Ahhh, the creepypasta. Slenderman, Jeff the Killer, Candle Cove … these stories are as varied as they are*ahem* creepy. I’ve spent countless hours scrolling and reading these modern-day campfire scary stories trying to find the most shocking of the shocking. Finding out that there was actually a television show rooted in my favorite part of internet culture felt like a dream I didn’t know I wanted to come true. Enter Channel Zero.
SyFy’s Channel Zero is a visual experience like no other. Creator Nick Antosca (Hannibal, Teen Wolf) is known for his unique horror vision, and with this anthology series, he does not disappoint. With the show returning for a back-to-back airing Premiering tonight and ending on Halloween, it’s only fitting that we dive into what makes it so great.
Each season is based off a different creepypasta. These online horror stories have been an amazing source of entertainment for this horror fan for the past few years, ranging from campy to downright disturbing. Naturally, the discovery of a show versed in the same area was an immediate must-watch for me.
You can imagine my delight when I found out season one was based on my personal favorite creepypasta, Candle Cove. But, I was especially interested to see how the writers would make an entire season from such short source material. The original Candle Cove was a short story by Kris Straub written in a format like that of an online forum between multiple people. A conversation unfolds about an unusual children’s show that they all used to watch, leading them all to question what they had actually seen, with the ending of the short story leaving the reader with so many questions and a gnawing pit in their stomach.
Season 1 Episode 1: You Have to Go Inside
We meet Mike Painter, a man who hasn’t been back to his hometown in thirty years. Right away we can tell Mike is a man with a story. His visions, or perhaps I should say nightmares, are beckoning him to return home.
An accomplished child psychologist, Mike’s origin story has dark ties. His hometown of Iron Hill was also the home of a supposed serial killer who took the lives of five local children, including his twin brother, Eddie.
Eddie was a child with darkness within him. He and Mike are both bullied, but there is a gut-wrenching scene of violence between children that left me near tears. You start to understand him and can reasonably guess why he makes the choices that he does.
Thirty years later, children are going missing again. Mike is led to the chilling realization that everything is all tied to the disturbing puppet show he and Eddie were intrigued by as kids: Candle Cove.
Thoughts on Season One
Channel Zero’s first season does an excellent job of taking such a short-written story and developing it into a fully-realized narrative with an enormous twist, all while staying true to the source material. It never alienates fans of the creepypasta. Instead, it respects the cult-like love we readers have and elevates the story for us. You could look at the story as almost a trailer for the show, as there is so much more story to unfold on screen.
The character design for the puppets is simple and very reminiscent of fan creations based on the story. It keeps very true to the feeling of reading Candle Cove. The puppets are friendly enough looking with a slight weirdness to them. There are not so off-putting that it is hard to believe a child would want to watch the show.
The addition of the tooth child, a masterfully crafted vision of childhood nightmares, is unexpected, imaginative, visually unnerving and captivating all at once.
No End House
What makes this series stand out above an ocean of mundane horror attempts is the visuals. Season two rises to the challenge of one-upping Candle Cove and does so with flair and retina-burning imagery.
Based off the popular No End House, this season follows a group of teens into what they think is a novelty haunted house which is full of haunting imagery… true nightmare fuel. They soon find out that leaving the No End House is not so simple.
Season 2 Episode 1: This Isn’t Real
The house appears in Margot and Jules’ town. They stand in line amongst the hipsters and horror junkies much for the same reason: to see how scary the No End House really is. People are leaving, vomiting as they rush by. You hear someone explain that the house is supposed to get progressively scarier with each room and that most people only get through the first few before turning back.
Not only is each room scarier than the next, but each person also has a personalized experience full of their own personal torture. Margot is a teen who has lived through tragedy, having lost her father to suicide, giving the house plenty of ammunition to manipulate her with.
Thoughts on Season Two
This season has a way of making you question what you are seeing just as much as the characters are. There are plenty of moments when you’re not sure which parts are even real. I don’t want to give a single detail away since the story is so well crafted. It unfolds and leads you to the twists and turns as you are supposed to learn them.
With that said, season two is visually chilling, especially with the scenes inside the No End House. One scene in particular shows each member of the group’s severed head on the table with a stoic, pitch black face protruding through a hole in their head. The story begins to differ from that of the source material, where the first room in just cheesy Halloween decorations. The rooms featured on the show waste no time getting into the terrifying territory and delivering scenes with a dream-like quality. You feel unnerved, and at times you’re not sure what you are even seeing.
