As fans of horror, we all have different tastes. Some of us want gory slasher action. Some of us want more quiet, psychological dread. And then there are those of us who want to be left staring at the screen, terrified and baffled and wondering what we just saw and if we’ll ever sleep again.
If, like me, you’re in that last category, then you might enjoy a trip to the childhood nightmare that is Candle Cove.
Even if you’re unfamiliar with the series — and its parent show, anthology series Channel Zero — if you’ve been online long enough you’ve probably heard the title. The concept started as a short creepypasta by writer Kris Straub, and blossomed into a world of wiki entries, fanfic, and fanart. The television series marks the culmination of the fan fascination with it, as well as your first chance to watch a show that (according to its own lore) doesn’t even exist.
The term “creepypasta” is much more broadly used than in recent years. But in case you’re just hearing of it for the first time today… first, congratulations! Enjoy being terrified for the rest of your life. And second, here’s a quick and dirty history of the term.
Over on 4chan and later abroad, the term “copypasta” started getting used for obviously plagiarized (or “copy-pasted”) stories posted around the boards. It was, overall, a derogatory term, and was largely frowned upon save for jokes. However, some started using the format as a way to write and spread slow-burn horror stories. Dubbed “creepypasta,” these became extremely popular, and kick-started a whole new genre of Internet-based storytelling.
In general, the term refers to fiction written and distributed online, often via forums. While there’s no official definition of what kind of stories these entail, creepypasta largely deals with modern young adult fears: people mutating due to addiction or obsession, the revelation that a past innocent mistake was actually a criminal act, or good old-fashioned ruined childhood. The imagery also tends to be surreal and nightmarish, with much of the fear coming from something bizarre or uncomfortable rather than an outright monster.
Of the thousands and thousands of creepypasta stories out there, Candle Cove is one of the most famous. Straub’s tale of a disturbing pirate-themed puppet show (which you can read here on his website) originally took the form of a forum discussion. Grownups looked back with confusion and terror on the series, sharing memories of the creepy puppets, odd stories (or lack thereof), and the presence of the terrifying skeletal puppet known as the Skin-Taker.
As a short piece, Candle Cove was just a glimpse into the world of the show’s young fans. The story ends just as the other shoe drops — another common element of creepypasta. But where the original story ends, the Channel Zero iteration is just beginning.
Channel Zero adapts and celebrates creepypasta, turning their big reveals into jumping-off points for six-episode horror stories. Their trip to Candle Cove stars Paul Schneider (Parks and Recreation) as Mike Painter, a forum participant from the original story. Mike, a child psychologist, has returned to his small-town home to investigate a series of disappearances similar to that of his twin brother many decades prior. Their favorite childhood show seems to be at the epicenter of the mystery, appearing back on air and tantalizing the new generation of children in town.
But there’s much more to the horror than just the creepy puppets. Flashbacks show that young Eddie Painter was, frankly, a terrifying child. Mike finds himself haunted by visions of the puppets of Candle Cove, reaching beyond the television into the real world. Oh, and there’s a person covered in teeth.
The toughest part of bringing Candle Cove to the screen was always going to be making it as horrific and bizarre in reality as it was in the minds of its readers. But series creator Nick Antosca has definitely succeeded. The scenes from the original show are just as creeptastic as they were in the minds’ eye (and yes, the episode where they all just stand there screaming is shown). The new monsters added to the latter half of the series are horrifying, but keep to the creepypasta feel of the show.
And fans of the original story will be happy to know there are nods to the Candle Cove fandom! The designs of the puppets take a few cues from popular fan creations, and there’s even a scene paying tribute to the YouTubers who assembled their own episodes of the nonexistent show.
That’s all you get, though. Reading the original story will give you a map of the first episode of six, but you’re on your own past that. Trust me, it’s much more fun that way.
Channel Zero went on to air No-End House (based on the story of the same title) and Butcher’s Block (based on “Search and Rescue Woods”), and a fourth season based on the r/nosleep post “The Hidden Door” is in development.