Tales from del Toro’s Dark Side – Cabinet of Curiosities (2022) Series Premiere

In Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, the Oscar-winning filmmaker behind The Shape of Water (2017) steps into Alfred Hitchcock’s shoes to act as both producer and on-screen host of an anthology drama series. Following his own proclivities, the show is more overtly horror-oriented than just mystery or suspense. In addition to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, it bears a lot of resemblance to other TV classics such as Night Gallery, Tales from the Darkside, and even (with the benefit of Netflix’s leniency toward profanity, nudity, and gore) HBO’s trashy Tales from the Crypt.

Del Toro has played around in television once or twice before, notably as creator and producer of the vampire drama The Strain, which somehow ran for four very underwhelming seasons on FX from 2014-2017. This show seems to have more potential than that one. At the same time, the anthology format also brings a host of limitations that may hold it back from greatness.

Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities (2022) - Tim Blake Nelson
Title:Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities
Episodes:1.01 – Lot 36
1.02 – Graveyard Rats
Release Date: Oct. 25, 2022
Watched On: Netflix

For some reason, Netflix has chosen to roll out Cabinet of Curiosities in an unusual release pattern. Rather than a full-season binge all at once, the series debuted with two episodes on a Tuesday, to be followed by two additional episodes each day for the remainder of the week, totaling eight in all for the season. That means more episodes will have aired by the time this article is published, but at the time of writing I only have the first two to judge by.

Episode 1.01 – Lot 36

The first episode was written by del Toro and directed by his longtime cinematogapher Guillermo Navarro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, etc.). Tim Blake Nelson stars as a racist lowlife named Nick Appleton, who purchases a storage locker at auction after its owner dies, hoping to scavenge enough value out of the trinkets and random junk to pay off his mounting debts. The most promising item he finds is a wooden wheel with an elaborate pentagram carved into it, which an appraiser informs him is a séance table used to summon demons. Inside a hidden compartment, he also discovers three books of Satanic writing.

Nick doesn’t believe in or give a damn about the occult; he just wants to score some quick cash. He finds a prospective buyer in a collector (Sebastian Roché), who offers him a small fortune if he can also locate the very rare fourth book volume. The two men then head to the 24-hour storage facility in the middle of the night to search the unit. As you’d imagine, doing so was perhaps not the smartest decision, and they wind up awakening something best left alone.

Nelson delivers a fine performance playing a very unlikable character, and the episode has some effective atmosphere and scares. A running bit about the storage facility’s lights being on a timer that keeps expiring at inopportune moments is a clever way to build suspense. On the other hand, the episode has no characters worth caring about, is mostly confined to a single bland location, and ultimately devolves into routine stalk-and-chase tropes followed by a gimmick shock ending.

Episode 1.02 – Graveyard Rats

The second episode was directed by Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Splice), who must be awfully busy these days, having also recently helmed the premiere of Amazon’s The Peripheral. Set somewhere in the late 19th or early 20th Century, this one concerns a cemetery owner named Masson (David Hewlett) who resorts to robbing the graves he’s supposed to tend in order to pay his debts. (Wait, this is already starting to sound familiar.) Another disreputable loser, Masson suffers from claustrophobia and voices what sound like paranoid delusions about rats somehow stealing bodies after he’s buried them.

When a wealthy shipping magnate dies and is buried with a mouthful of gold fillings and a priceless bejeweled saber in his hands, Masson is eager to dig up the body before the rats get to it. Sadly, the moment he opens the casket, he witnesses the corpse being dragged away down a tunnel. In desperation, he crawls in and chases after it, soon finding himself lost in an underground labyrinth that leads to the remains of a Satanic “black church.” (Yes, I definitely sense a theme here.), Thus follows some stalking, chasing, and a lot of grotesque unpleasantness involving a giant rat monster and a zombie.

Graveyard Rats suffers a lot of the same problems as Lot 36, including an unsympathetic lead and limited locations. Its story (a dirtbag who steals from the dead is terrorized by the leftover workings of a Satanic cult) is also uncomfortably similar to the first episode, which makes me question the wisdom of opening the series with both played back-to-back.

That’s not enough for me to write off the whole series, of course. One can hope that subsequent episodes may be more compelling. However, anthology shows like this – especially horror anthologies – all too often rely on simplistic shock tactics and zinger twist endings, both of which are already the case here. I also find it very difficult to get invested in characters I know I’ll never see again.

Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities (2022) - David Hewlett

Video Streaming

Netflix streams Cabinet of Curiosities in 4K HDR with Dolby Atmos audio. The opening introduction and credits are both presented at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. After the credits, each episode has its own unique ratio. Lot 36 is 2.00:1 while Graveyard Rats is full-screen 16:9. Trailers for the show suggest that later episodes may be 2.20:1 or wider.

Along similar lines, each episode may employ its own distinct photographic style. Both of the first two are decently sharp and detailed. Lot 36 has rich colors and inky black levels, with a subtle but effective application of HDR. Graveyard Rats is much grainier for effect (the grain is actually rather noisy and may be artificial) with colors desaturated to nearly black-and-white in many scenes.

The Atmos audio is hardly noticeable at all in Lot 36. The claustrophobic Graveyard Rats makes better use of it, with distinct overhead activity during a tunnel collapse sequence. Neither episode has much in the way of bass or dynamics.


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