Guillermo del Toros cabinet of curiosities modernizes the horror anthology. In the same way as Stories from the Crypt, night galleryand Alfred Hitchcock giftsit brings together a group of horror directors to take on 60-minute stories, often adaptations of existing fiction. The Babadook Director Jennifer Kent, for example, ends the series with a story that generates a lot of attention.
Deviating from its typical model, Netflix releases two episodes a day for four days. While you can watch the series in any order, episodes 3 and 4 are the strongest of the uneven show, making for a perfectly curated double feature.
Episode 3, “The Autopsy”, is based on and directed by Michael Shea, a Hugo nominated short story The Empty Man Director David Prior. It stars F. Murray Abraham as Dr. Carl Winters, a coroner called in for a special investigation following a mining accident. Working in a makeshift lab, he’s taking notes when he discovers that some of the bodies have run out of blood… and that one may still be alive.
Without spoiling too much, this episode deals more with sci-fi than horror. The investigations of Dr. Winters quickly progresses from a routine autopsy to a struggle for survival and ultimately a battle of wits against something not of this earth.
Abraham takes on his character with restrained resignation. As a coroner, he has a no-nonsense approach to mortality, which makes his own destiny seem like no big deal. When faced with an alien threat, he doesn’t worry about himself, just focusing on containing the damage. There’s plenty of body horror (be careful if you’re squeamish when it comes to eyeballs), but also plenty of cerebral discussion about how exactly we define a soul. And like all good horror stories, there’s a final shocking twist.
Then there’s Episode 4, The Outside, directed by A girl goes home alone at night‘s Ana Lily Amirpour and is based on a short story by Emily Carroll. This episode – by far the lightest of the series – follows Stacy (Kate Micucci), a banker and amateur taxidermist who lives with her supportive husband (Martin Starr).
Stacy is just a role Garfunkel and Oates‘ Micucci could play. Her unique voice and doe-eyed gaze (amplified with a lazy SFX eye) add a layer of humanity to this tale about a woman who believes a mystical lotion makes her beautiful. Despite her allergic reaction to the formula and her husband’s insistence that she is beautiful inside and out, she digs a rabbit hole of devotion to the product, ultimately leading to a delusional state that calls “The Yellow Wallpaper” like a nursery rhyme sounds.
Both episodes explore how a person interacts with their body and both star character actors with great comedic skills. But while they’re similar, they have incredibly different tones and attitudes. “The Outside” appropriately focuses on the external influence we have on how people perceive us by satirizing the beauty industry, while “The Autopsy” focuses on how we can fight our bodies on the inside, even when they betray us .
Anthology series rarely have such synergistic themes, but it’s clear that thought has been given to them cabinet of curiosities publication order, and these two episodes are designed as companion pieces. If you only watch one day of this series, do it today.
Guillermo del Toro’s cabinet of curiosities now streaming on Netflix.