A look inside “Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities”

This horror anthology is an uneven experiment, but it’s worth your time


Tony Rodriguez

Cabinet of Curiosities Illustration

“Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities” is an eight-episode horror anthology series. This season features work from directors Guillermo Navarro, Vincenzo Natali (“Splice”), David Prior (“The Empty Man”), Ana Lily Amirpour (“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”), Keith Thomas (“The Vigil”), Catherine Hardwicke (“Twilight”), Panos Cosmatos (“Mandy”) and Jennifer Kent (“The Babadook”).

Del Toro is, without a doubt, my favorite director of all time. His works range from beautiful art-house fantasy (“Pan’s Labyrinth” and Best Picture winner “The Shape of Water”) to stupid-fun action romps like “Pacific Rim,” but he always manages to make every project feel like a work of passion. His love of old-school horror movie monsters, fairy tales and anime shines through all of his work. This show, however, doesn’t feature any of his directorial work. Instead, he is relegated to a showrunner, producer, writer of two episodes and Rod Serling-reminiscent host. This is a pretty interesting concept on its own, and I really loved the choice of directors, as well as the fact that they were all given complete freedom with what they wanted to make. However, while I am a big supporter of creative freedom, this season’s quality is unfortunately inconsistent because of it.

One strong point for the entire season in particular is Cosmatos’ episode. His 2018 action/horror film “Mandy” is one of my all-time favorite genre films, and while that movie definitely benefited from Nicolas Cage’s perfectly unhinged performance, the film was also aided by its use of vibrant color and atmospheric settings. Thanks to del Toro, Cosmatos is able to play to his strengths in his episode of the show, which is probably one of the highlights of the season. Not only does the episode look beautiful and creepy, but there’s also a great sense of atmosphere. It really felt like I was watching a Panos Cosmatos movie, which is to say something that’s extremely original and well-directed.

This show also has some pretty fantastic practical effects and creature design, which actually manages to prop some of the worse episodes of the show. For example, the first episode had a fantastic last act with some really effective Lovecraftian horror, which is thankfully achieved with makeup and practical effects. There are a few moments with CGI, but a lot of it is used to actually add to the makeup, and most of it looks really good.

“Cabinet of Curiosities” also boasts a fantastic cast, which includes Tim Blake Nelson, F. Murray Abraham, Dan Stevens, Ben Barnes, Rupert Grint, Essie Davis, Andrew Lincoln and Eric André. For the most part, all of these actors deliver fitting performances. The only real complaint I had on the acting front was Nelson’s performance in the first episode, but a lot of that seems to be coming from the very lacking script.

However, that’s about all I can see in terms of consistent positives. The biggest problems with the show are with the individual episodes. I wouldn’t say that any of the episodes are particularly bad or anything, and I think that they’re all mostly competent in terms of directing. They’re all really well-shot and have fantastic practical effects, but in spite of that, I can’t say that most of these stories really stuck with me. The only real highlights are the episodes “Graveyard Rats,” “The Autopsy,” “Pickman’s Motel” and “The Viewing,” and while those episodes’ stories are pretty good, they’re definitely saved by their great directing.

Overall, “Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities” is an inconsistent but fascinating experiment in anthology horror, and I hope the show gets renewed for a second season. Even though I didn’t care for every single episode, I did enjoy the amount of creative freedom that each director was given.

Rating: 7/10