SyFy’s Channel Zero has a fantastic premise: It adapts creepypastas–viral scary stories from all corners of the internet–into 6-episode seasons of prestige horror TV. That leaves the show’s creator, Nick Antosca, with the fascinating task of hunting down those creepypastas’ authors so he can get permission to use the source material.
Channel Zero‘s first season, which aired last year, adapted the 2009 creepypasta “Candle Cove” by author and webcartoonist Kris Straub. Season 2, which premieres tonight, tackles writer Brian Russell’s “NoEnd House.” In both cases, the authors weren’t hard to find, but Antosca told GameSpot that that isn’t always the case–especially where Channel Zero Season 3 and Season 4 are concerned.
“Part of what’s important to me on this whole process of adapting creepypastas is giving the authors of the original creepypasta their due,” he said. “In the case of Candle Cove and No-End House, those authors are actually pretty well known. Kris Straub is a successful cartoonist. Brian Russell’s name is right on the story, and Brian Russell, interestly enough, works on the Exorcist TV show on Fox. So he’s around LA.”
“Without giving away the stories that we’re using for installments three and four, those authors were a little bit harder to track down,” he continued. “In one case, I just did a bunch of internet research myself. In another case, we had a researcher on the show do some tracking, and we found them and reached out to them. And as you might imagine, they’re pretty excited to be contacted about this. So we option the story and try to keep them in the loop.”
Creepypastas have traditionally appeared on message boards and forums (“NoEnd House” was first published on 4chan), often from anonymous users or users with cryptic pen names, and throughout the internet’s history they’ve gained traction with dedicated creepypasta readers and casual web browsers alike. Adapting them for television presents unique challenges that Antosca, a horror author and TV writer himself, is uniquely qualified to tackle.
“I’ve been reading these stories for many years. I have been, at various points in my life, an insomniac, and you stay up late at night going down Wikipedia rabbit holes,” he said. “I don’t purport to say these are canonical versions of the Creepypastas. Obviously we take the original, we adapt elements of it, we use the original premise, and then we invent and put our own stamp on it. The way I look at it is each season of Channel Zero is like a nightmare that you have after reading the story it’s based on. It’s our fan fiction of the original creepypasta.”
The original “NoEnd House” story is about a haunted house whose every room is scarier than the last. Its popularity comes largely from the twist: Even when you think you’ve escaped the house, you’re actually still inside. Tonight’s Channel Zero: No-End House premiere, “This Isn’t Real,” follows main characters Margot (Amy Forsyth), Jules (Aisha Dee), Seth (Jeff Ward), and J.D. (Seamus Patterson) on their journey through the house. The rest of the season will cover what happens after they leave it.
“What was exciting to me about ‘NoEnd House’ was it has this great baked-in horror premise of the haunted house and each room is scarier than the last. But the key thing that made me want to adapt it was this idea of you think you’re out of the house, and then you start to question whether what you perceive to be reality is, in fact, the last room of the house,” Antosca said. “The feeling of powerlessness and confusion and uncertainty that would come from questioning your own reality seemed like an interesting analog for the experience of a young person trying to find themselves and facing a lot of uncertainty and pain in their life.”
So what does the future hold for SyFy’s elegant horror anthology show? What about Channel Zero Seasons 3 and 4? The show is already renewed for those third and fourth seasons, but Antosca has yet to reveal which creepypastas they’ll be about. He did provide some hints, though.
“We haven’t tried too hard to adapt stories where we can’t identify the author,” he said. “If we have a bunch more seasons–which like, who knows?–I feel like at some point we might try. We might call up the legal department and be like ‘How do we adapt ‘Russian Sleep Experiment’ if we can’t find the author? And I don’t know if there’s a way to do that.”
Luckily, “the community of creepypasta fans has been pretty supportive and excited about the show,” he added. “I hope that they dig No-End House.”
Channel Zero Season 2: No-End House airs Wednesdays on SyFy starting tonight, Sept. 20.