One of the horror genre's "most widely read critics" (Rue Morgue # 68), "an accomplished film journalist" (Comic Buyer's Guide #1535), and the award-winning author of Horror Films of the 1980s (2007), The Rock and Roll Film Encyclopedia (2007) and Horror Films of the 1970s (2002), John Kenneth Muir, presents his blog on film, television and nostalgia, named one of the Top 100 Film Studies Blog on the Net.
The X-Files 20th Anniversary Blogging: "Die Hand Die Verletzt" (January 27, 1995)
second season episode of The X-Files (1993 – 2002) is one of
the sharpest, most stunning social critiques in the entire catalog.
“Die Hand die Verletzt,” Mulder and Scully deal -- in storied New England -- with the Satanist equivalent of “Cafeteria Catholics,” religious
practitioners who pick and choose which edicts and dogma they want to believe
in, and ignore the rest.
when you’re dealing with the Devil himself, it’s dangerous to break faith, as
the episode suggests in no uncertain terms.
Hand die Verletzt’s” brilliance arises from the inventive notion of “lapsed”
Satanists: one-time believers who are now doing so well that they no longer
find it necessary to obey the edicts of their (dark) Lord.
are punished (egregiously…) for their trespasses, of course, and so the episode
begs the question: why do humans insist
on pledging fealty and devotion to divine beings, and then promptly impose
their own judgment about that deity’s wants and desires over its clearly stated ones?
other words, if you believe in the Bible -- Satanic or otherwise -- how much
personal “interpretation” is really allowed?
episode could have very easily -- and very controversially -- been a story directly
about Christianity, and that’s sort of the point. The episode critiques “the faithful” as
people who claim to be of a certain “tribe,” but who don’t actually want to
conform to their tribe’s belief system.
This fact alone might be read to suggest that there is no God.
after all, if you really believed in a deity, why would you wish to incur his
or her wrath?
(David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigate the unexpected and
unusual death of a high school student in Haven, New Hampshire, and Mulder believes
the murder may be occult-related
Scully and Mulder don’t know it, the school board and PTA in this sleepy town
consists entirely of lapsed Satanists who have watered down their faith. As a result, an evil substitute teacher/demon
Ms. Phyllis Paddock (Susan Blommaert) arrives (presumably from below…) at the
local high school to wreak havoc and remind the wayward souls who really calls the shots.
long, a local teenage girl, Shannon (Heather McComb) claims to have unwillingly
participated in black masses in her cellar, and to have performed as a
“breeder” for her Satanist parents.
Soon, she apparently commits suicide.
and Scully find no evidence to substantiate Shannon’s report of devil worship
in Haven, but even the duo from the F.B.I. soon feel the controlling hand of
the devil at work through the extremeley frightening Ms. Paddock.
more, we can’t sufficiently discuss an X-Files episode without noting how
cleverly it plays on real-life, current events of its time period.
particular, the year 1992 saw the release of the F.B.I. report by Agent Kenneth
V. Lanning (of the Behavioral Science Unit) on “Satanic Ritual Abuse.”
report -- which is name-checked directly by Scully in the episode itself --
notes that there is no “corroborative
evidence” for all the reports of Satanic abuse in America in the late 1980s
and early 1990s.
author writes: “We now have hundreds of
victims alleging that thousands of offenders are abusing and even murdering
tens of thousands of people as part of organized Satan cults.”
reason for this mass delusion, or insanity, Lanning suggests, is that Satanism --
the old “Devil made me do it” excuse --
offers “the simple and clear cut
explanation for a complex problem,” meaning child sexual abuse. Lanning also relates the Satanism “cult” fear
directly to the “Stranger Danger”
idea of the 1950s, which also created a mass scare in American suburbia, but
didn’t account for all that many cases of abuse, globally-speaking.
