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Episode Analysis

The X-Files | 'El Mundo Gira': Chupacabra and Fortean Weather in Folklore

The X-Files episode ‘El Mundo Gira’ put a unique spin on Chupacabra folklore, as Mulder and Scully investigate a murder among migrant workers.

‘El Mundo Gira’ is a standalone, monster-of-the-week X-Files episode featuring the folklore of the chupacabra and weather phenomena in the form of yellow rain. Although not one of the acclaimed episodes of the season, I enjoy the mixture of folklore and science brought to life within the story in a classic X-Files way. 

In this article, I’ll have a look at the folklore of the chupacabra and how this is used and adapted within the episode, as well as weather phenomena in the form of the different colored rains that have been reported and may have served as inspiration for the episode’s yellow rain. But first, here’s a summary of the episode. 

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The X-Files ‘El Mundo Gira’ Episode Summary 

The X-Files episode ‘El Mundo Gira’ (S4, Ep11) takes place in a migrant worker camp and is largely told from the point of view of these migrants. The cold opening of the episode starts with a woman – one of the migrants – telling the story of the chupacabra to the other migrants in the room with her. She adds that she saw everything that happened with her own eyes. 

We meet the two main characters – the brothers Eladio (Raymond Cruz – Breaking Bad’s Tuco Salamanca) and Soledad Buente (J.R. Yenque) – and Maria (Pamela Diaz), Soledad’s partner whom Eladio is flirting with. After Soledad leaves for work, Maria is sent to find the goats which have escaped their pen, followed by Eladio. Then there is a bright flash and thunderclap before a warm, yellow rain falls from a clear sky and everyone runs for cover. 

When the rain stops, the woman who started telling the story goes to find Maria. First, she comes across goats with some of their flesh eaten away before finding Maria, whose face is partially eaten away. Eladio is nowhere to be found. 

A goat and woman lie dead, their faces seemingly mutilated, and their skin tinged yellow from the rain in The X-Files episode ‘El Mundo Gira’.
A dead goat and dead Maria (Pamela Diaz) in the wake of the yellow rain in The X-Files episode ‘El Mundo Gira’ (S4, Ep11). The recurring goats in the episode are a nod to the myth of the chupacabra as a “goat sucker” which drained the blood from livestock. | 20th Century Fox, 1997.

Mulder and Scully show up to investigate what had happened, with Mulder explaining that the yellow rain is a Fortean event: 

Mulder: Well, according to eyewitnesses, the death we’re investigating was preceded by a Fortean event. That’s a highly unusual or infrequent meteorological phenomenon also known as a transient.
Scully: A transient.
Mulder: Yeah. Witnesses described a bright flash about 30 degrees off the horizon, then a hot yellow rain fell from a cloudless sky. Fortean researchers call these “liquid falls.” Black and red rains are the most common, but there have also been reported cases of blue, purple, and green rains.

The X-Files, ‘El Mundo Gira’ – S4, Ep11.

The two agents are told that it was the chupacabra that killed Maria and the goats. Scully goes to the morgue to see Maria’s body, only to find it completely covered in green fungus and her flesh eaten away. In the meantime, Mulder goes to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to find Eladio. Eladio is there under a fake name and is adamant that he didn’t kill Maria. Rather, he held her while she died and then ran away. 

Eladio is obviously sick and the other migrants at the INS refuse to be close to him. When he needs to be transported, he infects the driver with a fungus. The driver dies and the van crashes, giving Eladio a chance to escape. Eladio wants to return to Mexico and goes and asks the man who trafficked him to help him to return to Mexico. The trafficker tells Eladio that he can travel back to Mexico if he has the money ready that evening. 

Dana Scully shows her warrant card to the county coroner in The X-Files episode ‘El Mundo Gira’. The coroner is masked and faces away from Scully, studying a cadaver.
Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) introduces herself to the county coroner (Susan Bain) in The X-Files episode ‘El Mundo Gira’ (S4, Ep11). | 20th Century Fox, 1997.

Scully consults a mycologist to see what type of fungus it is. The fungus turns out to only be the fungus that causes athlete’s foot. However, he isolates an enzyme that acts as a catalyst and accelerant and makes the fungus grow at astonishing rates. 

