Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities a horror anthology that mixes satire and the supernatural
From Satanists and grave robbers to tortured artists and grieving parents, master of the macabre Guillermo del Toro presents eight ghoulish tales of terror in his new Netflix anthology series Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities.
Premiering over four nights from Oct 25 to 28, the series tackles the horror genre from all sides, pairing gothic fables from the deranged minds of H.P. Lovecraft and Henry Kuttner with more current cultural fascinations.
Del Toro appears before each episode with his eponymous cabinet, recalling the opening of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and the tradition of travelling storytellers who would entertain rural communities with an ottoman of oddities.
Revealing a peculiar trinket from one of the cabinet’s hidden compartments, he introduces the major themes of the story we are about to hear, as well as announcing the episode’s director – a welcome move all-too-often overlooked in episodic television.
The Academy Award-winning director of The Shape of Water and Pan’s Labyrinth has assembled an impressive and diverse roster of directors who enrich the series’ broad perspectives and eclectic compendium of spooky stories.
Guillermo Navarro, del Toro’s frequent cinematographer, directs the first episode, Lot 36, which is followed by Splice director Vincenzo Natali’s Graveyard Rats. While the former is set in 1990, on the eve of Operation Desert Storm, and the latter almost a century earlier, both stories focus on unscrupulous opportunists hoping to make a profit from the possessions of the recently deceased.
“The Autopsy”, directed by David Prior (The Empty Man ) from a short story by David S. Goyer, ventures into the realms of science fiction, while Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night ) skewers our obsession with superficial beauty in her darkly satirical tale The Outside.
The show’s third night of terrifying treats features a pair of H.P. Lovecraft adaptations. Keith Thomas, director of the recent Firestarter remake, and Catherine Hardwicke, best-known for launching the Twilight franchise, tackle Pickman’s Model and Dreams in the Witch House respectively. Both stories introduce dark, supernatural forces that enrapture and entrance their victims.
Panos Cosmatos, the director of the psychedelic Nicolas Cage thriller Mandy , applies his unique authorial signature to “The Viewing”, in which a diverse collective of experts are invited to the remote home of a reclusive billionaire.
Finally, the season wraps up with heartbreaking ghost story The Murmuring, in which a couple of grieving ornithologists decamp to a remote Canadian outposts, where they are forced to face deep-seated personal demons.
The series boasts a spectacular international cast populated not by sparkling, ethereal A-listers, but rather by weather-beaten character actors infused with a hard-fought authenticity.
Tim Blake Nelson, F. Murray Abraham, Kate Micucci, Essie Davis and Andrew Lincoln are just a few of the stand-outs, whose portrayals of quiet longing and world-weariness makes their characters’ descent into the phantasmagoric realm of the unknown not just believable, but tragically inevitable.
Each episode is a complete, stand-alone horror story, existing independently from the rest of the series, with only del Toro’s stamp of approval uniting them. As such, Cabinet of Curiosities defies Netflix’s patented binge-viewing sensibility.
In each case, the pay-off is heightened when viewed on its own, and given time to fester and embed its unsettling tendrils in the imagination.
Each episode features startling imagery and some delightfully unnerving moments, but the stories aim not to scare their audience merely for the sake of it. They are all grounded in profoundly human and relatable horrors, making their impact all the greater.
Del Toro’s influence on the horror genre extends far beyond his work as a filmmaker. The Devil’s Backbone , Pan’s Labyrinth , and even The Shape of Water rank as some of the most imaginative and provocative entries in the genre this century, but of equal importance have been his efforts to champion and legitimise works of horror and fantasy within the mainstream.
Similarly, his efforts as a producer have helped other storytellers realise their visions and have their voices heard. Back in 2013 he partnered with publishing house Penguin Books to curate a collection of classic horror stories.
While these included established classics such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the short stories of Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe, Del Toro also included more contemporary works such as Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Ray Russell’s unsung modern gothic “S” trilogy: Sardonicus, Sanguinarius and Sagittarius.
He brings this same passion and respect for the much maligned horror genre to this new series. These are not nasty little tales to be devoured guiltily or shamefully, away from the judgemental eyes of polite society. Del Toro would have you believe that these are beautiful and haunting dreams of a world and a reality just beyond our field of vision.
They indulge our deepest wishes, most heart-felt yearnings, and darkest fears. They are also devilishly entertaining, and a perfect confection for this Halloween season.