The Scariest Horror Show You Haven’t Seen

by thethreepennyguignol

I feel like I have made my love for creepypastas abundantly clear on this blog already, but in case I haven’t: I fucking love creepypastas. For those who have lives enough not to know what they are, they’re basically the internet versions of campfire scary stories – tales passed around forums and websites, from user to user, growing and evolving with every retelling and every new detail added by all those people bold enough to stick their fingers in and get involved. They’re multimedia projects, that span text and video and chat and sound, that allow for anyone who engages with them to add to the mythos in some way or another.

And I love them. I always have; as a stringent fan of all things horror, creepypastas just became a new way for us to spook each other, a new way for us to worm into each other’s real lives and go “listen, this is fucked up, but I’ve got to tell you…”.

Like all good scary campfire stories, though, creepypastas leave the thread hanging: they’re basically an internet version of “And was that killer!”, inviting the viewer to pick up the strand of that thread and carry on with it. So it makes perfect sense to me that someone would have seen that hanging thread, and taken it as a challenge.

And that’s just what happened with the birth of Candle Cove, the first season of the anthology horror series Channel Zero – headed by Hannibal writer and producer Nick Antosca, this story picks up on the thread left hanging by Kris Straub, creator of the Candle Cove creepypasta. The titular Candle Cove is a TV series, following a young girl who imagines herself friends with puppet pirates to distract from her humdrum life. The only thing is, a mere handful of people can actually remember watching it – and most of them have some pretty disturbing memories about the actual content of the show. Go read the original short by Kris Straub, if you have a spare minute and want to give yourself a medical case of the willies; it’s a great use of forums and chat functions as a storytelling technique, and it’s clear to see why this posed such an interesting jumping-off point for Antosca and company.

All this to say: the rich background from which the Candle Cove season of Channel Zero was born has made it, for my money, one of the most impressive pieces of horror television I’ve ever seen. And I feel like not enough people are talking about it.

Starring Paul Schneider as Mike, a child psychologist who is drawn back to his hometown after a violent breakdown, Antosca uses the notion of this creepy, half-remembered TV show and uses it as a jumping-off point to explore how an indistinct childhood terror can morph into a very real adult threat. There’s more than a touch of classic Stephen King here – adults drawn back to a small town in America to battle a threat they thought they left behind in childhood – but this is no Loser’s Club, with the returning adults fractious and consistently at odds with one another in increasingly complicated emotional relationships.

In this version of the telling, Candle Cove, the TV show, is intimately connected to a series of violent child murders, including apparently that of Mike’s twin brother, that had permanently poisoned the small town that they infected. Mike’s uncertain, cloudy unreliable narration slowly unwinds the actual story of what happened the first time Candle Cove was on television, as the adults of the town who have tried to leave the show and what it means behind race to find out why it has returned, and what it could be doing to their children. Also, there are life-sized freaky puppets that I’ve been having nightmares about all week.

It’s only six episodes long, but this season took me a long time to get through, just thanks to the sheer weight of everything that’s bringing to the table. Exquisite direction and gorgeous framing fills out the story even when nothing is being said – the performances are universally excellent, especially from Fiona Shaw as Mike’s mother, delivering a shatteringly subdued and restrained emotional powerhouse as the mother trying to make sense of what took her son. The monster design is utterly gorgeous, the villains of the piece strikingly disturbing (seriously – I had to go out of my way to look for a header of something from the show that wouldn’t be a jumpscare turning up on your social media timeline) , and a perfect encapsulation of the intensity of childhood fear. These characters feel real, and this town, shattered by its history, is a dark, twisted place to spend even just a few hours with these people.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot, because it’s genuinely twist-turny in a way so few stories have the nerve to be, but Channel Zero: Candle Cove is a reminder of just how powerful the folkloric qualities of creepypastas can be. When you leave the door open for brilliant creators like Antosca to pick up where you left off, you can build to stories as magnificent as this one. Candle Cove is a powerful, deeply disturbing, and profoundly terrifying deep-dive into the scars of childhood, and why what we tried to leave behind is always coming back to haunt us.

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(header image via TVOvermind)