While Netflix’s exquisite The Haunting of Hill House recently floored me (and many others), Syfy’s Channel Zero has returned as TV’s most gleefully weird and profoundly persuasive horror series. Making a strategic debut timed for Halloween, Channel Zero: The Dream Door is airing on six consecutive nights, which is a perfect fit for the fast-burning tale. Viewers will be eager to binge, but will still have just enough time between episodes to savor the fucking gloriousness of contortionist clown Pretzel Jack.
As the fourth season in the creepypasta-adapted anthology, Channel Zero: The Dream Door will be thematically familiar to faithful viewers, with its uniquely complicated family drama and characters dealing with loss. Meanwhile, many other elements are different and unexpected, such as the aforementioned nightmare factory Pretzel Jack, and the excellent work from this season’s director E.L. Katz (Cheap Thrills, Small Crimes).
At the heart of the storyline is the newly married couple Jillian and Tom Hodgson, played respectively by Danish actress Maria Sten (soon to be seen in DC Universe’s Swamp Thing) and Brandon Scott, of Blair Witch and Grey’s Anatomy. Friends as children who reconnected later in life, Jillian and Tom aren’t exactly the most ideal couple. Both have secrets lurking just beneath the surface, and one wonders how they made it to marriage without addressing some things.
Tom’s hidden history certainly provides some narrative twists and turns, but Jillian is a far more fascinating character to think about as the credits roll. It’s not merely secrets and falsehoods trying to claw their way to open air. After all, this show would have a completely misleading name if there weren’t any actual doors involved, so rest assured that there are plenty. They all have something wildly disturbing behind them, and you will absolutely be aware of the freakiest one when you see it…and hear it.
Without going into spoilers, viewers’ safe wager is on Jillian’s childhood friend Pretzel Jack inspiring the most giddily horrified reactions. The grotesque and misunderstood oddball is portrayed by America’s Got Talent standout Troy James, whose seemingly impossible body is capable of fitting into any nook and cranny available. Even if he didn’t hauntingly stalk victims before possibly turning their faces into jellied mush, Pretzel Jack inspires blinding terror just by happily throwing his hands up to say hello.
I think fans will agree that Pretzel Jack needs his own action figure with 489 points of articulation. As well, Channel Zero should release that flip book as a tie-in product so that I can buy it and scare the shit out of my kids and anyone who delivers food or mail to my house. Think of American Horror Story‘s Twisty the Clown, if John Carroll Lynch could pretzel-fy himself. (Fun to note: Lynch was excellent in Season 2, No End House.)
There is one other main character in Channel Zero: The Dream Door: Ian, portrayed by Steven Robertson. Ian takes an instant liking to Jillian, and at first, his big eyes and aw-shucks attitude make him constantly appear seconds from mugging the camera like The Office‘s Jim Halpert. Honestly, Ian is a very easy-to-hate character from multiple perspectives. To the credit of Robertson and show creator Nick Antosca, that distaste is diluted by his character development, though it intentionally remains throughout.
Other Dream Door treats in store for Channel Zero fans include several different morbid monstrosities that are similar, though inferior, to Pretzel Jack. The always excellent Steven Weber, who appears in a few episodes, doesn’t get to do much, but still has THE best line reading in the entire season. Of course, the creative chaos from Nick Antosca and the various episode writers also deserve mounds of praise and appreciation.(Hidden behind Door #3, of course.)
Plus, E.L. Katz is delivering the best work of his directorial career with these six episodes. As it’s gone in past seasons, the cinematography stays sharp and crisp, with the camera always set up to deliver maximum tension and discomfort. The Dream Door also manages to top other seasons in terms of how jarringly effective the edits are between scenes. The cuts before all the commercial breaks are especially noteworthy, all coming at pitch-perfect moments.
Speaking of perfect, the darkly comedic horror soaked into each episode’s final shot makes it clear that it’d be irresponsible TV ownership not to keep watching until the end. Assuming it does end, of course, without viewers finding themselves to be the ones cramped and folded behind one of Channel Zero‘s many doors.
Standing tall and awkwardly among TV’s upper echelon of horror, Syfy’s Channel Zero: The Dream Door premiered on Friday, October 26, and will air over the next five nights at 11:00 p.m. ET. Don’t miss it, or bear the bendable wrath of Pretzel Jack. Cleanse your mind of his “talents” by noting all the other new and returning shows hitting this fall season.
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