Horror Variety: Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities

Eight episodes of Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities were released on Netflix ahead of Halloween this year. This horror anthology series, as the title suggests, features stories curated by the Maestro of Monsters, Guillermo del Toro. Aside from being the series' creator, the Mexican filmmaker also serves as an executive producer and co-writer on two episodes.

Those who have been following the director's work for nearly five decades can expect lavish and detailed productions, ancient story settings, beautiful aesthetics with gothic elements, and unusual but memorable monsters.

Del Toro appears in each episode opener, as does a clockpunk-style mechanical cabinet with many drawers and hidden spaces. The creator appears as an introduction to the story—just an introduction because the eight stories were directed by eight different people.

And now we have eight directors, eight stories, and eight distinct horrors.

1. Lot 36

The first episode of this series, set in 2003, is a story with the "most modern" setting in the series' catalog. Nick Appleton, a war veteran who is also right-wing and xenophobic, wins an auction from an old German man who turns out to be an occultist on the Nazi side during WWII. The German left behind not only the antiques that Nick could sell for a profit to pay off his debts but also the demons imprisoned within his sister's body.

The main character "damages" the long build-up of a captivating story by rashly breaking the pentacle that shackles the devil. The atmosphere of being trapped with demons whose designs are imaginative makes this episode quite gripping.

Tim Blake Nelson does a good job as a bad guy. Lot 36 could include social issues such as racial prejudice and moral messages in about 40 minutes. This episode could be even better if the antagonist also gets a portion of his own story completed.

2. Graveyard Rats

Graveyard Rats has a similar theme to the previous episode in that the main character is frantically chasing treasure to pay off his debts. Masson, the grave robber, will forego his dignity and his fear of rats and cramped spaces to steal the treasures of the dead. In the underground temple, he encountered not only a giant rat monster but also living skeletons.

This episode contains many detailed gory scenes with dull coloring and fantasy scoring. It becomes an episode that depicts the horrors of survival and is not suitable for claustrophobic or musophobic viewers.

The first two episodes, like classic horror, contain moral messages. Even though it may not feel as new to horror fans, both films are well packaged and executed.

3. The Autopsy

The Autopsy is nearly an hour long, which is longer than the previous two episodes. The autopsy, which involves Carl Winters and bloodless corpses, occupies most of its time. They died mysteriously after a "bomb" from the outside world exploded in a mine.

The autopsy, which is shown in great detail, becomes increasingly intense, leading to one's own autopsy and even the destruction of one's own body. This is because of a small parasitic alien known as the Traveler. That is the root cause of citizen deaths and disappearances. The Traveler's goal is to take over the body it is in. The alien moves and speaks through its host's body, explaining its motivations and method of operation.

This horror will make us think of the Alien film. Consider the possibility that an alien creature enters your body while you are sleeping and takes over your body. You suddenly feel more concerned about that than about breaking into graves or encountering Nazi demons.

The story, horror, and dialogue are all effective. One of, if not the, best episodes of the series.

4. The Outside

Acceptance, harmony, peace, and divinity. All of this is a lie. We all want to be visually appealing. Those words are embedded in a beauty product advertisement. But they are everything to Stacey, especially the last point. Acceptance from her husband is insufficient. Acceptance from her bank colleagues is far more important for the mullet-haired woman who enjoys taxidermy.

The Outside is a cynical satire on advertising, TV, and, of course, the beauty industry, based on the story of The Ugly Duckling with a makeover trope in a romantic comedy-like setting. It is a completely different type of horror. Its unique storytelling style is also a welcome change in the middle of the series.

The terror will be amplified if it is accompanied by an explanation for Stacey's denial and why she repeats ad copy when arguing with her husband. Is it solely motivated by insecurity? Is it a dangerous side effect of the Alo Glo lotion?

Of course, not all stories, including horror, must include a moral message or piece of advice. The Outside's cynicism will feel stronger if it is accompanied by more solid argument points.

5. Pickman's Model

Will Thurber, a young painter, is always looking for fun and beauty in everything. Except in the works of his colleague Richard Pickman, he almost always found it. Pickman's brush strokes are not just eccentric; they are always about interpreting objects and the dark world.

