Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 4 hours 18 minutes
Directed by: Craig William Macneill
Written by: Nick Antosca, Don Mancini, Harley Peyton, Erica Saleh, Katie Gruel & Mallory Westfall
(based on the creepypasta CANDLE COVE by Kris Straub)
Starring: Paul Schneider, Fiona Shaw, Luisa D’Oliveira, Natalie Brown, Shawn Benson
For readers who aren’t aware, “creepypastas” are modern urban legends. These eerie tales are posted on various internet forums and get passed on by readers (and other writers). There have been some genuinely nightmarish creepypastas out there and the Syfy Channel has begun adapting these tales into horror anthology series CHANNEL ZERO. When I hear Syfy Channel, I usually think of hilarious so-bad-they’re-good monster movies, lame content, and unintentionally silly series. Color me surprised because Syfy’s CHANNEL ZERO delivers the chills.
CHANNEL ZERO’s first season adapts Kris Straub’s creepypasta CANDLE COVE. Child psychologist Mike Painter (Paul Schneider) has returned to his hometown in hopes of writing a book based on a terrible series of disappearances that occurred in the late-80s. Though it sounds crazy, Mike suspects that these missing kids were somehow linked to a bizarre children’s show called CANDLE COVE. This puppet-driven series seemed to have an effect on its young viewers and bad things usually happened when it aired. Soon after his arrival, Mike discovers that CANDLE COVE has begun airing again and another child has gone missing. He investigates the bizarre mystery that only becomes stranger with each passing second and finds that a deadly chain of events may be reemerging alongside the show.
In a roundabout way, CHANNEL ZERO: CANDLE COVE feels very much like something Stephen King might have written in his heyday. There are shades of IT (children confronting an evil when they’re younger and now it’s returned during their adult years) and an atmosphere that reminded me a lot of SALEM’S LOT (a damaged man returning to his old hometown to confront his past demons and discovering actual monsters). However, this comparison might be doing CANDLE COVE a disservice, because this miniseries is damn good on its own merits. The flow may occasionally be a tad too jumpy (causing the viewer to take a moment to catch their bearings), but the storytelling is masterfully constructed in two very different time periods.
Creepy plotlines would be useless without capable actors in the cast and everyone does a damn fine job in their roles. There are a handful of characters to keep track of and the viewer might find themselves struggling to remember who’s who for the first episode, but these people grow on you and have their own individual story arcs. While certain story arcs don’t last long, other smaller ones come back in a big way. The best performances belong to Paul Schneider as Mike, Fiona Shaw as his put-upon mother, Marina Stephenson Kerr as a creepy old teacher, and Luisa D’Oliveira as a cop investigating the strange events.
Flashbacks to young Mike’s childhood and scenes with his since-missing twin brother Eddie (both of which are played believably by Luca Villacis) serve as their own storyline, while also delivering unexpected revelations about the current timeline. Little clues and tidbits about the disappearances, relationships between characters, and (of course) the disturbing children’s program all come to light in an eerie slow-burn fashion. I was desperate to know what would happen next, but also loved every bit of the season’s deliberately paced delivery that kept me on the edge of my seat.
It’s worth noting that the production values are impressive as CANDLE COVE uses deliberately cheesy visuals for its titular children’s show and then incorporates far more creatively disturbing visuals for the real-life horror elements. Scenes of a room filled with human skin as well as a child-like monster made entirely of human teeth are equally strange and extremely unnerving. Every time that damn tooth-child was on the screen, I felt downright uncomfortable and squeamish. Even though a few of these monsters and nightmarish visuals are brought in for a simple hallucination or dream sequence, they are damn effective nonetheless.
CANDLE COVE occasionally relies on nightmare-logic that may throw viewers for a loop. There are elements of the story that require an unexpectedly high suspension of disbelief, but these moments can be forgiven for the way in which the series introduces them. You’ll know what I mean if you watch CANDLE COVE, but there’s one plot development that seems like it could have been yanked from any number of Stephen King’s novels. Also, the tooth child aspect (as creepy as it is) seems like it was an afterthought to include an awesome-looking monster.
All things considered, CHANNEL ZERO: CANDLE COVE is great for a miniseries based upon an internet urban legend. This miniseries incorporates its source material in a creative way, while adding a compelling original plotline to the mix (that seems like an ultimate homage to Stephen King’s best books). The acting is believable, the twists are creative, and there are plenty of nightmarish visuals (the tooth-child will haunt my dreams forever). If you want something out of the ordinary and creepy, give CHANNEL ZERO: CANDLE COVE a look. I’m eager to see if Syfy can replicate their success with the upcoming (three!) seasons of more made-for-TV creepypasta adaptations!