Serving as a stylish repository for all manner of unusual or fascinating collectables, throughout hundreds of years there have been glorious cabinets stocked with items that spoke to the peculiarities of those who curated them. With Cabinet of Curiosities, director Guillermo del Toro has gathered a horror anthology to hypnotise and repel in equal measure.
A horror compilation with his name on the door – along with introductory presentations for each short film by the man himself – is one that writhes with the promise of nightmares barely contained.
Cabinet of Curiosities showcases both experienced and fresh directors for 8 episodes of darkly delicious entertainment.
What Is Cabinet of Curiosities About?
Each episode is a different beast, of course, but can generally be filed under ‘the unspeakable body’ or ‘the collapsing mind’.
Those who want to clamp a hand over their mouth will be well served by episodes such as ‘Graveyard Rats’, ‘The Autopsy’, or ‘Lot 36’ at a pinch, whereas those who like a spiralling descent into madness will find ‘The Outside’, ‘Pickman’s Model’ or ‘The Viewing’ scratches that brain itch.
Directed by long-time Del Toro collaborator Guillermo Navarro and co-written by Del Toro, this episode sets the tone.
Tim Blake Nelson stars as a bitter debt-riddled man descending into right-wing talking points and in desperate need of a score.
His discovery of ancient tomes within an auctioned-off storage lot promise riches, but a self-centred life means that help is hard to find as their power is revealed. It’s a strong episode that gets things off to a cracking start.
Next, director Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Splice) burrows under with Graveyard Rats.
With debt another motivating factor, this darkly comic graverobbing affair stars David Hewlett as a garrulous professional thief who steals the valuables of the recently deceased.
He scrabbles to save his skin as he keeps getting beaten to the punch by some strangely organised rats.
This tale closes the walls around you figuratively and literally as Hewlett descends into a maze of burrows only to recoil at what lurks in the depths.
The Outside is more of a character piece. Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour and starring Kate Micucci (plus bonus Dan Stevens), this episode at first seems like a typical Burton-esque swipe at day-glo suburban enforced normality.
Yet underneath Micucci’s increasingly fevered desire to fit in, and her increasingly excessive yet itchy use of wonder cream Alo Glo, lies a surrealist creature feature to consume you.
Cabinet of Curiosities Official Trailer
Pickman's Model and Dreams In The Witch House
Revered early 20th-century horror writer, H.P Lovecraft, gets two outings, first in peak ‘nasty’ mode with the crumbling mentality of star Ben Barnes in Pickman’s Model, and second with the ghostly obsessions of Rupert Grint in Dreams In The Witch House.
The former is a high point of the series, with Barnes selling the ‘madness of which we cannot know’ superbly, whereas the latter is a slower story of loss and obsession as Grint tries to track down his deceased twin sister and whatever realm in which she resides.
The Viewing stands apart as an oddity, given that for a long time not much happens except drink, drugs, and long conversation as a wealthy Peter Weller holds court with esteemed guests.
Yet this culminates in a Cronenbergian brain blast as his prized otherworldly possession trumps his riches.
Similarly, The Autopsy slowly uncovers strange behaviour in a mining town before an examination of a cadaver by F. Murray Abraham reveals more than just guts for logging.
The series wraps on a wonderful piece by The Babadook director Jennifer Kent entitled The Murmuring.
Starring Essie Davis (also of The Babadook) and Andrew Lincoln (The Walking Dead) this contemplative ghost story – in which Davis and Lincoln relocate to an abandoned house in order to record the murmurations of birds – is an expertly woven tapestry of loss, grief, marriage, and haunting memories.
Is Cabinet of Curiosities Worth Watching?
The quality level throughout Cabinet of Curiosities is commendably high, notwithstanding that taste may account for individual appreciation.
Keep your fingers crossed that Netflix orders another season as there can’t be a more surefire bet than giving Del Toro a huge ring of keys, and letting him slowly unlock every dark drawer that a cabinet stocked by his contemporaries can offer.
Words by Mike Record