Channel Zero: The Dream Door truly captures the strength of Channel Zero’s format. It felt like it took some of the elements from No End House and got everything right that No End House got wrong. This is a strong season of the anthology show and really cements it as the best true horror show on television.
It was delightful to see two black leads in horror media. Jillian is also one of the most realistic and inspiring characters I’ve seen in horror in a while. I was worried at points that her character was just going to end up becoming a trope but I need not have worried. And Pretzel Jack is one of the most creative and effective monsters to come out of any horror television series. How has horror not already exhausted the idea of having a contortionist monster? Because yikes:
I highly recommend watching this season. If you like characters you can care about, feeling creeped out, and horror that actually casts diverse characters for more than just tokenism or stereotypes this is a great season to watch. Maybe it’s just where I am in life but I also felt like the themes had a strong, positive message we don’t always see in horror. I’m going to discuss some of these more but keep in mind that discussion will involve spoilers:
The Importance of Handling Your Stuff – Both Jillian and Tom seek professional support to help process their emotions and anxieties and this is treated as completely normal. Jillian repeatedly tells others not to gaslight her about her feelings. Our protagonist Jillian has her stuff to deal with like everyone else does. Except unlike everyone else she can manifest her stuff into physical beings like Pretzel Jack. Unfortunately by unleashing her feelings she is letting these beings run amok like an untrained dog that’s angry and afraid. She can’t control Pretzel Jack until she can tame her own feelings. At one point Tom mentions a werewolf, and the comparison to werewolf lore is perfect. Like a lycanthrope Jillian can’t control how this other side of her behaves so she must learn to control herself effectively. This is in sharp contrast to the main antagonist who appears to have learned to control his powers but in reality abuses them to get his own way. This is no clearer than when Tall Boy murders him the minute he doesn’t have complete control over his creation. Frankenstein’s Monster would be so proud.
Going Your Own Way – The one person who can help Jillian understand her powers is the main villain Ian. It’s pretty easy to understand why Jillian would be drawn to him as she can barely understand or control her powers. Therefore it is especially powerful that Jillian chooses to turn her back on the one person who could help train her. The sharp contrast of the person who learns to tame their powers and the person who indulges them endlessly isn’t a new one (Jedi vs. Sith, Louis vs. Lestat, even Buffy vs. Faith to a degree) but it is still an interesting dynamic to watch in this season.
Marriage is Work – Not only is marriage work but it’s not always equal levels of work. Tom fucked up by keeping a huge secret from Jillian. But her secret murdered people including Tom’s (seemingly) best friend. Tom is also nearly murdered multiple times. Yet Tom continuously reiterates his love for Jillian and his desire to work through their issues. As someone who would have bounced the minute Katie said an evil entity has been hanging out with her since childhood in Paranormal Activity, I felt Tom had ever reason to run away for his own safety and sanity. But like all solid relationships, the struggle they have to acknowledge and fight through ultimately brings them closer together and breaks down the barriers that secrecy and distrust build when they are left to fester and grow.You want this couple to make it.
Grounded in Reality – From the moment we watch Jillian, Tom, and Jason try to break down the mysterious door that appears in the basement it’s clear this season more so than previous ones features character who act like real people would. I’m not saying they always do the right or smartest thing, but they don’t seem detached and dreamlike as the characters in previous seasons do. A little bit of disconnect from reality and dreamlike feel is okay but it’s much scarier to see characters who really do act like you would in the situation. I think this is especially evident in the sequence when Pretzel Jack attacks Vanessa and Tom. Watching Tom slip and slide as he tries to escape and running to his car with just his swim shorts on feels real.
– Pretzel Jack is Amazing. Jack’s first appearance is one of the most effective combinations of a creepy shot with a jump scare I’ve seen in a while. His murders of Jason and Vanessa are intense and unnerving. You think nothing can be scarier than Jack for the first three episodes. Yet when we first see Jillian first try to calm him we are instantly and equally disarmed by the tenderness between them. Pretzel Jack is Jillian’s protector and comfort. He genuinely seems to adore her. By the last episode I was rooting for Pretzel Jack. That leap from genuinely scary as hell to rooted for antihero is a big leap, and I admire them pulling it off successfully in this season. It felt more genuine at every step than Margo’s father in No End House. In order to make us eventually like Pretzel Jack they make sure to make every character he kills unlikable in some way. Otherwise I can’t fathom why we have to witness Vanessa masturbating to her camera footage of Tom undressing for his flotation therapy.
– I can’t get over Ian’s “what happens now is in your hands…” and Jillian immediately calling the cops on him. Yet again a shockingly realistic reaction in comparison to other horror shows or movies.
– I did think the incest vibes were completely unnecessary. Ian was already scary enough without that thrown in. The whole fourth episode nearly derailed everything I liked about the season so I was glad it didn’t keep going down the path of will Jillian choose Ian or whatever they were going for.
– With how well gore effects are handled on this show I really thought they should have forgone the CGI mind-focus moments (most cheesy when Jillian was trying to imagine the rabbit). The effect never quite worked and detracted from the vibe.
– I want to say I’ll never eat a burger again after the sequence with Ian but let’s be real.