His paintings cause Thurber to have visions, followed by the appearance of voices worshiping a monstrous entity in the Lovecraft universe. Pickman's works disrupt Thurber's sense of reality and even his life. These works do not simply emerge from Pickman's mind. It is his entire life.

Pickman's Model could also be interpreted as a story about artist jealousy. This episode not only relates to socio-cultural conditions but also shows that horror always begins with the "seed" that is sown. Thurber's son, for example, only sees the apparition after meeting Pickman and being exposed to his stories.

Pickman's Model, besides examining the connection between the artist's experience and horror, emphasizes that art, like a virus, can infect those who are exposed to it. This is a simple story with a surprising ending that opens the door to fear.

6. Dreams in the Witch House

Walter Gilman witnesses his twin sister being dragged by a spirit into the Forest of Lost Souls, a kind of limbo for those who aren't ready to leave this life. In his search for a psychic or medium who can guide him to the "forest," Gilman discovers Native American-made drugs, and a house haunted by Keziah Mason, a witch who was executed in the past.

Lovecraft's transfer of rides, like the previous episodes, features an obsessive main character. It depicts a hazy line between personal insanity and genuine horror. It still discusses the relationship between art and spectacle.

The search for interdimensional gates is just one example of Lovecraft's "universe as a huge haunted house." The manifestation is included in the story of coping with the loss of a loved one, and it could be interpreted as an allegory of drug addiction.

Although it is quite interesting from a fantasy standpoint, this episode does not appear to be the best.

7. The Viewing

Co-written by Panos Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn, The Viewing is set in the late 1970s. Lionel Lassiter, a wealthy man, invites several influential people from their respective fields to a secret meeting in his strange home.

Strange, abnormal, and odd are all words that can describe The Viewing. We can disregard the reason these influential people did not refuse the mysterious invitation because the story will focus on their meeting later. We can also consider the entire atmosphere and delivery as an attempt by Cosmatos to present an atmosphere that is completely foreign and uncomfortable but still visually appealing.

The characters' long conversations and whiskey, marijuana, and Peruvian cocaine concoctions are clearly depressingly unique, making us forget we're watching something involving del Toro. This story also takes a strange turn when a celestial body from the Lassiter collection spawns an alien after being exposed to marijuana smoke. Some of the guests are also killed during the alien "birth."

The long story's construction leads to an entity that actually requires help. It takes over Lassiter's body and gives him the ability to generate electrical energy. He has no solution other than to arrive in the city and disrupt the surrounding electricity.

This is the story of a collector who becomes a collection. This episode may divide the audience: either they love The Viewing or they think it's a waste of time.

8. The Murmuring

Nancy and Edgar Bradley have recently lost their child. Despite their grief, the two continue to excel in their field of ornithology. The couple's research success is inversely proportional to their personal lives. Their family is gradually disintegrating.

This episode's horror ending is predictable. It comprises "only" a tense atmosphere and a jump scare. Maybe some viewers find it boring.

The theme of loss and acceptance makes The Murmuring a compelling dark drama. Essie Davis gave a convincing performance as a sympathetic main character, but she was difficult to like. The beautiful setting screams melancholy, but thankfully, it does not become a depressing tale.

Excellent Anthology

Apart from horror, there is no common thread running through all the stories in this anthology. Neither are the stories always set in the distant past, as is del Toro's custom. The Salem witch trials are here to set several stories in motion. Similarly, mice appear in several episodes as part of the plot.

Most of the stories result from human curiosity or survival instincts that cause harm. Meanwhile, some stories deal with loss and acceptance. Everything is well packaged—nearly on par with del Toro's films—with an impressively grotesque look for such a gory subject.

Of course, many variables must be considered to reach a "good horror" conclusion. Whether it's the form, the narrative, how boring or fresh the plot is, and so on. Audience opinions are also likely to differ, owing to diverse experiences, psychological backgrounds, and cultural backgrounds.

Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities may not be frightening enough. It certainly does not place as much emphasis on novelty or experimentation as recent popular horror titles. Several titles appear to be better suited to being present for a longer period. Some titles add to the horror genre, and some you will quickly forget.

Despite this, as an anthology, there is no significant quality gap between episodes. Creating a variety of dishes that are quite intriguing to follow. Each is accompanied by a fantasy story or drama that is suitable to watch during Halloween or not.