Creepypastas were once a very niche breed of horror, mostly restricted to the darkest corners of the internet. While many of them weren’t exactly amazing pieces of literature, there were quite a few memorable scary stories that could benefit from a decent adaptation. Luckily, Nick Antosca teamed up with Max Landis and SyFy to provide us with one of the most unexpectedly entertaining television events of the year with the hit new anthology series, Channel Zero. The first season, aptly subtitled “Candle Cove“, adapts Kris Straub’s eponymous creepypasta about a macabre television show that may or may not exist.
The show stars Paul Schneider as Mike Painter, a child psychologist returning to his hometown with the pretense of writing a book about his traumatic experiences there. However, things soon take a turn for the worst as it becomes apparent that the horrifying television show responsible for a string of tragedies in the town’s past is somehow resurfacing. With the help of his estranged mother, played by Fiona Shaw, Mike attempts to uncover the mystery of Candle Cove as he faces ghosts from his own past, all the while facing suspicion from his childhood friends.
Taking a few cues from Stephen King’s It, the story is told through two timelines. One of them follows Mike’s search for the truth in the present day, while the other tells the story of his childhood alongside his deceased twin brother, Eddie. This duality makes the show extremely suspenseful, as Mike’s backstory is told through gradual increments as we progress through the modern portion of the show. Fortunately, Channel Zero doesn’t spend too much time in the past, only resorting to flashbacks when absolutely necessary, in an effort to keep things fresh.
While there are a few deviations from the source material, it’s understandable that there would have to be some changes and expansions considering the short length of Straub’s original story. Most of these changes end up being benefitial to the show, and also make sure that fans of the creepypasta will still be surprised with the conclusion to these six chapters. In fact, the story’s original twist is actually revealed towards the end of the very first episode! Even so, there are a few pacing problems throughout this short season, though the show never quite gets to the point of being uninteresting.
Nevertheless, the phenomenal cast and well-rounded characters more than make up for these shortcomings. From Marla Painter’s conflicted feelings towards her son to Marina Stephenson Kerr as a creepy elementary school teacher with ulterior motives, every single character feels believable and fully developed. My only real complaint is the lack of focus on Mike’s family life, and his relationship with his wife and child. Their scenes felt a bit rushed, and the season finale could have had a bigger impact if we’d been exposed to some more tender moments in earlier episodes.
Visually, Channel Zero is one of the best-looking horror shows on television this year. The cinematography actually puts a lot of modern horror movies to shame, especially during the lingering shots of the Tooth Child and “Jawbone”. The scenes featuring footage from Candle Cove itself were also extremely well shot, with an underlying feeling of dread beneath an apparently child-friendly exterior. This was certainly helped by a subtle yet effective soundtrack that leaves the viewer in a constant state of unease.
Channel Zero: Candle Cove was certainly one of the best surprises in the horror genre this year, and is further proof that television has come a long way in genre storytelling, many times even surpassing the film industry. While last week’s finale might not have pleased everyone, it did feel like a well-earned and satisfying conclusion to the Candle Cove storyline. In any case, I’ll be looking forward to next year’s Channel Zero: No End House, as it seems like this show has a promising (not to mention terrifying) future ahead.
All of Channel Zero: Candle Cove is available for streaming on SyFy’s official website!