How Channel Zero: Candle Cove Finds Terror in the Unknown

By  · Published on November 7th, 2016

An interview with showrunner Nick Antosca on what makes the mini-series work and more.

There’s no question that some of horror’s scariest and most memorable moments have come from our imagination being encouraged to run wild. Would we really have gotten the same thrill of terror if we had peered into that black bassinet and seen Adrian’s eyes along with Rosemary? Probably not. Fear in its most distilled and potent form often comes when we are alone in the dark, our minds free to wander the archives of horrors seen or half-remembered, until we eventually suffocate ourselves into the respite of sleep.

It is on this nightmarish foundation that writer, executive producer and showrunner Nick Antosca decided to lay the groundwork for SyFy’s Channel Zero: Candle Cove. The show is based on a creepypasta, an update on an urban legend, about a sinister children’s show. This “Candle Cove,” written by Kris Straub, unfolds over the course of recurring postings to a chatroom, where users recall a strange puppet show from their childhood. The memories become darker and more terrifying until it is finally revealed that they were watching not watching anything but TV static.

While this makes for a great read, it also poses a unique challenge when adapting the story for television. How do you expand internet postings into a compelling storyline for television? It’s a challenge that wasn’t lost on Antosca, but one that he also was able to work to his advantage.

“The challenges are also what’s so appealing,” Antosca said. “It gave us a lot of room to invent. We wanted to honor the spirit and mood of Kris’s story. When you’re expanding a four page story to six episodes, you have to create more mythology and foundation, and that’s really risky for a story that depends so much on suggestion.

“A huge part of Kris’s story is the lack of explanation. So the challenge was to preserve that feeling of suggested menace while building out the world. The pleasure of adaptation in this case came from allowing ourselves to be inspired by Kris’s story.”

That inspiration led Antosca to tell the story of Mike Painter, a child psychologist who comes home to Iron Hills, Ohio to try and uncover the secrets behind the death of his twin brother, Eddie. Buried in their childhood, was Candle Cove, a strange puppet show about pirates that had a Svengali-spell over Eddie and drove him to murder several local children. Now as an adult, Mike has discovered that Candle Cove is back and it is once again infiltrating the children in his hometown, often with deadly consequences.

Already four episodes in, Channel Zero: Candle Cove has proven it will pull no punches. The beginning of the second episode opened with Katie, the daughter of Mike’s childhood sweetheart Jessica, nearly disemboweling her own brother with a pirate hook left for her by the characters on Candle Cove. The latest episode also ended with the unexpected death of a major character, made even more unsettling as it came at the hands of children. Is anyone safe on Candle Cove? Perhaps not. Antosca confirmed that at least one more major character will die by the end of the series.

Without a doubt, one of the creepiest new additions to the Candle Cove story has been The Tooth Child, a skittering creature made entirely of baby teeth that subsists solely on dentition. More than once during the show, children have pulled out their own teeth and offered them up as passage to visit Candle Cove. While Antosca's Tooth Child was born out of the most innocuous circumstance, where it almost wound up might surprise you.

“[The Tooth Child] comes from thinking about childhood. My mom kept my baby teeth in a little box and I sometimes as a kid I would go look at them. The Tooth Child is something I had a nightmare about while I was outlining the season. At the time I had just started writing on Hannibal and it seemed unlikely that Channel Zero would ever get on the air, so the Tooth Child came very close to appearing in Hannibal Season Three in a different form.”

But beyond this, don’t expect a detailed explanation on the creature. While Antosca confirmed that series will identify The Tooth Child, it will rely more on elaboration then an explanation of what it really is or how it became that way. “Nightmares in their purest form work on a gut level. There’s no recipe or list of ingredients.”

Going forward, Channel Zero’s second season will pick up with another creepypasta, this time “No-End House,” written by Brian Russell. The series follows a young woman (Amy Forsyth) who visits an inescapable house of horrors and finds each room more disturbing than the next. It will also feature John Carroll Lynch, who has turned out several memorable horror roles, including Zodiac, The Invitation and two stints on American Horror Story, which include the terrifying Twisty the Clown (Freak Show) and the infamous serial killer (and clown enthusiast) John Wayne Gacy (Hotel).

Antosca divulged a little bit of what viewers can expect from this new season, which may excite Tarkovsky enthusiasts. “In some ways, our version of No-End House is like a horror version of Solaris. The style will be very different from Candle Cove, but as in the first season, there will be a lot of nightmarish symbolism and dream imagery.”

Like the first season, Channel Zero: No-End House will also be a six-episode run. But while the anthology series will be moving onto a new story, the two seasons will still be linked according to Antosca. “The first two seasons are companion pieces, thematically ‐ they are both psychological horror stories about people dealing with intense loss.”

Filming has already begun on No-End House, which is slated to premiere on Syfy next year. In the meantime, the fifth episode of Channel Zero: Candle Cove airs this Tuesday at 9pm EST on SyFy.

Jamie Righetti is an author and freelance film critic from New York City. She loves horror movies, Keanu Reeves, BioShock and her Siberian Husky, Nugget.