All Eight Installments From Worst to Best
Acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro has made his career from his ventures into the strange and terrifying (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water, Pinocchio), so it was unsurprising when he began producing his own anthology series of horror stories with Netflix in 2022. Each episode of Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities is directed by an iconic name in filmmaking and tells its own contained story, very similar to the groundbreaking science fiction program The Twilight Zone. Cabinet even follows the tradition of The Twilight Zone by having a host (Del Toro in place of Rod Stewart) provide an introduction at the beginning of every episode.
However, also in the tradition of Zone, not every installment can be a winner. The first season of Cabinet has eight episodes, and while all have amazing talent in front of and behind the camera, some are more worth watching than others. As the Halloween season approaches, read through this ranking of every Cabinet of Curiosities episode to see which make the cut for a spooky binge night.
8. Ep. 6, “Dreams in the Witch House” (dir Catherine Hardwicke)
While no episode of Cabinet is outright awful, “Dreams in the Witch House” is clearly the weakest. The story is something that’s been done countless times: a young man named Walter (Rupert Grint) seeks to bring back his younger sister, Epperley (Daphne Hoskin), who died during their childhood. To do so, Walter goes to the house of a famous witch and takes a special drug to cross into another dimension, leading to a confrontation with the witch and her rat-human sidekick. To give credit where it’s due, the special effects for the witch look absolutely fantastic. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to save the episode from dull characters and a slow plot. Walter and Epperley don’t have very strong or memorable personalities that would endear them to the audience, and the idea of going into another realm to bring back a dead loved one has been done before in much more interesting ways (the myth of Orpheus and Pirates of the Caribbean, to name a few). Add on an unsatisfying ending, and this story goes from boring to slightly frustrating. Check out pictures of the witch online to see the creative design, but it’s not worth the time to actually watch the full episode.
7. Ep. 5, “Pickman’s Model” (dir. Keith Thomas)
Art can stir up deep emotions for people, but “Pickman’s Model” takes it to the next level. William Thurber (Ben Barnes) is studying to become an artist and meets a new student named Richard Pickman (Crispin Glover) in class. Pickman’s drawings are extremely evocative and depict human suffering in excruciating detail. Thurber soon starts to see the paintings move on their own, accompanied by sounds and voices, and experiences vivid dreams that haunt him even after he wakes up. The idea of paintings coming to life is an interesting one, and Thomas gives us a selection of intriguing imagery to accompany it. The acting is solid as well, with both Barnes and Glover turning in solid performances.
It’s the “message,” though, that doesn’t make much sense within the context of the story. Pickman argues that his paintings show the evil in life and allow him to embrace it, therefore controlling it. In other words, a person must acknowledge evil or it will overwhelm and destroy them. This could work if we saw how Thurber’s life was negatively impacted by him trying to ignore evil, but we don’t. In fact, his life seems great: he married the woman of his dreams, had a son with her, and lives in a very comfortable home. Furthermore, there are several attempts to show Thurber “pushing away” the darkness, such as getting angry at his wife for going to seances and disagreeing with his friends about their interest in darker-themed art, but it comes off more as his personal preferences than actively trying to avoid evil. In summary, Thurber is living a great life despite supposedly not acknowledging evil, and the scenes that are trying to show him not acknowledging evil don’t really show anything. The moral of the story might have been demonstrated through some more direct scenes; perhaps Thurber could have denied the existence of an evil-like crime and so constantly leaves his doors unlocked, resulting in his home being robbed or his family murdered. But in its current form, “Pickman’s Model” comes off as cluttered and unfinished.
6. Ep. 7, “The Viewing” (dir. Panos Cosmatos)
The title is misleading; don’t expect to see much of anything. Four people of various backgrounds are invited by the reclusive billionaire Mr. Lassiter (Peter Weller) for a mysterious “viewing.” Upon arriving at his sprawling compound, they have a conversation in a swanky orange room that takes up the majority of the runtime before the “viewing” occurs, which ends up going horribly wrong. The problem can be found right in the plot description: not much “viewing” happens at all. The episode relies heavily on atmosphere, and while it works for a time, it can’t support its hour-long runtime. Some points of the group conversation are interesting, but other parts don’t seem relevant (for example, what was the point of the doctor having a terrorist as her patient?) Once the characters enter a drug- and alcohol-induced stupor, it starts to feel like an indie film that has an overzealous faith in its own intelligence. When the actual “viewing” finally comes into play forty minutes later, it does result in a visually engaging sequence, but the novelty has significantly waned after having listened to six people philosophize for a half hour. From a technical standpoint (lighting, set design, etc), the quality is evident, but from a story perspective, it leaves much to be desired.
5. Ep. 1, “Lot 36” (dir. Guillermo Navarro)
“Lot 36” is the first episode of Cabinet and is directed by Mexican cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, a close collaborator of del Toro. The story follows a xenophobic veteran named Nick (Tim Blake Nelson) who buys abandoned storage units and sells the contents inside. He has recently acquired lot 36, and its previous owner had visited it every day for months before dying under mysterious circumstances. Nick has also acquired another unit that originally belonged to a woman named Amelia (Elpidia Carillo) but was sold after her bill was sent to the wrong address and led to her not paying the rent. Amelia asks Nick if she could remove her belongings from the unit, but he rudely denies her request. He then enters lot 36 and finds a seance table with an inlaid pentagram and several books about demonology that attract the interest of a prospective buyer, Roland (Sebastian Roche), but the men soon discover the dark truth of what Nick has found.
