'Channel Zero: Butcher's Block' Review: The Best Horror Series On TV Is Back

Warning: This Channel Zero: Butcher's Block review contains some minor spoilers.Channel Zero, the best horror show on TV that you should really start watching, returns with its most disturbing season yet. Channel Zero: Butcher's Block feels like a turning point for the series – this is a season that doesn't just push boundaries, it devours them whole. This isn't quite the best season of the series, but it is the season that is most likely to have you covering your eyes in terror and losing sleep long after the credits have rolled.

What is Channel Zero?

Before we get to Butcher's Block, here's an extremely brief crash-course on what Channel Zero is. Created by Nick Antosca, Channel Zero is inspired by the weird world of Creepypasta – scary stories written and shared online. Think of them as the urban legends of the 21st century, the type of tales that used to told around campfires that now get shared around message boards and Reddit threads. In adapting Creepypasta stories, Antosca's series has its finger to the pulse of the types of stories that scare people now. There's a bit of irony here, of course: most Creepypasta stories can clearly trace their roots and inspirations back to horror movies of yesterday. In a sense, Creepypasta stories are repackaging the old in a shiny new box.If there's one running theme in Channel Zero, it's familial strife. The things that most haunt the characters at the centers of the three seasons of the show to date all revolve primarily around their families. There's a terrifying, nagging fear at the heart of each season's protagonist: the fear of some sort of cursed lineage. That trouble and misery runs deep in the blood, and, worst of all, that it's inescapable. These characters can physically outrun their families, but they can't escape their own blood.

Welcome to Butcher's Block

In Butcher's Block, 20-something Alice (Olivia Luccardi) moves to a new city with her big sister Zoe (Holland Roden) in tow. Alice is beginning a potentially promising career as a social worker, and Zoe has tagged along because to not do so would be detrimental. Zoe is a recovering (and still occasionally using) drug addict suffering from schizophrenia. The sisters have fled their home and left their schizophrenic mother behind. The mental disorder that affects both her sister and mother has not yet found Alice, but the fear is always lingering in the back of her mind: what if I'm next? What if I lose control of myself too?

The sisters set up residence in a home owned by Louise (Krisha Fairchild), a former journalist who has been methodically piecing together a decades-old story about multiple disappearances that have plagued the area, Louise's own brother among them. This is possibly all tied to the nearby squalid neighborhood known as Butcher's Block, where the abandoned Peach's Meats shop stands watch like a forgotten idol. At one point, Butcher's Block was prosperous, thanks to the wealthy Peach family, lead by patriarch Joseph Peach (Rutger Hauer). But one day, decades ago, the entire Peach family vanished.Or did they? As Channel Zero: Butcher's Block unfolds, it becomes very clear, very fast that the members of the Peach family are still very much around. And they're hungry.The numerous disappearances, and the mysterious Peach family, aren't the only disturbing happenings afoot in Butcher's Block. There's an abandoned park at the center of town, overrun with weeds and uncut grass. Bad things are lurking here, including an impossible staircase that appears at random, leading up towards a door that would be better off left shut. The city and its surrounding neighborhoods exist in a state of limbo, thanks in part to a police force trained to look the other way. Luke (Brandon Scott), a local cop who is also the son of the town sheriff, is one of those willfully oblivious police officers. But soon, events begin to spiral so far out control that Luke decides he can no longer turn a blind eye – a decision he'll probably regret.

The Most Disturbing Season Yet

The two previous seasons of Channel Zero have both existed in their own kind of warped reality. Logic doesn't quite apply to them, nor does common sense. This is by design, not accident. Butcher's Block takes this to the next degree, creating a fever dream of a season overflowing with haunting, confusing imagery meticulously crafted to make you shout, "What the fuck?" at the screen. In the first episode alone, we get a shot of a young boy living inside a wall slowly licking the wallpaper, with seemingly no explanation. Things only get weirder from there. But it's not all weird for weirdness' sake. That unreality; that prevailing sense that something is very wrong, plays perfectly into Alice's growing fear that, like her mother and sister, she might be slowly losing her mind.Director Arkasha Stevenson, who helms all of season 3, is perhaps the best filmmaker the show has had yet. Stevenson brings a warped sense of humor to the proceedings, but also knows exactly how to create dread through the use of space and camera placement. It helps that Butcher's Block offers up so much arresting imagery: the dilapidated, graffiti-covered neighborhoods; the misty, overgrown park; the haunting, unearthly staircase that appears at random. Then there's all that rare, bloody meat that pops up from time to time: long, elegant dinner tables strewn with rotting flesh and buzzing flies. This is a visually propulsive season, and the imagery burns itself into your mind. And that's even before a character strips nude and literally rips a man open and eats his interior organs.After the terrific, horrific imagery and direction, Butcher's Block's strongest asset is its cast. Hauer can play this type of character – a flighty, mysterious, dangerous weirdo – in his sleep, but that doesn't make his Joseph Peach any less compelling. Fairchild, who gave an incredible performance in the anxiety inducing indie film Krisha, delivers a grounded, humorous performance as the landlady/former reporter. Scott, as the cop slowly growing a conscience, handles his character's big moments – he spends a lot of time looking shocked as he watches terrible, terrible things happen – just right. The driving forces, though, are Luccardi and Roden, playing the doomed sisters. The actresses both look alike, which makes their familial bond seem even more authentic, and both bring their own unique takes to their respective roles. Luccardi starts out optimistic and almost naively cheerful, and slowly begins to crack. Roden begins already damaged, and goes through a metamorphosis that I dare not spoil.Butcher's Block is not entirely successful, however. The way it handles mental illness is tone deaf to the extreme, and while one perhaps shouldn't look to a horror series like this to portray such things with 100% accuracy, those who are concerned about the stigmas already in place around mental illness will surely be bothered by certain plot devices here. In addition to this, Butcher's Block has the same somewhat small but none the less obvious problem that the previous seasons, Candle Cove and No-End House, also had. That is to say, there's too much going on here, and not enough narrative threads to tie it all together. Time and time again, Channel Zero seems to approach its storylines with a kitchen sink approach: everything gets thrown in, no matter what. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Some trimming here and there would go a long way to making this season (and this series) tighter.

The Best Horror Show on TV Right Now

Like the previous two seasons, Channel Zero: Butcher's Block unfolds over six terrifying episodes, and as a result never overstays its welcome. While other horror shows (I'm looking at you, American Horror Story) tend to run out of steam very quickly, Channel Zero continually sustains itself, and wraps things up before you burn out. This is a decidedly cinematic approach, not episodic – think of the series more as a six hour movie. Whether or not that's a good thing is up to the viewer.What is a good thing, however, is the fact that for three straight seasons now, Channel Zero has delivered the goods. This series was always strong, but with Butcher's Block it seems to have truly hit its stride. The previous two seasons adhered more closely to their Creepypasta origins. Butcher's Block, in contrast, strays significantly from its inspiration (the Creepypasta "Search and Rescue", by Kerry Hammond). This is a wise movie – getting inspiration from Creepypasta stories is all well and good, but using that inspiration to create something bigger and better is ideal.Channel Zero may not generate the same sort of buzz and hype as American Horror Story, but it continues to stand shoulders above its competition. Here is a show that understands the machinations of horror. A show that realizes there's more to creating something scary than just referencing horror movies from the past. True fear lurks in the imagination, and Channel Zero knows exactly how to work its way inside your subconscious and run wild. It's remains the best horror series on television right now.


Channel Zero: Butcher's Block premieres February 7, 2018 on Syfy at 10/9c.