Series Created by Guillermo del Toro.
Just in time for All Hallow’s Eve, Netflix released a spooky four-day event with eight episodes (two released each day) of the brand-new horror anthology series Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities. The Oscar-winning filmmaker has assembled eight directors and had each of them direct their own hour-ish-long episode. Admittedly, not every one of them is an outright hit, but, as a collection of horror curiosities, del Toro’s anthology series definitely does its job, and, if you follow the two-a-day release schedule, then you may find that their spot in the season wasn’t entirely random. Horror aficionados gather around because this one is for you.
The season opens with one of del Toro’s own short stories (Lot 36) and then a Henry Kuttner short story (Graveyard Rats). Led by Tim Blake Nelson and David Hewlett respectively, these stories are both about men in debt seeking a big payday by any means necessary. Lot 36 is directed by Guillermo Navarro, the Oscar-winning cinematographer of Pan’s Labyrinth, and here I really liked the turn it takes into occult horror. I would’ve happily watched an entire movie of this, and I think it might’ve worked better as one since the way the story suddenly escalates at the end of the episode is almost comical. Graveyard Rats by Cube-director Vincenzo Natali has a very different tone. Much more comedic, but still as concerned with what is right or wrong as the previous entry, the stilted old-timey dialogue might lose some viewers, but the design of the titular rats and the dedicated performance from Hewlett holds it together.
The second set of episodes, on night two, were based on short stories from Michael Shea (The Autopsy) and Emily Carroll (The Outside). The Autopsy is one of my favorite episodes of the season. Directed by David Prior, the filmmaker behind the underseen horror film The Empty Man, and starring F. Murray Abraham, it tells the story of an autopsy that goes awry. Although the opening didn’t fully hook me, I was absolutely enthralled when F. Murray Abraham took center stage. It’s got a creepy creature design, and scary sounds, and is well-directed. I thought this was pretty excellent. I also enjoyed the Kate Micucci-led The Outside from director Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home At Night). It’s a story about a frightened wide-eyed TV-obsessed amateur taxidermist who, in an attempt to impress her co-workers, desperately uses the beauty lotion that she was gifted, even when it gives her rashes. This one also features a fun out-there performance from Dan Stevens, and, on the whole, the TV obsession really reminded me of Requiem for a Dream.
Night three featured a pair of H. P. Lovecraft-based short stories. Pickman’s Model led by Ben Barnes and Crispin Glover was directed by Keith Thomas (the director of this year’s Firestarter remake). It is a story about a painter who paints these horrifying portraits and images that tend to dig down into your psyche and haunt your days. This isn’t the first time this has been adapted so perhaps that is why it felt a little bit too familiar to me, but I will say that I had a lot of fun with Glover’s inspired performance. I also thought the way his early scenes were shot added a lot to his mystery (over the shoulder, somewhat blurred, from the side, and in shadow). It also features a really cool visualization of a spooky creature. From Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke, Dreams in the Witch House tells the story of a man (played by Rupert Grint) desperate to communicate with his dead sister, whose ghost he saw when he was a child. This one felt right up del Toro’s alley, so to speak, with the focus on finding mediums and spotting fakes reminded me of Nightmare Alley. This one is decent but not as scary as I wanted it to be (it gets a bit silly).
The final set of episodes, on night four, are directed by two of the more interesting lesser-known critical darling horror directors in Panos Cosmatos (Mandy) and Jennifer Kent (The Babadook; The Nightingale). The Viewing, Cosmatos’ episode, is a slow-burn style-forward face-melting psychedelic cosmic horror story that pretty much only he could tell like this. I like Peter Weller in this, but some of the supporting performances really weren’t convincing to me. While I think the payoff and the style are good, I do think it takes too long to get going and I think viewers who haven’t seen his previous films will struggle with this. Jennifer Kent’s The Murmuring, based on a del Toro short story, is similarly slow but is a ghost story and is therefore a much easier sell to most viewers. Starring Essie Davis and Andrew Lincoln, this is a meditation on parental grief and what we cling to when times are tough. I thought the ending to this was really beautiful, and I think it is one of the better and more assured episodes of the season.
I really enjoyed this horror anthology series. I thought the episodes were all well-made, I had so much fun with Guillermo del Toro’s introductions to each episode, and I think the release strategy added to the fun, honestly. I don’t think any one of these episodes has cult-status potential, but they are all somewhere between decent and great. More of this, please, Netflix!
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.