Back in October of 2016, the Syfy channel aired season one of Channel Zero, entitled Channel Zero: Candle Cove. Like many fans I’ve spoken to, there’s a good chance a lot of us didn’t pay much attention, seeing as how the Syfy channel is, well, not exactly known for their quality programming. I hate to admit, I was one of the fans that didn’t see it. Just yesterday, Shudder released the entire first season on their streaming service, and so I thought it would be fun to revisit the first episode, and holy hell, do I recommend you all do the same…
…While Channel Zero has grown in popularity since its debut (season 4 releases later this year), there are probably still many of you who are unfamiliar with the show, so here’s a breakdown. Channel Zero is a horror series where each season revolves around popular Creepypasta stories that have terrorized fans on the web. Channel Zero: Candle Cove, based on Kris Straub’s story, involves a decades old series of child murders, and a television show called Candle Cove that may have a strange, supernatural connection. Episode #1 sees the appearance of star Paul Schneider as child psychologist Mike Painter. An adult now, Mike hasn’t been to his hometown since the disappearance of his twin brother, Eddie (Luca Villacis), the likely fifth and last victim of the 1980’s murders. Plagued by nightmares calling him back home, Mike decides to return in an effort to make amends with the past, but the past has other plans, and upon his arrival, strange occurrences begin again.
Now, like I mentioned, I’m not often a fan of Syfy produced television, but Channel Zero: Candle Cove has an INCREDIBLE stable of talented horror artists involved. The series is directed by Craig William Macneill (The Boy), and written by Nick Antosca (The Hannibal TV series). Involved in producing are executive producer Max Landis (Chronicle) and Don Mancini (creator of the Child’s Play series). If you ask me, that is a POWERHOUSE of imaginative horror scribes that understand the genre well, and that understanding is evident all throughout the show.
(SPOILERS FOR EPISODE 1 AHEAD) Episode #1 of Channel Zero: Candle Cove entitled You Have to go Inside, is, frankly, a disturbing work of art that displays perfectly the terrifying imaginations of the creatives listed above. As the audience, we’re thrown right into a flaming pool of nightmare fuel as we are introduced to Mike in the middle of a TV interview regarding his new book on child psychology. The host makes an odd request, asking Mike to show them how he works by dealing with a child over the phone. Mike wants to say screw this and run, but he goes ahead with it. What follows is a slow burn that escalates into a raging fire of tension as the call turns sinister, taunting Mike and his fear of going home, all while he begins to notice that the production crew around him is nothing but a bunch of creepy fucking puppets. Macneill builds the scene like a true master, using silence as the wonderfully effective tool it is over scary music and sudden stingers. Atmosphere bleeds off the screen. Channel Zero: Candle Cove does not go for the sort of cheap scares that run rampant in modern theatrical horror. I’ll take a creeping chill down my spine over a CGI ghost screaming “boo” at me any day, because that chill, the sort of feeling that gets under your skin and makes your stomach feel uneasy…that’s genuine terror, and Channel Zero: Candle Cove delivers it in macabre spades.
Unlike your average PG-13 teen shocker, Antosca and Macneill never hold back the punches. These guys practically gut the audience with their willingness to go as deep into the darkness of our minds as Syfy allows them, which is pretty far down. I’m not talking gore either (though there is the occasional bloodshed). I’m referring to the type of imagery that makes us want to look away and hide behind our fingers, not because its gross, but because it’s DISTURBING. If the first episode of a show contains an image of a bunch of dead kids hanging from a tree, you know you’re in for something dark. It’s that sort of willingness to show violence towards kids that is enough to make even the most hardened of horror fans a little uneasy. In particular, there is a moment where, as kids, Mike’s twin brother Eddie is beat up by town bully Dane (Liam Marchant). Eddie doesn’t just get beat up though, we actually watch as the psychopathic Dane breaks his fingers with a sickening crunch. It’s horrible to watch, but the best horror stories are the ones where no one is safe from the terror, not even kids. Especially when the horror is focused on the kids themselves, and the adults refuse to believe them or help in any way.
