This week Syfy debuted the third season of its Channel Zero anthology, entitled “Butcher’s Block.” This is not really a review since I have not seen enough episodes to form a final opinion, but I am apparently in the minority in that I watched the season premiere and felt it to be little more than a random mishmash of horror clichés held together by confusion masquerading as intrigue. But virtually every critic that saw the series gave it a glowing review. Rotten Tomatoes, as of this writing, gave it both a 100% fresh rating from professional critics and the popular audience alike. Granted, the reasons for that have little to do with the show’s quality. The critics surveyed numbered six, all of whom are horror aficionados, a group notorious for praising anything with shadows and blood; and the popular audience also numbered six, a self-selecting group of horror fans.
The story, based very loosely on an eight-part story (unread by me) of very different form, doesn’t make a lick of sense to me after the first, interminably boring episode. Two young women move to a new town, one a social worker in training who is taking care of the other, her sister who is fresh out of rehab. They hole up in a house run by an ex-hippie taxidermist, and learn about a series of mysterious disappearances tied to a staircase to nowhere that appears at random in a local park. By the end of the first episode, a monster has descended the stairs.
Last season, I found the entire aesthetic of Channel Zero to be too cold, too empty, and too Canadian to sustain the emotions that the audience is meant to feel. (It is strange to note, but Canadian-produced shows have a distinct aesthetic that works better for certain types of story.) Here, they have corrected some of the aesthetic problems. The primary set, a boarding house, is over-decorated like a knockoff of Norman Bates’s Victorian. The ominous factory that looms over the town is almost convincingly old, except for the use of a modern-style ramrod straight line for an apostrophe, instead of the curly apostrophe that a 1920s sign would almost certainly have used. The prop photographs meant to be from old-timey days are laughably amateurish, to the point that their poor Photoshopping took me out of the narrative.
The supernatural elements, too, are less than successfully rendered. The staircase to the sky never seems more than a computer-generated art project, which would still be true even if it turns out to be a poorly constructed physical set. The monster was… uninteresting.
“Butcher’s Block” has six hours to tell a story, and perhaps if all six hours were consumed as one long movie, the dull rehearsal of clichés in the opening hour would be forgivable. As the viewer’s first impression of the new season of Channel Zero, and my only reference point for the show for a full week, it certainly did not make me interested in seeing more.
However, one thing that I did find amusing is a YouTube video that the I Love Halloween website wrote about last week. The video is actually from 2013, but it gave me a laugh. The acting is a little rough, and the voiceover is… also rough. But the aesthetics of horror are spot on, and I was amused by this wry take on what would happen if smart, reasonable people found themselves enmeshed in cliché horror scenarios.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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