Mulder then notes that the fungus that’s killing people could perhaps be alien:

Mulder: Scully, I’ve been thinking. I know that’s dangerous, but just bear with me. These Fortean transients that the women described? They could have been caused by an object falling at a high rate of speed through the atmosphere creating a sonic boom and a flash of light. What astronomers call a bollide.
Scully: A bollide?
Mulder: Created by a meteorite or a piece of extraplanetary material – of which two thousand tons falls to the Earth every day. Now – now this yellow rain. Space debris could have fallen into a nearby lake superheating the water and sending it skyward. Which would mean this is alien.

The X-Files, ‘El Mundo Gira’ – S4, Ep11.

Eladio goes to find work and we see that there is now graffiti that shows a grey alien face and text that says the chupacabra is alive. Eladio takes a job, but when he feels sick and looks for the man who hired him, he finds that the man is dead and covered in the fungus. 

Soledad finds Eladio and wants to kill him, but Eladio manages to escape. Eladio goes to his cousin, Gabrielle (Simi Mehta), and she tells him that she’ll get paid that evening at her job at the market. Meanwhile, Eladio is getting more and more ill. His skin is starting to turn a dead grey color. 

Eladio, his skin grey, sweaty and disfigured, enters a supermarket. He looks furtive.
An increasingly unwell Eladio Buente (Raymond Cruz) tries to contact his cousin Gabrielle (Simi Mehta) at her workplace in The X-Files episode ‘El Mundo Gira’ (S4, Ep11). Cruz is now best known for the role of Tuco Salamanca in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, created by X-Files writer Vince Gilligan. | 20th Century Fox, 1997.

At a truck stop, Eladio tries to get a ride to Mexico. However, Mulder shows up along with an INS agent. They try to catch Eladio, but he escapes in a truck with goats that also succumb to the fungus. Finally, Eladio goes to the market where Gabrielle works. There he kills another person by accident. Not finding Gabrielle there, he goes to her apartment. 

When he gets to the apartment, he sees that his head is distorted by growths and his skin is getting greyer and greyer. Eladio flees back to the camp, where Mulder, the INS agent, and Soledad – who they’ve found in the meantime – find him. 

The INS agent tells Soledad to shoot his brother, but Soledad finds that he cannot. In a struggle for the gun, the agent is shot. By the time Mulder reaches him, the fungus has also started eating his flesh. Eladio and Soledad flee the scene and try to make it to Mexico. In the last shot of them, both have heads distorted by growths so that they’re almost “grey alien”-shaped. Their skin is also dark grey. They have both turned into “chupacabras”. 

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The Genesis of Chupacabra Folklore 

As far as supernatural creatures go, the chupacabra is quite new on the scene, with the first sightings in the 1950s, and the first US sighting reported in Arizona in 1956. 

Then, in 1975, livestock killings in Moca, Puerto Rico, were attributed to the vampire of Moca (El Vampiro de Moca). The livestock was said to have been drained of blood through small, circular incisions. 

Since then, sightings of the creature have been reported in Brazil, Chile, Florida, Illinois, Mexico, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Oregon. The Chupacabra was even reported to be in Manipur, India, in 2018. The bulk of the chupacabra activity, however, has been in Puerto Rico. 

Reports of slain livestock and domestic animals always include puncture wounds (two or three) on the animals’ necks. The chupacabra’s victims are also usually drained of blood. In some cases, hundreds of dead livestock are said to be the work of the chupacabra. 

The Physical Appearance(s) of the Chupacabra 

The physical appearance of the chupacabra sometimes differs in the details. At times the chupacabra is described as “a beast that is 4.5 to 5.5 feet tall … with an oval-shaped head bearing alien-like eyes that glow red … [and] long, feathery spines that run from the back of its head down the spine, ending in the rump.”

Although the chupacabra generally walks on two legs, it can also run on all fours. Some who say that they’ve sighted a chupacabra, however, note that they jump much like a kangaroo rather than walk on two legs. An ape-like gait when they walk has also been noted. 

