channel zero

The Halloween season is upon us. You know the signs. Pumpkin everything, the coveted trip to Target’s seasonal section, and of course, the horror movie marathons. Horror is more popular than ever – look the long-running and massively popular anthology series American Horror Story. Look to the box office returns for It. People are eating up the horror genre like rabid zombies. As a self-proclaimed life-long horror nerd myself, I am living for it. However, as I make my hourly scan through social media, freak flags flying, inner witches let out of their summer sunshine cages, I can’t help but notice an absence of something. Channel Zero.

I did not hear about Channel Zero until three episodes into the first season, and a year later the puppets of Candle Cove (the subtitle for season one) still haunt me. While American Horror Story may have the market on the latest Hot Topic gear, Channel Zero is the underdog ready to usurp AHS’s crown. When it comes to story telling and overall horror appeal, this little six-episode SyFy show wipes the floor with the competition. The details of the first season aren’t foggy to me. I remember it clearly. For too long, AHS has favored gimmick and shock over real horror. There is a place for that, but we, as people that like good horror, need more.

Channel Zero is the answer to our unfulfilled nightmares. It is easily the scariest show on television…so why the hell aren’t you watching it?

channel zero candle cove

What is Channel Zero?

Channel Zero is basically a horror movie broken up into six episodes.  The first season, Candle Cove, premiered somewhat quietly on the SyFy network last year. As it is an anthology series, every season will be a complete, beginning-to-end story and have nothing to do with the next or previous season. So the good news is you don’t have to play catch up. Although season one is definitely something that you won’t want to miss.

The show borrows its haunting tales from popular internet stories known as “creepy pastas.” For those of you that don’t know, creepypastas are those crazy horror-based urban legends that are always being shared on your newsfeed (i.e. Slenderman). The first season brilliantly extended the Candle Cove creepypasta into an actual narrative. The second season, subtitled No-End House, is two episodes in and it is already on par with its predecessor in terms of story, characters, and overall ability to make you scream “Noooooope!”

channel zero no-end house

Channel Zero >>> American Horror Story

I will always have a soft spot for several American Horror Story seasons, including Murder House, Asylum, and Roanoke, but there is a well-known formula flaw to the series: the fourth episode drop-off. American Horror Story has a habit of throwing glitter in your face to distract you from the lack of substance, and four episodes in, it starts to get old. Yes, Lady Gaga’s outfits were phenomenal, and yes, I will forever love Jessica Lange singing “Life on Mars,” but these do not a full story make. AHS is a series of interesting moments floating in the ether. Halfway through the season, while you might have had several memorable scares and WTF moments, you tend to find yourself struggling to clearly define the plot. With Channel Zero’s limited run of only six episodes per season, there is no time for wasted moments. Channel Zero has bone chilling and memorable scenes, but more importantly, they are connected. There is flow. Every jaw-dropping scene takes you a step further into the story, and leads you directly to the next moment.

It demands comparisons to classics like Rosemary’s Baby. Not a moment in that film is wasted. Every shot means something to the story, to the experience. Channel Zero is not horror broken up into meme-able moments. It is horror in the same vein as The Shining. I am not trying to argue that this SyFy show is on the same level as Kubrick, but I will argue that it is much closer to the genuine horror masterpieces we watch on the big screen and talk about for years than it is to its television horror brethren.

channel zero candle cove 2

The Horror, The Horror!

Channel Zero is the type of show that makes you want to watch something light-hearted and colorful afterwards so that you can go to sleep. It is a dementor that sucks the happiness from the room and leaves you cold. It is fantastic. I watched Candle Cove as a 25-year-old woman, huddled under my husband’s arm, hysterically, and with labored breath repeating, “oh god, not the puppets again.” Those damn puppets. Terrifying in their low budget quality, Channel Zero is a call to old school horror. Its pop culture element comes not from cameos and kitschy lingo, but from its internet story origins. But the scares come entirely from its meticulously well-crafted tone.

While American Horror Story’s shock scares may make it akin to something like Hostel or Saw, Channel Zero’s subtlety and world building and patience allows it to dig under your skin. You care about its characters, which in turn makes every single moment a possibility for heartbreak. Even the jump scares feel personal. It feels like it is happening to a friend. Where American Horror Story makes caricatures, Channel Zero makes characters. I watched episode two of the new season with a friend (you definitely don’t want to watch this show alone), and for the entire hour-long episode we sunk deep into the couch, blankets to our chins, with a continuous chorus of, “Nope. Nope, nope, nope. Oh please no. Nope.”

Channel Zero is not superficial horror. I don’t want to buy a t-shirt with the little tooth boy of Candle Cove, because frankly I don’t want to scream every time I pass a reflective surface. Just seeing the thumbnail for Candle Cove every time I turn on my Apple TV sends a shiver down my spine. It’s simple but effective, and it triggers the sense of dread present in every episode of its flagship season. Its purpose is to scare you, not sell you. There is a general sense of unease. A creepiness factor that doesn’t at all feel forced, but boy howdy, does it encompass you quickly and with purpose. Although it may be less flashy than its competition, it is self-assured and confident. Like a good horror novel, it guides you instead of bombarding you. Its scares feel like they matter.

channel zero

Will You Enter the No-End House?

Channel Zero was originally slated for two seasons, but prior to the second season airing, SyFy ordered a third and fourth season. Channel Zero is here to stay for at least a few more years. It is challenging you to try real horror on for size. This is not a show that you will be sharing clips of on Facebook or saying, “OMG that’s effing awesome!” This show will leave you sitting on the couch in silence, frightened. Every week is like the No-End House of season 2, a surreal labyrinth of horrors that slowly traps you in a nightmare. You can let your curiosity and thirst for horror guide you into the next installment, or you can follow that exit door and keep your sunny disposition a little longer.

Who are you kidding? It’s Halloween season! Open the door. You know you want to.

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Channel Zero airs Wednesdays at 10:00 EST on SyFy.

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