The show really comes into its own in its third season Butcher’s Block. Based loosely on a story called Search and Rescue Woods, this season is the first time that the writers aren’t taking a story and elevating it. This time, they only borrowed small details from the source material and have created a new story inspired by the writers’ own nightmares. The result is a modern horror classic that bravely deals with subjects like poverty and mental illness while still providing captivating imagery that made this jaded horror fanatic question what she even saw.
Season 3 Episode 1: Insidious Onset
Here we meet Alice, a sweet social worker who has moved to a new city with her sister Zoe and has taken a new job in an extremely impoverished part of town. However, poverty isn’t the only hardship for the people in the area. People go missing in Butcher’s Block. Those unfortunate people who vanish are always the poorest people in the system; the ones who will go unnoticed.
Apart from the disappearances, an abandoned park nearby has strange occurrences. Long past are the days of the land being used as a playground, the grass stands tall above the equipment. But, if one stands in the park long enough, they will see the mysterious, disappearing staircases. Towering into the sky. These white, marble stairs lead to a door, seemingly floating in the air. As the episode ends you are left wondering… “what’s behind that door?”
Thoughts on Season 3
A visceral and unrelenting look at mental illness, this season has a lot to say! It gives us a gritty look at the struggles of mental illness on more than one level, all while having a biting social commentary on poverty in America and throw away culture. You connect with the main characters on a deep level. You feel their fear of not only the horrific situation they have found themselves in but of their anxiety of an impending breakdown. You also deeply feel the terror of those who are the unfortunates. The impoverished neighborhoods with thinning numbers who know that no one will come looking for them should they be next.
Keeping with the theme of being a feast for the eyes, this season takes it even further with intricate sets and landscapes, straight-out-of-hell character design, and a table scene full of filth and flies. It’s an uncomfortable ride but you cannot look away. There is a strong contrast between beautiful characters dressed in vintage fashions, small disfigured children in robes, and a creature that I can only explain as looking like twisted meat adorned a human form. Heavy contrast continues into the set design where you see a playground overgrown with tall weeds, a wildflower field leading into a house of horrors.
The Dream Door
The Dream Door will be the latest installment with SyFy airing it each night until Halloween. Following the premiere, all episodes will be available on demand.
Up to this point, all I have taken in from this season is the trailer. The trailer was just vague enough to keep me wondering what is coming but gave me enough details to see that I have to know.
A woman’s voice details feelings of having memories that should have been dreaming but felt too real. She is left unsure of her own mind. A young couple has inherited a home. The husband asks his wife about the wall in the basement, to which she replies there is just a wall. “Are you sure?” he responds. There is now a blue door in the spot they were so sure was just a wall. How could someone forget there was a door in their home? As they question their sanity, it’s clear to the viewer it was never there before.
The narrator/wife calmly recounts a story of creating by way of drawing a “protector” as a child; someone to make her feel safe in a world full of bad things. You are shown a drawing she drew as a child of a clown-like figure with a large smile, bending in an inhuman way, drawn with the complete freedom of a young child. His midsection appears almost made of rubber to be able to pose in such a way. It appears that her creation has come to life but isn’t as friendly as she had depicted him. Her childhood protector seems to be targeting her husband, as we are led to believe they may have marriage problems based on context clues revolving around trust issues.
The character design for this season’s monster is the visual representation of how a good creepypasta makes you feel on the inside. The feeling of childhood ruined… the look of something that should be frightening that has morphed into something evil… the vibrant and wet smears of blood on the unnaturally curling smile; all is absolute nightmare fuel to match the expectations associated with a genre as dark as creepypasta. This is the darkest fiction the internet has to offer, so capturing this essence in a trailer is impressive, to say the least.
Channel Zero is chilling and cerebral. It is hands-down the best horror experience on modern television. The beauty of the show is its fearlessness in subject matter and effects. Horror Anthologies are popular now thanks to American Horror Story, but the beauty of Channel Zero is that rather than trying to be shocking AND tie all the seasons together, it is simply trying to tell you a gripping and eerie tale through genuine storytelling and visual cues. It’s thought-provoking without the need for an over-the-top shock. The chills come from understated moments where the viewer is left to figure things out, and upon realizing them, fear sets in. A feeling akin to realizing you are the last person alive on earth and someone knocks on your door. Each season gets progressively better and handles the story in a way that must be digested slowly.
Thank you, Nick Antosca for shaking up the horror genre and creating a show that is such a riveting ride.
By: Erin Alise Conley