[All images courtesy Allen Fraser/Syfy]
Channel Zero: Candle Cove
Episode One: “You Have to Go Inside”
Written by Nick Antosca
Directed by Craig William Macneill
Syfy’s new Creepypasta anthology series Channel Zero: Candle Cove begins in a tastefully plain Charlie Rose-ish studio. The Charlie Rose-ish host introduces Mike Painter (Paul Schneider), “America’s Child Psychologist” and his latest book “Shaping the Past” Mike’s big pop psychology sell line – “Adulthood is just a mask” because “we’re all still kids inside.” If you guessed this might be important later, 10 points to you, good sir or madam!
Not!Charlie Rose cuts to the chase and asks about Mike’s least favorite childhood memory of growing up in Iron Hill, Ohio – the 1988 murders of five children. Mike’s twin brother Eddie was the final victim; his body was never found. An alcoholic mother and AWOL father meant Mike was sent to live with relatives. Mike has (understandably) never returned to Iron Hill.
The scene takes a hard right turn into Surrealville as Interviewer Guy plops a phone in front of Mike – a young traumatized child waits on the line for Mike’s help. A dead fly floats in Mike’s water glass. A child asks “Hello?” amid the static, followed by faint laughter. Not!Charlie Rose smiles while the cameramen’s faces freeze in rictus grins.
Finally the child asks “Mike, why are you afraid to come home?” and Not!Charlie Rose repeats the question and Mike wakes up (from a dream? a distorted memory?). He glances at a picture of himself with a woman and child. Then a quick cut to Mike on the road. As Mike drives through endless farm fields we also see brief flashes of two children playing in the woods, then running to the same house Mike pulls up to.
Marla Painter (Fiona Shaw) and young Katie Yolen (Katia Leon) turn from the latest bird killed by Marla’s cat and greet Mike. Kind of. This interaction, like many in “You Have to Go Inside” consists of LOT of characters appraising each other silently after a measured, reserved greeting.
Mike notes that Marla’s refrigerator features mementos of Katie, but no pictures of Eddie, Mike – or their dad. Marla tells him it’s a coping mechanism to help with “managing intrusive thoughts.” Another motif starts in this scene; we hear Marla telling Mike she’s glad to see her him but hopes he’s not back to “rip open a wound” as we see Mike cutting a gash in his own arm while a woman frantically calls someone.
Mike’s Iron Hill Welcome Home tour moves to the Sheriff’s Office. Katie’s father (and Mike’s childhood friend) Gary is now Sheriff. Mike requests the files on the Iron Hill Murders. Gary wonders Mike wants them, 28 years after “they dragged those kids out of the woods minus their teeth” (we glimpse children’s lifeless bodies draped over tree limbs). He’s not thrilled Mike wants to write a “respectful” book about the murders, but will give him the files – if Mike comes over to dinner and gives some advice about Gary’s kid.
At dinner, Gary’s son Dane comes to the adults complaining that Katie is hogging the TV, and he wants to watch Labyrinth. Jessica Yolen says both kids have to get to bed, and then remembers the imaginary kingdom Eddie and Mike created and were co-rulers Kings over.
On his way to the bathroom, Mike sees Katie staring a television screen of eerie puppets, static, and some decidedly non-fun calliope music (think TCM’s nightmare inducing “From the Vaults” intro). Mike steps in the room and the image disappears. Katie sadly notes “It went away”.
“It” is the subject of Mike’s abrupt question to the other dinner guests: “Do you remember Candle Cove?” The Iron Hill natives in the dinner party – Jessica, Gary, Mike, and Mike’s Deputy all remember it and reminisce about the show. Only broadcast in September and October of 1988, full of puppet characters including hero Pirate Percy and the villainous Jawbone/The Skin Taker (his cute tagline “I’ll Take Your Skin!“). Jessica recalls a Candle Cove induced nightmare of puppet characters doing nothing by screaming at the screen for an entire episode. The Deputy insists that wasn’t a dream, but an actual episode of the show.
Even though he brought up the subject, Mike abruptly leaves because everyone else is wallowing in the past.
As Mike seems to walk all the way from town to his mother’s house, he remembers Eddie confronting a bully. As Mike watched and Gary helped hold him down, the bully breaks one of Eddie’s fingers while asking Mike “Do you feel it when I hurt him?”
Mike finds Eddie at home in front of the TV. The brothers watch it switch on to static, then the opening credits for Candle Cove appear. A loud, too-cheery voice cries “Ahoy mates, adventure awaits!” The blurry oversized image of Jawbone appears and the scene cuts to Mike asleep. He wakes as the TV in his room comes to life with static. Behind him a child says “Mike?” Mike turns to see Jawbone sitting in the corner of the darkened room. He reaches to touch Jawbone, but the scene abruptly cuts to Mike standing in the fields outside Marla’s house watching the river and the woods beyond.
At breakfast Marla notes Mike was sleepwalking again, something Eddie used to do a lot. Mike sees a man standing and gazing at the woods. People often walk through their land so Marla isn’t concerned.
