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Guillermo del Toro's Curiosities, Ranked.
A worst-to-best ranking of all eight episodes from The Cabinet of Curiosities.
Guillermo del Toro has followed in the footsteps of the master, Alfred Hitchcock, and officially has his own version of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. What Guillermo del Toro presents on Netflix is very on-brand, an anthology of spine-tingling and hair-raising stories aptly titled The Cabinet of Curiosities.
Fans of the great director’s more monstrous horrors will be happy to hear that the eight notable artifacts from this cabinet lean more towards Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone and Crimson Peak in spirit than his other, less scarier, films (The Shape of Water, Pan’s Labyrinth).
Fans will be less happy to hear that none of the eight short stories reach the artistic heights of any of del Toro’s own films (tellingly, he has not directed a single one of the episodes himself). That said, I sat through all eight and almost all are worthy to be presented by him.
I’d rate the entire anthology of curiosities a solid 7 out of 10 dead cats, but here’s how I’d rank each episode in order of their nightmarishly original storytelling and horrifically stunning visuals - two of my favorite things about Guillermo del Toro’s cinema.
8. Episode 1 - Lot 36
The political one, directed by Guillermo Navarro.
The originality of the concept is tainted by the overt politics that’s forced down our throats. The repugnant nature of the main character (played with appropriate sleaze and wretchedness by the great Tim Blake Nelson) mostly stems from how far right he is politically. You can see the ending from a mile away, and it doesn’t help that the monster is more ridiculous than scary.
An original enough concept with stereotypical scare tactics employed well, but not the best way to start off the series. On other hand, it just gets better from here.
7. Episode 2 - Graveyard Rats
The savage one, directed by Vincenzo Natali.
Slightly better than the first episode, although still centered around a main character (David Hewlett) you'd rather see more dead than alive. Not for the faint of heart if you’re mildly claustrophobic or find rats disgusting - this story about a grave robber is elevated by its 19th century context and a final shot that’s absolutely savage in the way it’s embedded with permanent horror.
Vincenzo Natali - director of Cube, an indie horror I really enjoyed - knows how to direct his way around tight spaces and proves it here once again.
6. Episode 6 - Dreams in the Witch House
The fantastical one, directed by Catherine Hardwicke.
This episode is based on an H.P. Lovecraft short story, and from what I’ve gleaned it has angered a lot of H.P. Lovecraft fans. I’m not familiar with Lovecraft’s original so I can’t speak to that. All I know is that Rupert Grint of Harry Potter fame should get more roles like this and the design - especially the witch, Keziah Mason (Lize Johnston) - is fantastic in every delectable sense of the word.
Is it a little silly? Yes. Does it feature a rat with the face of a man and a heavy Irish accent? Also yes. Is it bloody entertaining? Definitely.
5. Episode 7 - The Viewing
The stylish one, directed by Panos Cosmatos.
Mandy director Panos Cosmatos helms the episode that makes the least amount of narrative sense. Something tells me this one is meant to be more sensual than cerebral though, and therein lies its originality. A stylish, sleek, dystopian mystery set in the 1970s but with production design that screams hellish vision of the future; it also features a delicious performance by the man who will forever be RoboCop, Peter Weller.
With a soundtrack that Nicolas Winding Refn would be proud of and another brilliant ending, The Viewing grows on you.
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4. Episode 4 - The Outside
The demented one, directed by Ana Lily Amirpour.
This one is the most ostentatiously directed of all the stories, an absolutely demented tragi-comic story about Stacey (a perfect Kate Micucci), an introverted taxidermist who becomes completely obsessed with a fashionable skin cream. A satire on our slavish relationship with television (Requiem for a Dream vibes) and a blackly humorous horror that’s got strong feminist roots without being preachy. How refreshing.
Maybe a little over-directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, The Outside is still way more interesting and unexpected than what its somewhat tepid title suggests.
3. Episode 3 - The Autopsy
The disturbing one, directed by David Prior.
We’re getting to the really good stuff now, and The Autopsy comes just in time to keep the spectator fully engaged in The Cabinet since it plays right after two of the anthology’s weakest links. I could watch F. Murray Abraham in anything, and here he’s perfectly cast as a medical examiner dying of terminal cancer, confronted with his most challenging case. Not for the faint of heart if close-ups of dead corpses isn’t your jam, but overall a wonderful short story full of unpredictable twists and turns.
It gets bonus points for being a genuine murder mystery too, boasting another ending that will leave you speechless.
2. Episode 8 - The Murmuring
The creepy one, directed by Jennifer Kent.
Jennifer Kent reteams with her Babadook star Essie Davies for a frightfully creepy story about a haunted house. While not completely unpredictable, the journey that Nancy (Davies) goes through is the most emotional and cathartic ride in the entire series. The Murmuring also features the best acting from the whole cabinet, Davies and Walking Dead alumni Andrew Lincoln brilliantly playing a couple with deeply buried grief and an overtly dorky passion for birds.
That the main characters are ornithologists gives the film a refreshing perspective, but what really sets it apart from most of the other entries is how genuinely hair-raising it is with its horror. It’s a real rush!
1. Episode 5 - Pickman’s Model
The horrific one, directed by Keith Thomas.
While Jennifer Kent’s entry is the creepiest, Keith Thomas directs the most horrific tale in the The Cabinet of Curiosities. The hallucinations that William (Ben Barnes) experiences after he takes one look at the genuinely blood-curdling paintings by the odd Pickman (a magnificently eerie performance by Crispin Glover, who seriously needs a new agent) is where this anthology shines the brightest. If brightness is measured by degrees of pure horror.
This story has it all - witches, monsters and psychological torment. And the ending, oh that ending. The very definition of truly unforgettable terror.
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