For those not in the know, Channel Zero is a horror series on Syfy network that delves into internet “urban legends,” the first season being the tale of Candle Cove. The initial outing dealt with a small suburban town haunted by a television program (“Candle Cove”) that unleashed children made of teeth as well as dread pirates upon the sleepy hideaway. Channel Zero’s first season was also excellent, proving to be a combination of Twin Peaks and Nightmare on Elm Street, blending the surreal and the supernatural in a tight, effective package. With No-End House, Channel Zero’s second season, the show focuses on the horror premise of a group of teenagers entering in a haunted attraction that has become something of a myth. The No-End House promises an experience where each room is a spectacle more horrifying than the last. But does this season house a story that manages to live up the it’s predecessor? Yes and no.
To ease your doubts, let me start this review by saying that Channel Zero retains its mantle as the scariest show on television, without question. Specifically, it manages to do this with a pitch perfect first episode of its second season. The first episode of No-End House sees our main cast of characters enter into the frightening establishment, looking for a cheap thrill that understandably turns into a nightmare. It’s here that we get the best scares of the season, so much so that I almost wish this episode had stood alone on its own as a movie, as it presents arguably the scariest hour of television ever created. As mentioned above, each room of the house promises to be more terrifying than the last and this is a promise that, for the most part, the show delivers on. The first room, for example, dubbed “Beware the Cannibals” pulls the fantastic trick of being genuinely creepy without necessarily invoking a jump scare. When the cast enters, they see full bust replicas of themselves which, considering they just entered the house, seems impossible to manufacture in a matter of minutes. Laughing it off as “the work of cameras,” the lights turn off and then back on with said busts having changed. Needless to say, the changes are ingeniously spine-tingling.
The premiere episodes continues its creepy moments in the form of a man with a mask making a bloody exit, a giggling mirror, and a rock man enjoying some television (trust me, it makes sense in context). Needless to say, it’s a harrowing experience for the show’s young teens as they venture farther into the house to try to get a handle on what exactly is going on. The house does allow anyone to leave at any time — for the first few rooms at least — which creates some nice tension (it absolutely makes you want to scream at them to leave — but what would the fun be in that?) The premiere would fit hand in hand with some of the best installments of the Twilight Zone, but unfortunately the rest of the season never quite lives up to this standard. Following the No-End House itself, the show then dives into the psyches of each of the characters, resulting in something of a mixed bag.
Margot, a young college student played by Amy Forsyth, is this season’s main protagonist. Having recently lost her father, Margot is trying to find her place in the world and has retreated from her former life. Her friend, Jules (Aisha Dee), has returned to see how she is doing, though is hesitant to truly get close to her once again. Their friendship is further explored as far as how a relationship manages to stay together when one side has dealt with a catastrophic loss and the other is trying to show support while living their own lives. Margot’s dearly departed father, played by the ever-talented John Carrol Lynch — who has himself becoming a staple of great horror series and movies — really conveys the bond that the two had in life. He’s a lovable, goofy father whose chemistry with his daughter is deeply felt, which is made all the scarier when he “returns.” Seeing Margot attempting to reconnect with him while also realizing that something is gravely wrong at the same time makes for a nice twist as the season progresses.
With the other characters though, the show tends to stumble, as they aren’t given the same narrative depth that Margot and her dad receive. While Jules, as mentioned, takes us into the friendship that was somewhat destroyed by loss, it’s in the two girls’ potential suitors — J.D. (Seamus Patterson) and Seth (Jeff Ward) — that the show finds its big weakness. Seth is more or less a blank slate here, which make some sense later, but it’s a frustrating progression. In a show that emphasizes character by placing their fears on display, Seth’s fear could have used a bigger spotlight placed on it. J.D. on the other hand, the original foil who had told the teens about the No-End House in the first place as a cheap thrill, has a fear that, while understandable, doesn’t really deliver. It’s a little difficult to go into my issues with J.D. and his fears without getting into serious spoiler territory, but needless to say, you’re left wondering why the character even needed to be there in the first place. Still, there is also the wild card of a mysterious drifter, played by Sebastian Pigott, who entered the house with the teens and who has a fairly disturbing storyline that comes to light.
The scares in the show are solid, and while they don’t necessarily reach the heights of the premiere (minus a particularly gruesome scene to close out the second episode), it’s a cornucopia of frights along the way. The way that the relationship between Margot and her father is explored, and how the “House” manages to put the screws to that, is something of an art form. If you’ve suffered from a heavy loss in your life, you’ll certainly be able to relate to what Margot is going through here, while also be disturbed with how her father has changed due to the house itself. There’s also a lot of weird and unexplainable sights to be shown that range from disturbing to silly that come across as a mixed bag from episode to episode. No-End House presents some interesting queries this season, but it’s an idea that isn’t easy to sustain over an entire season.
Though I have my complaints, the series still manages to be the best horror show on the air right now, and it is certainly worth your time as it offers frights and character work that are surprisingly strong. Despite a few missteps, No-End House is a delight that, while not as strong as the first season, is the perfect show for the beginning of the Halloween season.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good
Channel Zero: No-End House premieres Wednesday, September 20th on Syfy