The SyFy network might call to mind goofball grindhouse fare such as Lavalantula and Sharknado, but with its new horror anthology series Channel Zero it proves it is ready to be taken seriously in an entirely new way. The series, which debuted on October 11th 2016, promises to deliver a new storyline for each six-episode arc. Channel Zero’s twist to this approach is that each arc will be based off of a Creepypasta – short works of horror fiction designed to be shared on the internet in a viral fashion – and Channel Zero has decided to go big or go home by tackling one of the most well-known and admired Creepypastas of all, Candle Cove.
In the original short story by Kris Straub, patrons of an online chatroom reminisce about a cartoon show from their childhood: the titular Candle Cove. But their memories of this unusual, pirate-themed after-school program are hazy, and the seemingly innocent kid’s show grows increasingly menacing as more and more details of it are recalled.
Channel Zero: Candle Cove swaps out the setting of an online forum for a mid-American small town which experienced a rash of grisly, unsolved child murders in 1988. Famous child psychologist Mike Painter (Paul Schneider) survived the original killing spree but his twin brother did not. He returns to his hometown hoping to lay the demons of his past to rest but quickly finds himself in over his head and the nightmare beginning again. His childhood friends have become surly, suspicious adults, people are wandering in the woods behind his childhood home who shouldn’t be there, and his estranged mother (Fiona Shaw) treats him with an unusual amount of skepticism and fear. Worst of all, Candle Cove – the television series Mike became obsessed with during the weeks leading up to his brother’s disappearance – has begun airing again: before the eyes of his friends’ children and inside his own mind.
Channel Zero will naturally earn comparisons to American Horror Story which follows a similar format, but if the first episode of the Candle Cove arc is any indication, it is hardly derivative or a knock-off. Both the small town frozen in time and the hallucinatory manner in which Mike moves through it owe a great deal to Twin Peaks, and the increasingly revelatory flashbacks to his dark childhood call to mind the best works of Stephen King. Meanwhile, the series is already earning favorable comparisons to the Netflix smash hit Stranger Things. Schneider, who is best remembered by many as the womanizing architect Mark Brendanawicz from the early seasons of Parks & Recreation, proves that he can play troubled and disturbed very, very well. Then there is Shaw whose run on True Blood as the villainous Marnie Stonebrook was just one of her dark roles, and who more than has what it takes to anchor a show about murderous pirate skeleton puppets.
As befits its source material, Channel Zero: Candle Cove is low on gore but high on creep factor. Fans of the original story might find both the expansion of the stories universe and its migration in setting jarring, but the adaptation feels like it has gone out of its way to preserve the integrity of the story while mining it for some good, disturbing, slow-burn horror that will keep the nightmares coming long after the puppet skeletons on the TV screen have stopped dancing. For comparison, check out the Candle Cove short story that started it all here, and then enjoy the trailer for Channel Zero: Candle Cove right here: