Manitobans might get a sense of déjà vu from Channel Zero: Candle Cove, which premières tonight at 8 p.m. on Showcase.
The horror series, produced for the American cable network SyFy, is about disturbing doings in a small town, precipitated decades earlier by an unsolved rash of child murders.
Mike Painter (Paul Schneider of the series Parks and Recreation) is a child psychologist damaged by the incident as his twin brother was among the victims, although his sibling’s body was never found. After suffering a breakdown, he returns home where he and his mother, Marla (Fiona Shaw), are obliged to turn into sleuths when more children are endangered. Apparently, the next generation of kids has become creepily obsessed with a kids’ puppet show titled Candle Cove, a mysterious series that appeared on broadcast TV stations decades earlier and seems to be having a resurgence.
The series may ring familiar for two reasons. One is that it was shot in Manitoba earlier this year, and attentive viewers will see some Manitoba locations including the quarry in Stony Mountain and Manitoba Avenue in Selkirk (a frequent location since it so closely resembles the typical American small town). A few local actors who appear on the show include Marina Stephenson Kerr as Marla’s best friend (and a woman with her own disturbing secrets), David Brown as a sketchy lawman and Gwendolyn Collins as a waitress who figures in all the mayhem.
The other recognizable feature is that, in tone and structure, it resembles Stephen King’s It, a novel-turned-miniseries in which a group of adults are compelled to take on the evil clown entity that haunted their childhoods. (A remake of that is in the works.)
It would be unfair to call Channel Zero: Candle Cove a ripoff. The series was based on an online “creepypasta” story by Kris Straub, the form being a story that is passed around and embellished by its online audience. (The story of an innocent kids’ show with a nightmarish undercurrent was reportedly inspired by a bogus news story in The Onion about a grown man traumatized by the early-’70s Sid and Marty Krofft sentient-hat TV series Lidsville.)
The first two episodes of the series are compelling in a low-key way, a gathering storm of horror illuminated with lightning flashes of the bizarre, including an entity credited as the “Tooth-Child,” a demonic human with teeth covering its entire body.
Director Craig William Macneill eschews overly stylized horror in favour of a straightforward, deadpan approach that allows viewers to stew in their own anxieties. (Another horror vet in the credits is writer-producer Don Mancini, who directed the Child’s Play sequel Curse of Chucky in Winnipeg a few years back.)
Designated for a 2017 berth, the second season, Channel Zero: The No End House, is being shot in Manitoba with stars Amy Forsyth and John Carroll Lynch.
One has reason to expect some juicy terror. Perhaps the most satisfying thing about the series is that the Stephen King small-town milieu of books such as It, Salem’s Lot and Pet Sematary dovetails so nicely with Manitoba locations.
It’s time Hollywood filmed another King adaptation here. Sorry, the goofy 1997 chiller Trucks doesn’t count.
Read more by Randall King.
Channel Zero: Candle Cove
Starring Paul Schneider and Fiona Shaw
Tonight at 8 p.m.
3 1/2 stars out of five