‘Channel Zero: Candle Cove’: A primer on Syfy’s eerie new horror anthology

Thanks in large part to the ongoing success of FX's American Horror Story, horror anthologies have become a hot commodity on TV again, and Syfy's Channel Zero is hoping to cash in on that trend with “Candle Cove,” the first season of a new series that takes its inspiration from the internet phenomenon known as “creepypasta.”

For the uninitiated, “creepypasta” is a term coined to describe user-generated horror stories online that typically take the form of message board posts, and which are later amended and embellished by other 'netizens. Call them digital urban legends.

“Slenderman,” which later inspired a real-life crime, is arguably the most famous creepypasta. “Candle Cove,” written by webcartoonist Kris Straub and based around the eerie concept of a bizarre old children's TV show that was visible only to a small group of children, is another. As for the series, it takes off from Straub's tale to tell the story of a child psychologist (Paul Schneider) who returns to his hometown to investigate the disappearance of his twin brother and several other children in the 1980s that may have been connected to the eponymous TV series.

So what can we expect from TV's latest horror anthology? For answers to all your Channel Zero: Candle Cove questions, I spoke with Antosca and Season 1 director Craig Macneill (The Boy) to get some specifics on the new series, which premieres tonight on Syfy.

1. Antosca has never actually spoken with Straub, whom he calls “mysterious.”

“I wrote the pilot and sent it to him, and before we moved forward, he gave it a thumbs up, and then we just stayed in touch with him throughout the writer's room process, and I've never met him in person. To me he's this sort of mysterious figure who communicates with me by text and e-mail and Facebook. There's a slight question to whether it's really Kris or some kind of…mysterious figure.”

2. They optioned a fan-made “Candle Cove” theme song to use in the show.

“I haven't read any of the sequels or [subsequent] fan fictions of the story,” said Antosca. “[But] I have seen some of the stuff, like the alleged fan fiction versions of the actual Candle Cove show, and also, there's an insanely catchy Candle Cove theme song somebody created and put on YouTube, which I think contributes to the illusion some people have that Candle Cove was a real thing. We optioned that to use in our actual show.” (Note: While it isn't clear which version of the Candle Cove theme song was optioned, it's likely the one embedded below.)

3. All six episodes of the series were shot back-to-back.

“I loved the idea of directing a whole season of TV and treat that like a film production, which is what we did,” said Macneill. “We blocked out the whole series. My approach to shooting this TV show is just like my approach to film. We just had to move at a fast pace.”

4. Each season of Channel Zero will be entirely directed by a different filmmaker.

“One of the things that we really, really wanted to do with this show is something that I don't know of any other show that has done or is doing, which is you have an anthology show where each season is a different story, and then each season is directed by a single director, so every season becomes a showcase for a really exciting voice from independent film,” said Antosca. “Because The Boy is so distinctive and so confident and I'm such a fan of it, and it deals with some of the same things that Candle Cove, the first season deals with, Craig was a really obvious first choice.”

5. Macneill set out to create “psychologically-motivated” scares through the use of cinematography. 

“I like the idea of incorporating an awareness to the camera, a subtle awareness to the camera, and it's an awareness that I think we used, like measured zooms and pans and…negative spaces that surround the characters. You know, suddenly linger in a room a little bit before or after a character enters…I think the element of all this being the unforeseen forces in the world.”

6. Season 1 owes a debt to Twin Peaks — or at least Antosca's impressions of the David Lynch-Mark Frost series when he saw it as a child.

“When I was a kid, my parents watched Twin Peaks. I must have been eight or nine or something when it was first on, and that made a huge impression on me. There were things that as a kid, you couldn't begin to comprehend, and some of that stuff actually seeped in and influenced 'Candle Cove.' Actually, one of our writers is a guy named Harley Peyton, who wrote something like 12 or 13 episodes of the original Twin Peaks, and is our co-executive producer.”

7. The screenwriter who created one of the most nightmare-inducing characters in '80s horror wrote two episodes of Season 1.

“We have a great writer's room. Don Mancini, who created Child's Play, is our supervising producer,” said Antosca. “I worked with him on Hannibal and when this went, I convinced him to come over and do the first two seasons.”

8. Season 2, which is based on the creepypasta known as “The No-End House,” is already in production.

When I spoke with Antosca last week, he told me Season 2 — which is being directed by Steven Piet (Uncle John) — is already “three weeks into shooting” in Winnipeg, Canada. “Like Craig, [Piet is] a collaborative auteur, is how I think of the directors who are going to come in every season,” Antosca continued. “This season will have a really, really distinctive and different voice, and to me, it's a really cool opportunity just to work with filmmakers that I admire and that I want to see more from.”

Channel Zero: Candle Cove premieres tonight on Syfy.