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Zero hour

Manitoba-shot horror series returns to television with three-night marathon


Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/6/2018 (753 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

While The Dream Door, the fourth season of the SyFy horror anthology series Channel Zero just wrapped its shoot in Winnipeg earlier this week, the third season, Butcher’s Block, gets its long awaited Canadian première next week on the cable network Showcase.

Like the other seasons, Butcher’s Block is an adaptation of a "creepypasta," an internet-shared tale of paranormal terror, in this case Kerry Hammond’s creepypasta Search And Rescue Woods.

The six-episode season, which runs two episodes per evening back-to-back from Wednesday to Friday, is distinguished from the first two seasons in that, for all its supernatural elements, it registers as a harrowing portrait of two sisters wrestling with the demon of mental illness.

Alice and Zoe Woods (played by Olivia Luccardi and Holland Roden) are siblings trying to recover from the trauma of being attacked by their own mother, who was committed to a mental-health facility. Zoe herself has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Living in the shadow of that genetic curse, Alice must face an overwhelming evil she encounters in a new town, encompassing a family of inter-dimensional cannibals and a stairway that can appear out of nowhere.

Holland Roden as Zoe Woods. (SyFy photos)

Holland Roden as Zoe Woods. (SyFy photos)

If the show has an emotional veracity to its outlandish premise, credit season director Arkasha Stevenson, who spent an exhaustive 45 days shooting the season in Winnipeg last summer.

"Basically I’m a walking advertisement for Red Bull," Stevenson says on the phone from Los Angeles. "They should just send me a bunch of free gear."

Stevenson was a photojournalist for the Los Angeles Times before she became a director, and she credits that journalist sensibility with an impulse to keep the show grounded, no matter how outlandish the action got.

"When I transitioned into narrative film, I was really interested in tackling social realism and then mixing it with surrealistic esthetic," she recalls. "When I said that to my agents when I was first signed, they kind of looked at each other. (One) said, ‘You mean horror?’ And I was like: ‘OK, yeah, sure."

Her calling card for the series turned out to be a short film she shot, titled Pineapple, which is centred on a traumatized girl’s encounter with a sinister entity in a coalmine.

"It made it into the midnight horror section at Sundance, which was an enormous honour, but at the same time, I never considered it a horror piece before," she says.

"But I think that kind of speaks to the tone of Channel Zero. It definitely functions quite easily in the genre of horror but it also relates to other genres as well," she says. "This is a family drama at its heart, between the two sisters and the mother. And it definitely felt like a product of social realism in the first half of the pilot."

Olivia Luccardi as Alice Woods (right) Linden Porco as Smart Mouth.

Olivia Luccardi as Alice Woods (right) Linden Porco as Smart Mouth.

Stevenson says she didn’t have a problem filming some of the more outre scenes depicting gore and violence.

"At the risk of sounding like a freak, it was quite unique," she says. "The tonality of it all was something I was quite excited about exploring because we were balancing really macabre content with some dark humour and that was the fun of it all.

"I hadn’t really worked on a project where I was able to have fun and let my strange, inappropriate quirky sense of humour come out," she says. "I laugh at things that are totally inappropriate. I think that gore is funny. I was just giggling on the set half the time.

"Yet the overall content is very relatable to me because it’s two women who are fighting to keep their place in a lower socio-economic status and at the same time, they’re both afraid of losing control of themselves, both mentally and physically," she says. "The desperation and the fear that can create, especially when you don’t have any resources, demonstrates what can happen when fear runs wild, when people and places are left to their own devices.

"That’s why Butcher’s Block is able to tackle such bizarre content as cannibalism, and multiple parallel worlds, because it’s rooted in very relatable human experience."

Rutger Hauer as Joseph Peach, a family patriarch.

Rutger Hauer as Joseph Peach, a family patriarch.

Shooting the season in and around Winnipeg and Selkirk proved a boon, she says.

"I didn’t realize how much diversity it had, landscape-wise. I felt pretty ignorant showing up and not knowing much about Canada and we shot in Selkirk, in this amazing park, and then we shot in the canola fields outside of Winnipeg and I was really kind of blown away by the beauty of it all.

"You could make a few more seasons that would look like completely different geographic areas," she says. "For being flat, it’s pretty diverse.

"It was harder than I expected (shooting a series) but it was also easier than I expected because the Winnipeg crew that we worked with was so supportive and professional," Stevenson says. "If I had been working with a lower calibre crew, I think I would have had a much harder time acclimating to a longer and larger shoot.

"But everyone was so professional and so supportive and really understood the Channel Zero world and the esthetic quite well because they’d been working together for so many seasons that it does feel like you’re being incorporated into a family."

Krisha Fairchild portrays Louise Lispector.</p>

Krisha Fairchild portrays Louise Lispector.


Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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