The description of the chupacabra’s skin ranges from being similar to that of a frog – “green in color with mottled specks” to rather looking like a “furry lizard with scaly skin” (see this article). Stephen Woodman notes that the “reptilian chupacabra” originated in Puerto Rico in 1975 after goats and sheep were found slain. 

Woodman does also note that “[b]y the time the creature arrived in Mexico it had undergone something of a transformation” and that the overall look of the chupacabra has become more “wolf-like.”

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Scientific Explanations of the Chupacabra 

Coyotes and dogs with severe mange have at various times been identified as chupacabras and this has served as a scientific explanation for the chupacabra sightings and corpses which have been found. 

The reptile-like chupacabra is described as being based on the creature Sil in the sci-fi horror Species (1995) by Benjamin Radford in his book Tracking the Chupacabra (2011). The eye-witness of the chupacabra in the ’90s (Madelyne Tolentino) admitted that she had watched the film before she saw the chupacabra and that the two creatures look alike. Radford deduced that Madelyne was influenced by the film in such a manner that she thought the events were really taking place and that chupacabras are real. 

The Use of Chupacabra Folklore in The X-Files ‘El Mundo Gira’

Interestingly enough, The X-Files episode ‘El Mundo Gira’ doesn’t make use of the wolf-like version of the chupacabra, but the reptilian-alien version that is described in the earliest cases of the chupacabra. It also only loosely uses the extant ’90s chupacabra folklore to tell the story of Eladio and Soledad.

Graffiti on a concrete wall in The X-Files episode ‘El Mundo Gira’ shows a grey alien head and the words "El Chupacabra Vive!"
Chupacabra graffiti in The X-Files episode ‘El Mundo Gira’ (S4, Ep11). Not a particularly well-remembered episode, ‘El Mundo Gira’ was praised for its handling of folklore by presenting multiple explanations and viewpoints. | 20th Century Fox, 1997.

For example, while the chupacabra in folklore only kills livestock and domestic animals, it – in the form of Eladio – is responsible for the deaths of a number of humans. The goats that are killed by the fungus are mostly used as a throwback to the name of the chupacabra. Although it is said at the end of the episode that the chupacabra drinks the blood of sick and dying goats, this isn’t part of the rest of the ‘El Mundo Gira’ storyline. 

Although the original folklore has the chupacabra described as being a creature all on its own, ‘El Mundo Gira’ shows how a human can turn into a chupacabra. Eladio (and later Soledad) change physically to have unusually large heads because of growths that affect the top half of their heads. The brothers’ skin also turns a sickly, almost gangrenous greyish-black. 

Eladio, his head swollen and greenish-gray, turns away from his cousin Gabrielle who speaks to him in Spanish. The subtitle reads: "You are the Chupacabra."
A now disfigured Eladio Buente (Raymond Cruz) turns his face from Gabrielle (Simi Mehta) in The X-Files episode ‘El Mundo Gira’ (S4, Ep11). | 20th Century Fox, 1997.

This transformation into otherworldly “creatures” cements the grey alien/chupacabra link. The use of the scene where the people in hazmat suits looked like greys – and then thought to be chupacabra – further strengthens the link between the greys and the chupacabras.  

Overall, this X-Files episode makes use of the chupacabra folklore only very loosely. Rather, they use only enough snippets of the folklore to suit the story that they wish to tell and that would fit in better with the rest of The X-Files mythology. A new type of folkloric creature is created and this can leave more room for invention than if only the “true” folklore of the chupacabra is used. 

The Chupacabra is, however, not the only phenomenon in the ‘El Mundo Gira’ episode. The unusual yellow rain seems to set the tragedy of the characters’ lives in motion. In the next part of the article, I’ll have a look at the strange weather phenomena.

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Strange Weather Phenomena and ‘El Mundo Gira’

Yellow rain as well as other colors of rain are not simply a matter of a flight of fantasy, but have, in fact, happened across the planet. Different reasons – including scientific ones – for these colored rain have, however, been forthcoming. 

