Despite being broadcast in 2016 – and now receiving its DVD release – Channel Zero: Candle Cove is a 6-episode mini-series that for once I am not alone in not having heard of. Having mentioned it to fellow and much experienced aficionados of television fantasy-stroke-horror, it simply drew a blank. Channel which? they said. Candle what?
Spooky, then, that the series’ premise is based on a TV show that few remember because it never existed, the titular Candle Cove. It’s a kids’ show that features the adventures of a bunch of puppet pirates doing much the same thing over and over again and which, even if the TV’s off – by which I mean plugged out – turns itself on. Yeah, it’s that kind of kids’ show. The kind of kids’ show that makes kids stab people. Over and over again.
A goodly number of people get stabbed during the six episode perambulation. And there are a good number of flashbacks explaining why. It’s all happened before, you see, back in 1988, and the return to the town where it happened of Mike Painter (Paul Schneider) – now a troubled child psychologist whose twin brother died back when – is what it’s all about.
Channel Zero: Candle Cove is American Horror Story respawned on Canadian soil. ‘Inspired’ by an online blog by cartoonist Kris Straub, it’s been described as ‘a combination of A Nightmare On Elm Street and Twin Peaks’. Trouble is, it tries to be everything else as well, from It to Stranger Things to Silent Hill – the town’s even called Indian Hill, fer chrissakes. It’s a slow-burning, ponderous affair, overly fond of lengthy pans and lingering landscapes that occasionally throws in a judder-shot of a flaming beast to show off its horror balls without doing you the favour of revealing that said beast appears in the climax for about ten seconds and turns out to be nothing.
And therein lies the problem – nothing ever quite gels here, especially in the denouement. Despite an unbelievably sleep-walking performance from Paul Schneider, it held my attention for four of its six episodes, I am duty bound to confess, up to which point I would have reservedly recommended it, but I had, in fact, been a little bit conned: the shadowy pirates who lurk in closets, the strangely teleporting children, the kid made out of teeth – oh, I’m sorry, did I not mention the kid made out of teeth? – even Candle Cove itself, it’s all stage-dressing for a story that need not involve them at all. There is no reason for their raison d’etre; this is dubious style over very little substance. To say more would be to spoil. But I wouldn’t be spoiling much. Mike Wild