Hand die Verletzt” turns such findings on their head, and makes a funny claim. There are Satanists everywhere in small-town
America, the episode states, but --
humorously -- they are no more devout or zealous (and therefore dangerous…)
than most American Christians.
faith of any kind is really hard to
come by these days, to paraphrase John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)
turns funny and ominous, “Die Hand dieVerletzt” is a sharp critique of human
nature, and its apparent desire to believe in a Deity… but then second-guess
that all-powerful deity for sake of personal convenience.
had a Catholic college professor (and film instructor) who introduced me, back
in the late 1980s, to the derogatory term “Cafeteria
explained that these people looked across the smorgasbord of Church doctrine
and belief, and picked and chose what edicts they wanted to obey, as if
choosing toppings from a salad bar.
way, they could use birth control and not worry about their immortal souls.
they could be pro-life, but then instruct their pregnant teenage daughter to
get an abortion if the need arose.
not trying to pick on Catholicism per se, or even Christians in general here. I
suspect the same “Cafeteria” approach
is present in virtually all forms of faith, and perhaps even sci-fi fandom, as
a reader suggested to me recently.
People claim they are true believers, but what
they really mean is that they have selected a belief system that mirrors or
reflects their already-entrenched
belief system. In other words, they shop for a religion that
mimics a pre-existing state of mind, and tend to ignore facets of that religion
that simply don’t line up with what they already like.
expressly comments on this very notion in the episode by remarking to a lapsed
Satanist that indeed there is a difference “drinking
grape juice instead of wine at communion.
Hand die Verletzt” charts this universal phenomenon, humorously using Satanists
as the “faithful” satirized. The
Satanists are depicted as typical American suburbanites, worried that the
musical Grease has the “F”-word in it, for instance, and looking to climb
the ladder of American success.
long as these “good folks” believed that Satanism could make them upwardly
mobile or successful, well, they were Satanists. But when they achieved their goals, it turns
out they didn’t need their “God” to help them anymore. He was cast-off, neglected.
this episode of The X-Files describes, then, is a kind of selfishness about
religious faith. These men and women aren’t in it for a God of any kind. They
are in it for themselves. They get to
claim faith (and therefore righteousness),
at the same time that they reserve the right for themselves not to do something
that they don’t like, or find unsavory (like sacrifice babies on an altar to
Ba’al, for instance…)
remains impressive about “Die Hand die Verletzt” is that the manner in which
the narrative and tone travel from pointed satire of organized religion in
America to stark, demonic terror, scene-to-scene.
tipping point in that transition is a sustained, brilliantly-directed sequence
in which young Shannon (McComb) reveals her personal history in a coven. The camera intently circles the young witness
as she goes on and on, describing a litany of inhuman horrors. From this point on, the episode moves away
from examining religious hypocrisy and delves full-bore into terror.
surprisingly, “Die Hand die Verletzt” makes no bones about the Devil’s
existence as a “real” force on Earth.
The kids in the woods raise a demon, Mrs. Paddock, and she is a
terrifying embodiment of the Serpent.
fact, once she begins prosecuting the lapsed Satanists, the overall suggestion
is that Mulder and Scully couldn’t stop her, even if they had all the facts at their disposal. The episode thus casts a malevolent spell as
it broaches its denouement, and our heroes are forced to reckon with the point
of view that -- from a certain perspective,
they were “in league with the Devil”
on this particular investigation.
“It was nice working with you,” Mrs.
Paddock writes on a chalkboard in the local high school to confirm this idea. The message is chilling for what it suggests;
for the idea that agendas aligned for a time, and Mulder and Scully were part
of a plan beyond their own wishes, desire, or control.
overall episode becomes funnier (and even tongue-in-cheek), however, when one
starts to consider it in light of all the conspiracies about public schools
acting as breeding grounds for the “evils” of secularism.
there’s the belief that Satanists have infiltrated the Federal government and
are persecuting Christians, and so Mulder and Scully’s unwitting “alliance”
with the Devil here suggests that imaginary conspiracy as well. Were the episode done today, it wouldn’t be
about the bugaboo of Satanism, but probably Sharia Law infiltrating schools and
government. The monsters change, but the
(loony) fears remain the same.
often write that The X-Files is the Star Trek of the 1990s, the
pop-culture phenomenon that defined a generation.Episodes like “Die Hand die Verletzt” prove
the point well.The episode works as
social commentary, as tongue-in-cheek comedy, and in the end, as absolute
horror show.Even better, the episode
never feels off-message, or possesses the wrong tone. “Die Hand die Verletzt" holds a mirror up to the audience and asks us to consider the things we
believe, and even, ultimately, the way that we put those beliefs to practice.
week, the epic double feature: “Colony/End Game”