A storage unit with mysterious contents is a good premise for a story, especially horror, and the script does take advantage of this by creating an intriguing mystery with genuinely startling jumpscares and an exciting final reveal. There are several directions the plot could take, and the audience eagerly continues watching to find out what will happen next. It also provides a perfectly adequate lesson about racism and prejudice in American society, although it lacks some subtlety and nuance, in part due to Nick’s dialogue and performance. At the end of the day, it’s a short horror story that resembles the ones told around a late-night campfire, combined with an added layer of serviceable social commentary to make it unique.
4. Ep. 2, “Graveyard Rats” (dir. Vincenzo Natali)
The level of horror and discomfort in “Graveyard Rats” hinges on how much you fear rats and tight spaces. For those who do, this episode is literally and figuratively claustrophobic, leaving the audience no time to breathe easily. Masson (David Hewlett) is a grave robber, but he hasn’t found much success recently. The cause? The city’s rat population has started stealing entire bodies from their coffins. In an attempt to take back his livelihood, Masson follows the rodents into the tunnels they have dug under the city, only to discover that his problem is much bigger than he thought.
The set design for this episode is outstanding. The dirt and roots in the tunnels look real enough to reach through the screen and touch the real thing. The camera also stays tight on Masson in these scenes, making it feel like the viewer is in the tunnels with him. A lot of time is spent in these tunnels, but Masson’s constant shifting between determination and panic make each moment feel dynamic and unique. To summarize spoiler-free, there is a terrific use of practical effects, and the ending shot will burn itself into the memory of everyone who sees it. There are a few aspects holding this episode back, such as the somewhat strange line deliveries. At times it sounds like it was the first take and they never did another. Additionally, if someone doesn’t have claustrophobia or a fear of rats, the premise might not make them all that scared. Nonetheless, they can certainly still appreciate the eye-catching visuals and the ever-increasing suspense.
3. Ep. 4, “The Outside” (dir. Ana Lily Amapour)
Many people dream of becoming a better version of themselves, and companies jump at the chance to prey on their insecurities. This aspect of our culture becomes the focus of the fourth episode, “The Outside,” as Stacey (Kate Micucci) seeks to become more like the women at her workplace: beautiful, popular, and included. She sees an advertisement for the lotion that one of the women uses that speaks to her (literally) and orders it in bulk. Upon using the lotion, she starts experiencing major changes, much to the dismay of her loving husband Keith (Martin Starr), eventually leading her down a path she can’t come back from. The desire to fulfill Western standards of beauty and conventions of popularity has been explored countless times, so Stacey’s journey isn’t exactly novel. However, what is novel are the visual elements she encounters along the way, particularly the advertisement she interacts with and the lotion itself. Both are very creative and take liberties with the use of vivid colors and with the boundaries of what one would expect. Stacey’s character is another strong point thanks to some fantastic writing and an enthusiastic, empathetic performance from Micucci. Add in some smart uses of the fishbowl camera lens, and it’s got the makings of a surprising and entertaining episode.
2. Ep. 8, “The Murmuring” (dir. Jennifer Kent)
“The Murmuring” is not like a typical horror story. There are certainly familiar horror elements, but it’s more quiet, pensive, and focused on an emotion not usually seen in the genre: grief. After the death of their young daughter, ornithologists Nancy (Essie Davis) and Edgar (Andrew Lincoln) go to a secluded house to continue their work studying birds. The couple soon experience increasing tension in their relationship, from intimacy issues to Nancy seeing apparitions in the house that Edgar does not. As they come to learn the history of the house, they must also come to terms with their own loss and learn how to move forward after such a traumatic experience. The execution of this story almost makes it feel like it should have been a short film rather than an episode of Curiosities, boasting sweeping shots of the landscape around the house and evocative visual motifs. The acting is also outstanding, with Davis and Lincoln truly evoking the actions and feelings of a grieving parent. When the traditional staples of horror do make their appearance, they match the somber tone and are more sad than scary. This allows for the true horror–the death of a child–to take center stage and drive the plot forward. That being said, the traditional horror elements could have been more pronounced, which is what earns “The Murmuring” the second place slot. It’s a fantastic piece of television and well worth watching, but there is one episode that truly embodied the spirit of the series.
1. Ep. 3, “The Autopsy” (dir. David Prior)
“The Autopsy” is by far the best of all eight episodes of Cabinet of Curiosities. A slick combination of police procedural, science fiction, and gory horror, David Prior’s entry invites the audience to think about the nature of individuality and the physical form while simultaneously providing arguably the most gruesome violence of the entire series. Doctor Carl Winters (F. Murray Abraham) visits his friend Sheriff Nate Craven (Glynn Turman), who is currently investigating a strange crime in his town: almost ten people have gone missing, and the only body found was carved up and drained of blood. One of the missing townspeople, Eddie Sykes (Luke Roberts), turns up nine months later calling himself Joe Allen, prompting police to search his room. They find a mysterious pod, but Allen takes back the pod before jumping into a mine and killing everyone inside, including himself. As Dr. Winters investigates the bodies, he comes to a horrifying conclusion that could spell doom for not only the town but the entire world.
Without giving too much away, “The Autopsy” is a meticulously crafted tale that pits man against the unknown. The characters must fight for control over their own bodies and minds as their reality is slowly eaten away. The back half of the episode is filled with suspense that only intensifies as the body horror comes into play with sequences sure to make anyone squeamish. A sense of completion accompanies the ending along with a sense of dread for what could happen next, providing closure and food for thought at the same time. If you were only to check out one episode of Cabinet of Curiosities, make sure it’s this one.
Cabinet of Curiosities (2023) Official Netflix Trailer