Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities: Ranked

by thethreepennyguignol

Hurrah! More anthology horror. I’m a passionate fan of all things anthology horror – in case the last month didn’t tip you off – and when I heard about the Cabinet of Curiosities, an anthology bringing together a collection of brilliant horror directors under the banner of Guillermo Del Toro’s amazing legacy, I knew I was going to be obsessed.

And I am! I finished it last week and I still want to talk about it with everyone I encounter, so apologies in advance if you’re unlucky enough to serve me a coffee in the next month while I try to explain why I think Kate Micucci’s hair is so significant to the symbolism of the plot in that one episode. So, here I am, ranking all the episodes just to get some opinions off my chest. Let’s get to it!

PS: I’m also a horror author with plenty of my own work for you to judge! Check out my horror short here, my short story collection here, and my novel Lagrasse here.

8. The Viewing – Panos Cosmatos

There’s got to be a last place, even though I don’t think there are any outright bad episodes of Cabinet of Curiosities, and for me, it’s The Viewing. Panos Cosmatos taps into a gorgeous retro-futuristic aesthetic for his curious seventies period piece, but it lacks some of the heart that makes the other episodes of this season so special. I love the cast in this, especially Eric Andre and Sofia Boutella, and it has a fun, woozy, strung-out atmosphere that helps build to the cosmic finale, but it doesn’t quite hit the spot for me in the way the other stories do.

If You Liked This, Watch: Beyond the Black Rainbow, Panos Costmatos’ psychedelic 2010 debut.

7. Dreams in the Witch House – Catherine Hardwicke

Twilight has been having something of a cultural renaissance recently, and I’m really glad to see the extremely talented director of the original movie, Catherine Hardwicke, get some love in the mainstream horror community. Her HP Lovecraft Adaptation, Dreams in the Witch House, is one of the most gorgeously and all-envelopingly gothic pieces of the entire show (which is really saying something), featuring probably the best creature design across every episode – the woody, witchy Keziah is instantly iconic, eyes glowing out of the darkness in nightmares like a sleep paralysis demon. The exploration of early 1900s spirituality is something I’ve always found really fascinating, so this episode already comes in with a leg-up for me, even if the talking-rat-centric finale does seem a little hacky for what comes before. Rupert Grint puts in a great turn as the lead, but then, it’s not like Hardwicke doesn’t know how to get the best out of peely-wally British actors, is it?

If You Liked This, Watch: Thirteen, Catherine Hardwicke’s early-noughties coming-of-age drama.

6. Lot 36 – Guillermo Navarro

We’re into the stuff now that I truly have nothing bad to say about, it’s all just a matter of splitting hairs over stuff I happened personally to enjoy more. Lot 36, starring my beloved Tim Blake Nelson (even if he doesn’t say Oklahoma like I want him to), is the opening episode of the show, and it works beautifully in that slot: it’s exploratory, mysterious, and instantly intriguing, a heavy smattering of social commentary mixing with the gothic esoterica to make a strange but surprisingly effective mix. It’s a slow but satisfying build, a perfectly-encapsulated short story with a nasty, well-earned ending.

If You Liked This, Watch: Guillermo Navarro’s fantastic episodes of Hannibal, just as gorgeously grotesque as this.

5. The Outside – Ana Lily Amipour

The Outside is probably the most stylistically distinct and witty episode of Cabinet of Curiosities, and it’s certainly the one that’s lingered in my mind the longest – I get the feeling this would go up a few slots on a second watch, with more time to pick out the smaller details and lace them into the broader story. The candy-coloured fashion and decor of the late eighties and early nineties serve as a perfect backdrop for the gross, oozing, pustule of horror within, and a brilliant performance from Kate Micucci serves as the centrepoint to this beauty-tutorial-cum-body-horror. It also features probably my favourite little aspect of any of the episodes, Dan Stevens as the odd, unsettling, and hypnotic late-night TV peddler of murderous ooze, his accent somewhere between Germanic and Vincent Price. It’s an incredibly unique piece, with an eerie, well-earned build towards a superb climax

If You Liked This, Watch: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. If you haven’t already. Which you should have.

4. Pickman’s Model – Keith Thomas

Pickman’s Model is the only episode that actually got me to avert my eyes from the screen, so, kudos to Keith Thomas, I guess? Another HP Lovecraft adaptation, Thomas builds on the ideas of the original story to make something even more stomach-churning and sickening. Crispin Glover as the titular Pickman is perfectly cast, his oddness and strange reservation matched with occasional intensity making him one of the most compelling villains of the whole show, and it doesn’t flinch away from really delivering on the jaw-droppingly horrible sting at the end. The monster designs are appropriately unfathomable, and the slow, inevitable build is laced with dread and horror as Ben Barnes careens towards a horrendous finale.

If You Liked This, Watch: Keith Thomas’ deeply unsettling single-handed horror, The Vigil.

3. Graveyard Rats – Vincenzo Natali

Now, Vincenzo Natali loves to put people in enclosed spaces to see what they’ll do, and Graveyard Rats takes that to it’s natural entombed conclusion. David Hewlett is probably my favourite lead across the whole series, a wheeling-dealing graverobber posing as the honourable steward of the graveyard, and his journey into an underground hellscape of giant rats and black magic is enormously entertaining. Graveyard Rats works on so many levels for me – as a period piece, as a very visceral claustrophobic horror, and as a meditation on the dead – Natali’s slightly psychedelic but very precise style works beautifully here, a mix of control and outright oddness, and the final sting is suitably nasty and mean.

If You Liked This, Watch: Cube, Natali’s cult bizarro classic.

2. The Autopsy

Of all the directors I was looking forward to in this show, David Prior was at the top of the list – after his amazing The Empty Man in 2020, I wanted to see what else he could do, and The Autopsy is a damn fine piece of proof of his skill, passion, and knowledge of the genre. A noirish science-fiction horror, featuring a tremendously warm and watchable performance from F Murray Abraham as the lead, it’s got some genuinely creepy moments and a super-intense climax that doesn’t rely on outright misery to bring it home.

If You Liked This, Watch: Prior’s tremendous adaptation of The Empty Man.

  1. The Murmuring – Jennifer Kent

Now, there are no bad episodes of this show, but there is one that stands head and shoulders above the rest, and it’s Jennifer Kent’s fucking incredible The Murmuring. Jennifer Kent enjoys ripping my heart out personally and then serving it to me on a plate and that’s just what she does here. The Murmuring is a picture of restraint, an incredibly tight script relying on a brilliant Andrew Lincoln and I-Never-Expect-Lessie Davis to bring out the agonizing, unspoken grief between a couple dealing with the untimely loss of their daughter. It’s a classic bump-in-the-night ghost story that builds a superb atmosphere and intertwines too utterly compelling stories the way only a true master of the craft can. It’s so cinematic, outrageously handsome (and I’m not just talking about Andrew Lincoln), and it’s the perfect way to end the series on an exceptional high.

If You Liked This, Watch: The Babadook. Which, if I had to put a pin it, is probably the best horror movie ever made.

What did you think of Cabinet of Curiosities? Where does each episode rank on your list? Let me know in the comments below!

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(header image via Fiction Horizon)