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Guillermo del Toro Makes a Fine Alfred Hitchcock with Cabinet of Curiosities

Netflix's new horror anthology gives the genre the respect it deserves.
  • Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities (Photo: Netflix)
    Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities (Photo: Netflix)

    There are a lot of horror stories out there, but there are very few horror showpeople. That’s why we still remember spooky anthology series hosted by Alfred Hitchock, Rod Serling, and Elvira. By introducing each episode of their respective shows, they provided some razzle dazzle and created a sense of occasion for each creepy tale. They assured us we were watching curated collections, worthy of our full attention.

    Guillermo del Toro brings that panache to the aptly named Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, his new horror anthology on Netflix. Channeling the iconic introduction to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the Oscar-winning director and producer brings an elegant, foreboding presence as master of ceremonies. He strides out from the darkness to say, "In centuries past, when the world was full of mystery and traveling was reserved for the very few, a new form of collection was born: the cabinet of curiosities." Aside from sounding an awful lot like the prologue to HBO's dearly departed Carnivàle, this description of the titular cabinet — full of secret drawers and hiding places — is also a handy metaphor for the series itself. There is always something new to discover that has been locked away in the dark.

    But it’s not just his stage presence that makes del Toro an ideal host. As a filmmaker, he’s always been frank about his love for horror cinema. You can sense it in the way he talks about the genre, incorporates horror elements in his non-horror movies like The Shape of Water, and enthuses about his favorites on best scary movies compilations. Unsurprisingly, then, he is an excellent curator of talent on this show, which he created and produces. As with any anthology, the episodes vary in subject matter, tone, and relative quality, but they're all worth a look.

    The two episodes premiering on October 25th are from directors Guillermo Navarro and Vincenzo Natali. Navarro, who won an Academy Award as the cinematographer on del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, tells a creeper about long-buried Nazi artifacts and the occult. Natali, who directed the daring creature feature Splice a decade ago, follows up with an entry about grave robbing and rats. The rest of the episodes run the gamut from supernatural to psychological. Some are laden with social allegory; some indulge in body horror. They all, to one degree or another, suffer from that all-too-common Netflix curse of being overlit, but they each carry more than enough of a directorial stamp to make them stand out.

    Along with Natali and Navarro, del Toro has also made space for Jennifer Kent, the celebrated director of The Babadook, often cited as one of the best horror films of the last decade; Ana Lily Amirpour, who directed the tremendously creepy vampire flick Girl Walks Home Alone at Night; David Prior, who made a splash in horror circles last year with The Empty Man; Keith Thomas, director of the unsettling indie The Vigil as well as the recent Firestarter remake; Panos Cosmatos, who made the deeply violent Nicolas Cage cult fave Mandy; and of course Catherine Hardwicke, who famously directed a little vampire film called Twilight.

    It's a thrilling mix of talent, one well worth the kind of grandiose platform that a filmmaker as accomplished as del Toro can provide. The rollout — two episodes released per day from October 25 to 28 — gives the whole endeavor the feel of a seasonal event, solidifying Cabinet of Curiosities as a horror series with style.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet Of Curiosities, Netflix, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Alfred Hitchcock, Ana Lily Amirpour, Catherine Hardwicke, David Prior, Guillermo del Toro, Guillermo Navarro, Jennifer Kent, Keith Thomas, Panos Cosmatos, Vincenzo Natali