weird for its much-vaunted Return.

TV’s recent flirtation with the uncanny found its groove with the first series of True Detective, which relied for much of its unholy swagger on the character of Rust Cohle. A few years ago, writer Nic Pizzolatto revealed that part of the inspiration for Cohle’s bleak philosophising came from Thomas Ligotti’s non-fiction work The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, causing dark mutterings among the author’s devoted fanbase. Less known is that Ligotti also wrote an X-Files script which, had it gone on to be filmed, would surely rank among the series’ strangest and most terrifying moments.
And the very last line:

The Conspiracy Against the Human Race will be republished this year by Penguin

"...the uncanny is to me the defining trait of this strange and terrible world and our strange and terrible minds." --Thomas Ligotti
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air, bleak, script, xfiles

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