Inspired by Kris Straub's post on the Creepypasta blog site, "Hannibal" creator Nick Antosca developed this series for the Syfy channel - ultimately seeing it expand into a highly-acclaimed anthology series.
Season one - based on cartoonist Kris Straub's "Candle Cove" - opens with child psychologist Mike (Paul Schneider) offering the viewer some vital exposition, by way of a nightmare-imagined TV chat show. We learn here that he grew up in a small Ohio town called Iron Hill where, in 1988, there was a spate of brutal child killings which have never been solved. Among the victims was Mike's 12-year-old twin brother Eddie.
This nightmare inspires Mike to travel back to Iron Hill for the first time in decades, in a bid to try and solve the mystery of those killings from many moons ago. His mother Marla (Fiona Shaw) is wary of his motives for returning to the town, but Mike insists he's simply there to research the murders as part of a book he's writing.
To this end, he meets up with old pal Gary (Shaun Benson), who's now the town's sheriff. Not only that, he's married to Mike's childhood sweetheart Jessica (Natalie Brown). Just like Marla, Gary's openly uneasy with Mike digging up the past - but reluctantly agrees to give his help, so long as Mike spends some time around his troubled son in return. Mike duly obliges.
With Mike's foot in the door, so to speak, he sticks around in Iron Hill and sets about trying to learn more about the killings that have haunted it for decades. And, naturally, the disappearance of his twin.
All of which is intriguing enough, though it has to be said the pilot episode is perhaps a little sedate. Understandably so, perhaps, as it has a fair bit of exposition to get through. Having said that, it sets a fast pace which the following five episodes maintain - while upping the ante in terms of violence and surreal terrors.
The weirdness really comes to the fore when Mike begins to recall details from his childhood. Cue flashbacks detailing hideous instances of child bullying and, most importantly, a weird kids' TV show called "Candle Cove" which Mike begins to believe may have had some influence on events back in 1988. Especially when the strange transmissions begin to air again in the present day, its return to the screen coinciding with the fresh disappearance of Gary's daughter Katie (Katia Raquel Leon)...
This first season of CHANNEL ZERO shows much potential. Production values are strong, the cast is uniformly great - especially Schneider as the ostensive hero that we're never quite truly sure of - and the script (several heads conspired together on this, but Antosca was clearly at the heart of it) makes a beeline for intelligent, thought-provoking horror a la David Lynch: no jump-scares or gross-out gore gags here.
That's not to say we don't get the odd moment of jarring violence. We do. None more so than in episode six, which brings season one to a close in a thrillingly manic fashion. On our way there, we're treated to slightly more subtle visual ideas such as one character whose visage is made up entirely of teeth, echoing something you'd expect the imagination of Guillermo Del Toro to have dreamt up. The idea of a TV transmission being capable of manipulating its viewers into behaving in certain ways undeniably brings to mind VIDEODROME - and Cronenberg's influence can certainly be felt during many of this series' quietly nightmarish moments.
Each episode is roughly 45 minutes long, which feels just right for me. The snappy screenplays, energetic performances and constant lack of flab - meaning we're always getting handed information of relevance, even if that doesn't seem so apparent at the time - ensure that not one minute is wasted.
Perhaps this will be considered horror-lite for some. I get that, I really do. If I have one qualm it's probably that I. too, would have liked it to have dared to get a little darker. But as it stands, CHANNEL ZERO is a most impressive achievement and I look forward to seasons two and three as a result.
Second Sight are releasing CHANNEL ZERO: SEASON ONE in both DVD and blu-ray variants in the UK. I watched the blu-ray release (two discs) for the purposes of this review.
Each episode is presented as an MPEG4-AVC file with full 1080p resolution. The 16x9 presentations are, as you'd imagine, pretty flawless. Colours, imagery, sharpness, blacks, depth - everything is spot on. Obviously the series was shot using HD cameras and has that extremely clean, polished look as a result - more in keeping with modern TV shows than a film, for example - but that's no flaw of the transfers.
The same can be said of the English LPCM stereo audio track. No complaints here: this offers a consistent, well-rounded and evenly balanced playback throughout. Optional subtitles would've been appreciated but, alas, there are none on this occasion.
Each disc opens to animated main pages. Scene-selection menus allow access to each individual episode via 4 chapters.
Extras are limited to a run of deleted scenes (4 minutes) which offer extended clips from the "Candle Cove" TV show, and a 10-minute video interview with Antosca. He's an amiable interviewee who talks fluently about the show's origins, the logistics of working with several writers, and the shows that influenced his own style.
CHANNEL ZERO us a satisfyingly sombre, fast-moving and intriguing TV show which should be commended for eschewing jump-scares and gratuitous gore. It's served extremely well in Second Sight's blu-ray release.
Also available on DVD.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Second Sight|