80’s nostalgia, creepy puppets, and a monster covered in baby teeth? Sure, sign me up.
Last week SyFy channel debuted the highly anticipated Channel Zero: Candle Cove. The show is the network’s first dive into the world of creepypasta and also the first installment in what is set to be an ongoing horror anthology.
Creepypastas are user generated horror and urban legends, copy-and-pasted around the internet Candle Cove, created by Kris Straub, is one of the most famous stories in this genre. The original tale was written in the format of an online forum thread where people talk about a children’s television series from the 1970s. The plot develops as the members of the forum share memories of the creepy puppets from the series, and discuss nightmares from watching the show.
Syfy charged Nick Antosca (Hannibal, The Forrest) with the task of turning this online legend into a six episodes series. In the first episode, Antosca stayed faithful to the original story setting up the stage for a slow simmering, terrifying season.
The premise presented us with famous child psychologist Mike Painter (Paul Schneider) who returns home nearly 20 years after a horrifying series of murders that claimed his own twin brother in 1988. The town, including his own mother, gives him an unenthusiastic welcome, showing that the pain caused by the murders is still very alive.
At first glance, one could think that Candle Cove is just an attempt to capitalize on the success of Stranger Things. The shows have many things in common: children leading the plot in the 1980’s, a terrifying looking monster and a missing boy. Despite the similarities, Candle Cove is its own animal.
There is no cheerful, uplifting undertone in this show. You will not think of The Goonies or E.T. when you watch it. Mike is a damaged character reluctantly looking for answers in the place he fears and hates the most, his own past. The world around him is wrapped in a thin film of sorrow that coats every moment. Even the scene when he and his childhood friends are enjoying an impromptu dinner looks like a forced attempt to create joy in a place where happiness doesn’t exist.
The show does a great job stating that the supernatural is not all that Mike must fear. The mistrust of the town and his own friends may be as likely to get him killed as the monster roaming the forest.
Schneider skillfully portrays a man tormented by the need to unravel the mystery behind his brother’s disappearance and the urgency to run away as fast and far as possible as he did 20 years ago.
Another great character is Mike’s mother Marla (played by the amazing Fiona Shaw). Her depiction of a woman trying to express love to a son who carries a baggage full of painful memories is authentic and heartbreaking.
The only criticism I have is that the dialogue is not always strong. The show is at its best when nothing is said, and tension builds by the unknown lurking beyond the camera frame. The dialogue is mostly used to explain the characters’ backstories, and more that often it comes across awkward and rushed.
Channel Zero’s first episode was quiet, intense and visually striking. I’m looking forward to a season of slow building tension and horror that feeds not on cheap tricks but on true moments of dread and uneasiness. The show has tremendous potential, and we can only hope that the rest of this tale is as intriguing as its beginning.