Like those kids, Mike is alone in this case. After the disappearance of Katie (Katia Raquel Leon), daughter of childhood friend Jessica (Natalie Brown) and Gary (Shaun Benson), everyone begins to see Mike is a suspect. Which makes sense, seeing as he has just come back to town after being released from a mental hospital for an unknown “incident”, and has been claiming that Katie was watching the same show they all watched as kids, Candle Cove, a show that hasn’t aired since the eighties, and remains a mystery as to where exactly it came from. With even his own mother (Fiona Shaw) questioning him, Mike, in many ways, reverts back to his childhood self. Afraid, and unable to convince anyone around him that there is something sinister going on that stretches beyond reality, Mike is forced to question his own sanity, something which we as the audience must wonder as well. Coupled with Mike’s dark past and the mysteries surrounding the loss of his twin brother, Mike becomes a fascinating character, with an outstanding performance from Schneider that makes the character feel like that scared sub-conscious voice in all of us, that timid whisper that says we’re right to be afraid.
Channel Zero: Candle Cove plays off of very real modern horrors, specifically, the fear adults have that we are losing our children to a violent force that we cannot control. Whether or not you believe it, with various school shootings, relentless online bullying, and a steady increase in media violence and rhetoric, many fear that their children are becoming immune to the violence, and in some cases, inspired by it. Now, while I don’t really believe any of that’s true, it is an idea that stretches WAY back to when I was growing up in the nineties, and people believed that too much violence led to children acting out in a vicious manner. The idea harkens back to that saying, “too much TV will rot your brain”. Channel Zero taps into that concept with this first episode, exploring the dangers of not knowing what our kids are watching. Only in this case, the adults don’t know what their kids are watching because, as Mike’s mother reveals to him, Candle Cove was never actually real. It was a show she thought he and his brother had made up, because whenever they were “watching it”, nothing was on screen but static. It’s a chilling realization, especially when we discover that the show seems to brainwash kids, urging them to do terrible things, or visit secret places where something evil waits for them. Candle Cove acts as a sort of evil entity, much like Pennywise from Stephen King’s IT, luring children in with a sense of fun and entertainment before it reveals its horrible intentions.
Though that evil remains a mystery throughout the first episode of Channel Zero: Candle Cove, those first forty minutes are littered with practical effects and creatures that are just a few of the examples of the kind of bone-chilling imagery that Antosca has become known for. I hadn’t mentioned yet that Candle Cove is a show about pirate puppets, but believe me when I say that there is something deeply unnerving about the dead stare of a puppet pirate ship as it urges the viewer to visit their friends in some unknown, dark cave. It’s even more disturbing when those same puppets, including a skeletal captain, show up as a seven-foot-tall being blanketed by the shadows of a dark corner, bony hands reaching out from the darkness. Perhaps Channel Zero: Candle’s Coves greatest achievement though is The Tooth Child. The image of a child made entirely out of children’s teeth (all taken from the dead children), is something straight out of a surreal nightmare. The fact that it’s done with practical effects and not CGI is the icing on the blood-soaked cake, and proves that everyone involved cares about the effectiveness of the horror, understanding that when an audience sees a physical thing made out of teeth, it is difficult to convince the mind that it isn’t real when its sitting there right in front of your eyes, real and horrific and unimaginable but holy shit there it is.
Considering that this is all in just the first episode (out of six) of Channel Zero: Candle Cove, the show is a worthy journey into the minds of horror vets that promises to scare just as much as it surprises, which is frequently. Channel Zero: Candle Cove is a dark, supernatural murder mystery that slowly peels back what we know as reality like the layers of a dark onion…one that is, impossibly, filled with the rattling of children’s teeth.
If you haven’t watched Channel Zero: Candle Cove yet, you can now view the entire first season streaming on Shudder. Might as well let your kids join too. Better to know what they’re watching after all, right?
By Matt Konopka
Have you watched season 1 of "Channel Zero"? What did you think? Leave your thoughts below!