Mike’s breakfast at the local diner (listening to WKRP!) is interrupted by both his old English teacher Mrs. Booth, and more alarmingly Jessica. Katie is missing.
The present day search for Katie intercuts with young Eddie silently confronting the bully in those same woods. The bully can’t provoke Eddie but as he goes home lets his family’s guard dog loose. The brothers flee; Mike falls. The dog ignores him and heads straight to Eddie, silently sitting before him to receive a pat on the head.
Searching for Katie in those same woods, Deputy casually grills Mike on his whereabouts the night before Jessica more forcefully confronts Mike. Marla reported Mike came home at 3 am. Mike starts to go on about Candle Cove. The 1988 murders started with its’ airing and stopped when the show disappeared. Candle Cove “affected Eddie and made him do things.” Jessica’s having none of it. She knows Mike was just released from an institution three days ago – not for an “acute stress reaction” (as Mike claims) but a full-blown psychotic episode. Just as she’s calling for Gary, Mike vanishes.
Mike hasn’t been to Iron Hill in decades, but somehow can walk at record speed to anywhere in town. At the Yolens’ house, Katie’s brother Dane reacts dully to Mike appearing at their patio window. He only notes, “She said you’d come talk to me,” and asks “What’s the Crow’s Nest?”
We now see several different scenes from different times as we hear Mike and Marla talking.
(Mike walking through the woods with a knife)
“Where’s Dad’s gun?”
(Mike looks through a closet)
“I got rid of it … Where are you going … where they found the bodies?”
(Young Mike dragging something through the woods and digging a long oblong hole)
(another glimpse of bodies draped over tree limbs)
Mike sees Jawbone – or someone wearing Jawbone’s oversized skull and black cape – in the woods. He attacks the figure with a knife. “Jawbone” runs through the woods and disappears as Mike reaches a small clearing at the edge of a steep drop.
(A figure drops like a rock off the ledge as a child watches)
(another flash of the tree)
(Mike running away?)
(Eddie clutching at a corkscrew stabbed in his chest?)
Mike sees Katie huddled by the rocks at the cliffs edge. As he picks her up, we hear a grinding noise and see teeth on the ground where she was sitting.
A hand reaches for the teeth. A hand covered with what first looks like shells. A hand that is part of a body entirely covered with teeth. The Tooth Child eats.
At the Sheriff’s Office, Gary reluctantly lets Mike out a cell; Mike may have brought back Katie safe and sound but she’s also “minus a couple teeth.” In the station Mike sees a tan coat on the Deputy’s chair. He was the man Mike saw staring into the woods the morning of Katie’s disappearance.
Jessica confronts Mike (again) outside the station. Mike admits he’s not working on a book; we hear Mike came back because “it’s been calling me.”
At Marla’s Mike applies ointment to scarred tissue saying MIKE COME HOME. So THAT’S what Mike was gouging into his arm earlier.
Mike repeats his dinner question to Marla as he leaves her house “Do you remember Candle Cove?” Of course she does – can Mike tell her what it was? Mike doesn’t understand. Marla notes Mike and Eddie spent hours in front of the TV watching the static, then telling fantastic stories of pirate adventures in Candle Cove.
Across Iron Hill, we see other children watching the Candle Cove adventures, with a final image of Jawbone’s face looming out of the screen.
Cut to Mike sleeping in a rundown hotel room. His cell buzzes, and a small voice asks, “Mike, where are you going? We’re just getting started.”
News and Notes
~ No Jump Scares? Thank You Candle Cove!
~ “You Have to Go Inside” reminded me of the storytelling style in art house movies like Memento, Exotica, and Sex Lies & Videotape; a story mixing and present in same moment. Like those movies, these characters were very elliptical and opaque. The 1980 ghost story The Changeling had this same mix, but also created a connection between the characters and the audience as the story progressed.
Hopefully, as the mystery unwinds we learn more about Mike and his friends and family in Iron Hill. Right now, they are very interesting puzzle pieces, but not actual people – yet. At times it felt like I was observing their story through a pane of warped bubble filled glass.
~ Jeff Russo’s ambient, tonal music is a nice change of pace from generic horror music that tells you exactly WHEN TO BE SCARED. It reminded me of the score in this year’s art house horror The Witch.
~ Image of children’s bodies in the tree had a very “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” vibe (with the original Stephen Gammell illustrations).
~ The 1986 movie Labyrinth features a big sister’s quest to rescue her baby brother from the Goblin King. Does this indicate a theme of the Candle Cove story, or is it just a one episode mention referring to Katie’s rescue from The Tooth Child?
~ Maybe The Tooth Child, Pirate Percy, or Jawbone will develop into a Pied Piper, leading the children of Iron Hill away to the woods.
~ The original Creepypasta story by Kris Straub was inspired by a story in the satirical paper The Onion about a man suffering nightmares from watching Lidsville as a child.
~ Straub’s original story only about 1200 words. It ends with the revelation that there never was an actual puppet show called Candle Cove. Interesting to see how the story will expand from that base.
~ Iron Hill, Michigan = Silent Hill, West Virginia (think about it, won’t you?)
Channel Zero airs Tuesday nights at 9/8c on Syfy.