Colored Rain in History 

Of all the colors of rain that have been documented, localized red rain seems to be the most common and has been noted in writing since the work of Homer and Hesiod. The Greek biographer, Plutarch, also noted red/blood rain during the reign of Romulus. The red rain was usually understood to be a bad portent. Charles Fort noted a wide variety of colored rains in his works, including red, yellow, black, and purple (see The Book of the Damned by Fort).  

Sampath et al, in the paper “Coloured Rain: A Report on the Phenomenon” (2001), notes a number of documented instances of red rain from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries. Some of these red rainstorms include: 

  • A storm during the 2001 monsoon season in Kerala, India
  • A storm in Changanacherry during the 1950s
  • Rain in Sicily, 1872
  • Rain in Naples, 1818
  • Rain in Lyons, 1846
  • A storm in Cape Verdes described by Charles Darwin 

Indeed, Sampath (2001) found that colored rain may take place occasionally in Kerala, India. Because this wasn’t just a “once off” event, all the occasions on which rain was red may not have been reported to authorities or scientists and may even not have been scientifically tested. (After all, we humans are very good at not noticing something if it’s not brand new.) 

Spores and the alga Trentepohlia annulata, were found to be the reason why the Kerala rain was red, according to tests undertaken by Sampath et al (2001). It’s important to note that, once the suspended matter – which gives the rain its blood-red color – has settled, the water appears clear. Red dust from, for example, the Sahara, suspended in the rainwater can also cause the rain to look red. 

In my opinion, red rain or blood rain wasn’t used in this story as the idea of the rain being actual blood would have given a whole different layer of meaning to the story; especially with the Christian elements already present.

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The Use of Yellow Rain in ‘El Mundo Gira’

A final explanation for the yellow rain is never given in the episode, although varying explanations are forthcoming, including an extraterrestrial origin, as quoted earlier in the article. The reason why Soledad also turns into a “chupacabra” all of a sudden is also not given beyond “God cursed him”. 

However, the flash of lighting, etc. that takes place before the rain falls, does fit the eyewitness accounts of various colored rainstorms over the centuries. That the yellow rain is unnatural and a portent rather of something bad that’s about to happen (Maria’s death and the animosity between Eladio and Soledad) is more important than giving a fixed reason for the rain. In the end, though, the normal – in the form of rain – is given an “otherworldly” and uncomfortable twist by making the rain yellow instead of clear. 

Conclusion

‘El Mundo Gira’ is a departure from the usual X-Files episodes. A large part of the story is told from the point of view of the migrant characters with Mulder and Scully almost appearing as side characters. 

However, because the audience is given both sides of the story, we come to doubt if any of it is real as the female narrator herself gets part of the events wrong; for instance when the medical team shows up in hazmat suits that make them appear like grey aliens (tall, thin bodies with large heads). The narrator believes that these were actual chupacabra. 

Three tall, slender aliens with grey skin and bulbous heads, backlit by an eerie glow, descend the earth bank towards the village in  in The X-Files episode ‘El Mundo Gira’.
The unreliable narrator Flakita (Lillian Hurst) recalls the Grey-like chupacabra descending on the migrant village in The X-Files episode ‘El Mundo Gira’ (S4, Ep11) in one of the episode’s three contrasting endings.| 20th Century Fox, 1997.

Of course, when the brothers are shown in the final scene trying to make their way back to Mexico, we are confronted with the truth that, even if not all the facts have been relayed correctly, there is still truth to the story. The yellow rain did fall. Maria did die during or just after the rainstorm, her face half-eaten by a fast-spreading fungus. Eladio and Soledad’s features did change to make them appear monster-like. Just like Mulder and Scully, the audience is outsiders to the migrants’ lives and has to be content with what we know – even if we don’t know all the details. 

We are, however, encouraged to look beyond the drama and the flippant manner in which superstitions and stories are viewed by others to see the real world within the context of the FBI’s findings and to witness the plight of migrant workers in the USA. Rather, we’re invited to see the truth that exists inside the folklore and how it impacts the people that it touches. 

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Carin Marais is a freelance writer by day and a genre fiction writer by night. When she’s not writing, you can find her watching her favourite shows – like Stargate – or reading the next book on her giant TBR pile. She only makes the odd trip back to reality for tea, biscuits, and more yarn for her various crochet and knitting projects.  

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