channel zero no-end house

A new season of Channel Zero, one of the best horror shows you’re probably not watching, arrives tonight to give audiences the creeps.

While American Horror Story seems to receive all the attention once it arrives with a shrieking, confounding new season, the chilling, creeptastic Channel Zero exists on the fringes. Subtle, eerie and often surprisingly emotional, it’s the type of horror show that deserves far more buzz than it receives. Now, Channel Zero season 2 is here, featuring a first episode that’s better, and creepier, than 90% of most horror movies that hit the multiplex. Does the full Channel Zero season 2 manage to maintain the excitement of the first episode? Well, let’s talk about it.

The Creepy Inspiration (and a Killer First Season)

The terribly-named but often surprisingly effective tales of terror known as “creepypasta” have quietly been giving online readers the heebie-jeebies since at least 2001, and perhaps even earlier. You may not be familiar with the term creepypasta, but you likely know one or two tale that’s considered part of the trend. The most obvious example is Slender Man, an impossibly tall, very well-dressed ghoul who has somehow worked his way into mainstream consciousness. Slender Man seemed to reach his peak in 2014, when two 12-year-old girls brutally stabbed one of their classmates, claiming they had done the deed to impress Slender Man with the hopes that he would invite them to come live in his mansion (Why does a supernatural monster have a mansion? Who knows). They even made a documentary about these horrifying events titled Beware the Slenderman.

Creepypasta traffics in urban legend, taking the type of tales that used to be reserved for schoolyard rumor and blossoming them into often complex mythologies that get passed around on internet forums. Some are genuinely scary, although a bulk of them are poorly worded mishmashes of concepts picked up from a half-dozen horror movies.

Nick Antosca has found a way to channel the best of the creepypasta craze into his often-chilling SyFy Channel series Channel Zero. Each season is planned to tell a completely new story with new characters, similar to American Horror Story, but, you know, not terrible. The first season of Channel Zero, subtitled Candle Cove, was the stuff of nightmares; a you-can’t-go-home-again style story shot through with melancholy. It followed a psychologist (everyone’s least-beloved Parks and Recreation co-star Paul Schneider) called back to his hometown to investigate a mysterious children’s TV show that may have played a part in the disappearance of his kid brother and several other children in the town. Candle Cove trafficked in some rather complex ideas and packed them into a six-episode run, creating one of the most memorable monsters that’s graced TV in a while: a child made completely of teeth. Just glimpsing the creature was enough to make you uncomfortable.

channel-zero-no-end-house-jeff-ward-aisha-dee

Welcome to No-End House

Now Antosca’s show is back for a second season, Channel Zero: No-End House, an eerie saga that has about as much to do with grief as it does fear. “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear,” C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed. “I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning.” No-End House seems to take this quote and distill it.

The set-up to No-End House might seem familiar even if you’ve never read the creepypasta that inspired it: there’s a traveling “haunted house” attraction, comprised of several rooms, each more intense than the last. Anyone who makes it to the final room wins a prize – but no one has ever made it that far.

When I was growing up in Philadelphia, I had heard a rumor of such an attraction. In the version I heard, the house was located in one of the many abandoned warehouses that seem to sprout up from the Philadelphia waterfront like weeds. In that version, it wasn’t rooms but floors, with the 13th floor being the final level – the one no one ever got to. Every year around Halloween, rumors that such a place existed would start spreading again, with some of my classmates at school going so far as to say they heard about the place advertised on local radio. They didn’t, of course. It wasn’t real.

At the center of No-End House is Margot (Amy Forsyth), still reeling from the sudden death of her beloved father (John Carroll Lynch). Margot’s grief has driven a wedge between her and her best friend Jules (Aisha Dee), but the pair are slowly, if not entirely comfortably, growing close again. While out at a bar with their friend J.D. (Seamus Patterson), the group strikes up a conversation with Seth (Jeff Ward), a stranger Margot finds herself attracted to. After a night of light partying, the four friends learn that the fabled No-End House has come to town, and they set out to conquer it.

channel-zero-no-end-house-john-carroll-lynch

A Strong Start

These early moments of No-End House are the best, and the show may never quite be able to rival them, try as it might. These scenes are the stuff of great horror movies, where night seems almost endless and something ominous lurks in places you assumed were safe. Tension and anxiety mounts as the friends wait in line to enter the No-End House, a triumph of design both inside and out – black as pitch, windowless, with too many gables that jut up from the roof like fangs. There’s a placard on the outside, near the front door, like the kind you’d see at a museum by an art installation: “No-End House”, it reads, “Wood. Nails. Plaster. You.”

Little details like that are enough to give you a proper chill, and things only get more distressing once the main characters find their way inside the house, with each room they travel into more alarming and unsettling than the last. There are impossibilities within the house; the prevailing sense that the house knows too much about its occupants.

Every scene within the No-End House structure is a creepy delight, but sadly, the show feels the need to shift the narrative outside of those ominous walls.

Sort of.

To say much more would do a disservice to the twists and turns the No-End House has in store, but I’ll say this much: our heroes exit the house proper and find themselves in a reality that isn’t quite their own, and this is where No-End House begins to falter. It gives way to rather confusing mythology that’s almost impossible to keep track of, and while some of it is appropriately disturbing, none of it has the same effect as the early house scenes from the first episode.

What the show does have going for it though is the incredible John Carroll Lynch, an actor who has found a way to play subtle menace to perfection. Lynch’s unsettling work in Zodiac and The Invitation is unparalleled, and with No-End House he gets to play a similar disturbing character on a wider canvas. Little by little, Lynch’s character is revealed to be something of a monster – but he’s a monster with a conscience, and Lynch plays this conflicted nature magnificently.

Director Steven Piet, who helmed the underseen 2015 thriller Uncle John, crafts this saga with a steady hand, mixing shots of foreboding menace with moments of heartbreaking sadness. The melancholy nature that underlays both Candle Cove and No-End House is part of what makes Channel Zero so unique, and Piet knows how to exploit that mix of grief and fear quite well in the ways he trains his camera on his cast.

channel-zero-no-end-house-amy-forsyth1

Tis the Season For Great Horror TV

No-End House never quite maintains its momentum, and as a whole, Candle Cove proves to be much more effective. Yet there is an undeniable spooky charm to No-End House, and the sense that the show is always striving towards something greater, unlike something like American Horror Story, a show that unfolds with a kitchen sink mentality that illustrates the writers have no real plan in mind and just hope the audience will never catch on.

As the chillier months begin to set in, and as the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer, Channel Zero: No-End House is a pleasurable piece of foreboding entertainment to curl up with, like a brisk, pulpy horror paperback you pour over by a flickering fire. When it’s over and done with, you may not come away fully satisfied, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself jumping at shadows.

Channel Zero: No-End House premieres September 20 at 10/9c on SyFy.

Cool Posts From Around the Web: