Following a mental breakdown, child psychologist Mike Painter (Paul Schneider) returns to his small hometown of Iron Hill for the first time since his youth. Called back by his tragic past, he sets about uncovering the truth behind a spate of child deaths and the disappearance of his twin brother Eddie in the town back in 1988.
The story unfolds over two time periods; the present day and the late ’80s, with smart editing interweaving the two together. Conversations in the modern day cut to moments in Mike’s past, the ghost of his lost sibling ingrained on his memory. But Eddie isn’t the only shadow of days gone by haunting Mike. As fabled kids TV show Candle Cove is calling for him too.
Originally airing over static in unison with the unexplained deaths of the children of Iron Hill in 1988, Candle Cove has since disappeared from the airwaves, leaving no trace of its existence behind. With Mike’s reappearance though, the eerie show is back again. Its stars, creepily designed marionette puppets, returning to brainwash watching kids towards “Bravery Cave” where they’re met by a (horrendous) tooth-skinned monster. It serves to singlehandedly evidence that too much television can indeed be bad for you. Imagine if the Thunderbirds all started trying to lure you to your death and you’ll be on the right track.
Mike knows all too well what the beckoning call of the Cove signals and for the most part, those around him cotton on quickly enough. Meaning that mercifully we largely skip the “is he telling the truth” part (barring with a handful of particularly dumb characters), instead getting to focus on whether or not Mike is somehow involved in a more sinister manner. With mysteries filling the past and present, Channel Zero provides layer upon layer of intrigue. For each question, there’s an answer and for each answer another question, with episode cliffhangers directly from the school of Lost making it increasingly moreish. This is a world where the stakes feel high, where the characters are in believable peril, and where evil is always hiding just outside of the lingering frame. It’s only in the latter part of the season when the surreal replaces the dread that’s been building so well that its hold loosens somewhat.
In the tradition of American Horror Story, Channel Zero takes a single season story, anthology series approach, thus ensuring a tightly packed and pacey narrative. With only six episodes it still manages to squeeze in shades of Stephen King (It, in particular, feeling like an important touchpoint) whilst carving out its own voice and mythologies; rather than resorting to the scattergun “technique” American Horror Story too often turns to. And Candle Cove is a mythology worth investing in. Just know that you’ll never be able to look at puppets in the same light again.
Rating (out of 5):
Channel Zero: Candle Cove is released in the UK on October 30th, courtesy of Second Sight.
Originally posted as part of 13 Days of Horror:
“13 Days of Horror, a countdown of spooky thrills and spills…
For more horrific delights, check out the other entries in the 13 Days of Horror series here.