I once introduced many of our readers to the eerie world of creepypasta with a brief overview of the most well-known viral tales and legends, and among those entries, I discussed the horrific web legend of CANDLE COVE — a mysterious and disturbing children’s TV show which has since become one of the most widely-shared stories on Reddit, 4chan, and numerous horror forums, with countless “sequels” and spin-off tales in its wake.
But now that SyFy has launched its horror series CHANNEL ZERO — which kicked off its first season by adapting the CANDLE COVE story as its central theme — I think it’s time to revisit this eerie phenomenon, and delve a little deeper into the mystery and the horror stories which surround this elusive broadcast.
The origins of CANDLE COVE can be traced to a seemingly benign inquiry on a forum entitled NetNostalgia in 2009, initiated by user Skyshale033. This poster wanted to know if anyone had heard of this particularly odd puppet show, which she recalled airing for a very brief period on a local station in Ironton, Ohio in the early ‘70s.
The thread was joined by user mike_painter65, who claimed to remember the show as well, but only certain aspects of it… including a character named “Pirate Percy,” who scared him as a child. Skyshale confirmed this, remembering that the pirate looked extremely creepy, and seemed to be assembled from the parts of many different dolls and puppets.
A third user, Jaren_2005, entered the thread with more information about the show: he or she claimed to have watched it in 1971, and recalled that it centered on a little girl named Janice, who lived in a magical land of pirates and other seafaring characters. The others began to recall more details at this point, remembering Pirate Percy was captain of a ship called the Laughingstock, which had a creepy, maniacally laughing face on its prow. The ship also talked, saying cryptic things like, “You have… to go… inside.”
As the conversation continued, more details emerged, including descriptions of side characters like “Horace Horrible,” whose face was basically just a monocle and a handlebar mustache. Then the discussion turned to the show’s main villain: a terrifying, skeletal figure in a top hat and cloak who was known as “The Skin-Taker.”
The Skin-Taker became the central topic of the thread, with one user noting how his jawbone seemed to move sideways instead of up and down. When Janice asked him why it moved like that, his reply was: “To grind your skin.”
“I’m so relieved that other people remember this terrible show,” Skyshale noted… but that relief turned out to be short-lived, after she admitted having a nightmare in which she envisioned every one of the puppet characters screaming at the camera, non-stop, for the duration of an entire episode.
“I don’t think that was a dream,” responded user kevin_hart. “I remember… that was an episode.”
“No no no, not possible,” Skyshale replied. “There was no plot or anything, I mean literally just standing in place crying and screaming for the whole show.”
Then Jaren confirmed: “Oh God. Yes. Janice, I remember seeing her shake. And the Skin-Taker screaming through his gnashing teeth, his jaw careening so wildly I thought it would come off its wire hinges. I turned it off and it was the last time I watched. I ran to tell my brother and we didn’t have the courage to turn it back on.”
The discovery that three separate users shared the same story of CANDLE COVE was unnerving enough… but then mike_painter65 came back to the conversation with the following update (edited slightly here for clarity):
I visited my mom today at the nursing home… I asked her about the early ‘70s, when I was 8 or 9, and if she remembered a kid’s show, CANDLE COVE. She said she was surprised I could remember that… I asked why, and she said “Because I used to think it was so strange that you said ‘I’m gonna go watch CANDLE COVE now mom,’ and then you would tune the TV to static and just watch dead air for 30 minutes.”
That was the final post on the original CANDLE COVE thread.
Eventually, that original post was identified as a flash-fiction piece by author-artist Kris Straub, who first posted the entire exchange to the horror fiction site Ichior Falls in March of 2009, after which it was picked up by Creepypasta.com. Straub has claimed the idea was inspired by a satirical piece in The Onion about a man suffering nightmare flashbacks from the surreal children’s show LIDSVILLE.
The story proved so memorably chilling that hundreds of fans and creepypasta enthusiasts have come forward with their own unique tales about the show. Even today, some of those people insist — despite a fair amount of proof to the contrary — that CANDLE COVE (or something like it) was a genuine program, and remember watching it themselves.
Before long, an entire subgenre of fandom had emerged, with detailed backstories about the show’s origins and creators, fan-fiction spinoffs, video recreations of various episodes, and artists’ renderings of the show’s characters. CANDLE COVE even has its own Wiki, where details of the series’ “history,” profiles of its alleged creators, detailed descriptions of each episode and the cast of characters are curated and regularly updated.
For example, the wiki’s origin story for the show’s dates back to May of 1968, when students at University of Ohio’s Visual Arts Department were first approached to design and build various puppets for a locally-produced children’s educational series (then under the working title PIRATE PLACE). But it would be three years before the show’s creator, Tom Thrives, came forward to announce his team’s ambition to make CANDLE COVE one of the most popular children’s programs in the US.
Per the wiki’s timeline, the series premiered on January 19, 1971 to mixed reviews; while some praised its “heartwarming potential,” most critics were put off by the eerie look of the puppets, which they considered “morbid” and felt would be disturbing to small children.
Nevertheless, CANDLE COVE was greenlit for a first-season run of nine episodes, presumably to be filmed before a live audience… but the producers encountered “scheduling difficulties” with the TV studio, so the episodes were aired in pre-recorded and slightly edited-down versions.
The site claims a second season was produced the following year, but this time only three episodes were completed… and according to most reports, each of these was only broadcast once. The show was pulled after the third episode for “undisclosed reasons.” Many of the stories about the alleged “screaming show” identify it as being the third and final episode of the series.
Kris Straub probably never imagined that his creepy little creation would spawn a pop-culture phenomenon, but for whatever reason, CANDLE COVE continues to be one of the most talked-about creepypasta tales… and the inspiration for a real television series.