Well, it’s finally the bittersweet moment, it’s time to talk about Channel Zero: The Dream Door. The past few months we’ve looked at the first three seasons, and all of them lead to here; it is cosmically horrific and was an A+ way to [unfortunately] end the show from its weird and obscure imagery to the deliciously over-the-top scenes of terror. Most people know this show from the brilliant shots of Pretzel Jack (Troy James) and his freakishly fun flexibility; we’ll get more into him later.
Channel Zero: The Dream Door is expertly crafted and directed by E.L. Katz (Cheap Thrills, Pop Skull), and wonderfully filmed by cinematographer Isaac Bauman (Bloodline, Servant). Each season of Channel Zero had a very succinct style to its direction, and was able to carry the auteur-ish style consistently, but The Dream Door is the best looking season of the lot of them. Katz’s direction is on point through the six-episode final season, which is based on Charlotte Bywater’s “Hidden Door” creepypasta.
This season revolves around Jillian Hodgson (Maria Sten) and Tom Hodgson (Brandon Scott), newlyweds who have known each other since they were kids. Upon moving into Tom’s parent’s old house, things slowly start to get sinister. After a night of food and drinks with Jason (Nicholas Tucci!) and his girlfriend, Tom notices something strange in the basement…a locked door in the wall that was never there before, and for the life of them no one can seem to open it. When push finally comes to shove, Jason ends up firing a few rounds of buckshot into the door and eventually opens it up. They are lead to a second door, though no amount of buckshot can get it open. We are then introduced to the neighbor Ian (Steven Robertson), who seems to be a wholesome dude. For now.
A Fake Antagonist (Pretzel Jack)
The rewatch for this review was my third time seeing it, and I somehow always forget the last three episodes. When the mid-season twist happens, I consistently have that moment of realization where it snaps, and I remember what the outcome is. As an antagonist, Pretzel Jack is completely terrifying; his contorting of his body completely adds to the physical facial acting presented by Troy James. He makes such a great antagonist, portraying an invincible It Follows-esque stalker. PJ’s turn halfway through is interesting. He goes from creepy spree killer to being gone for two whole episodes, which is slightly unfortunate. He is definitely one of the strongest elements of the series, and his absence is very noticeable. There is really something to be said about an actor who can fully portray the emotions that are needed without uttering a single word.
A Fake Protagonist (Ian)
While it is fairly obvious from the beginning that something is off with Ian, he does seem for the most part to want to help Jillian and Tom, though his actions soon become insidious and have life-altering consequences. Throughout the season, Ian spends his time trying to help Jill hone her powers and train her to be able to control Pretzel Jack/her creations. He exhibits how easily, even with great physical repercussions, it is to control your creations. His creations range from duplicates of a cute-ass dog, Human Crayons, and the ominous Tall Boy (Stephen R. Hart).
Besides being an all-around bad person who will stop at nothing short of murder to get what he wants, Ian’s overall goal is quite disgusting. We find out soon enough that Jillian is Ian’s half-sister, and the ‘second family’ Jill constantly referred to her dad having when she was young was Ian and his mother. So when Ian constantly tries getting with Jill, and even saying that he wants her to be all his, it is just insanely gross. It adds a whole new level to his character and makes him an even worse villain.
Human Crayons and Tall Boy
Tall Boy is a really interesting side antagonist, his weapon of choice being a Sawzall “because it saws all,” which is very gruesome and a super original weapon. There is also a great King Kong v Godzilla scene where Pretzel Jack and Tall Boy face off in a bout of Sawzall-fu. The scene doesn’t last too long, but it is honestly great. The Human Crayons, while violent, are super creative and stylistically appealing characters, with melted wax dripping down their masks and raincoats.
The Cinematography of a Nightmare
Isaac Bauman’s cinematography is, bar none, the best in the series. Each season looks great in its own way, but Bauman really hit the nail on the head with this season. Abandoning the obscene amount of set-up and random establishing shots from the previous seasons, Bauman strays the path and plays off the incredible production design of Réjean Labrie (Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings, Devil’s Gate). Their architecture in the houses Ian and Jill/Tom live in is different and super artistic. Out of all four seasons, The Dream Door has the most interesting production design.
One of the best visual motifs of the season is when Jill and Ian try, and occasionally inadvertently, to conjure up their dream creations. We start with a static shot of the conjurer’s face, and slowly the camera spins, flipping the image upside down, and then it completes its rotation. It is one of the only visual storytelling motifs that stands out throughout the entire series. The shot(s) is intensely beautiful and tells us what we need to know without beating us over the head with some dumb verbal exposition.
Which Antagonist Wins?
Season 1 gives us the Tooth Monster, Season 2 the House, Season 3 the Peaches. Season 4 gives us Pretzel Jack, Crayon Humans, Tall Boy, and Ian. So how do these killers stack up? Who’s the scariest? Visually, the Tooth Monster and Pretzel Jack are the most striking, but Tall Boy and the Peaches are way more brutal and unrelenting with their murders. Since Pretzel Jack isn’t actually a real antagonist, he is unfortunately eliminated from this contest. I would have to say since the Peaches aren’t visually frightening, the award for Best Antagonist would have to go to Tall Boy, and his Sawzall of RageTM.
Channel Zero Final Thoughts
Rewatching this series brought a sense of joy back to me that was ripped from my soul by the ongoing pandemic. It reminded me of the dark fall nights, sans Butcher’s Block, which had a February premiere, sitting and anticipating each episode. Looking outside and seeing the trees turn various shades of orange and red and experiencing a time when horror creators were given creative control over projects brought such wonderful spooky season vibes into my heart. From delving deep into the troubled mind of Mike Painter to exploring pain and sadness with Margot Sleator or cannibal feasts with Zoe Woods, and contorting our hearts with the suspicions of Jillian Hodgson, Channel Zero started and stayed as a wholly original series full of blood, guts, and heart.