A ranking of the deliciously frightening series' episodes.

The season for spooking, witching, and scaring is upon us, and the highly anticipated GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S CABINET OF CURIOSITIES has bestowed upon us not a trick, but a real treat, just in time for Halloween. The anthology series of horror shorts has been curated by Del Toro himself, showcasing his macabre taste in a delightful collection of frightful episodes of the gothic, cosmic, and even body horror varieties, all of them tied together by a commonly Lovecraftian/nihilistic feel.

The series is hosted by del Toro (PAN’S LABYRINTH, CRIMSON PEAK, THE SHAPE OF WATER), who greets his audience amidst his cabinet of curiosities; an obelisk of drawers and doors, each housing an item that appears within the story about to be told. The style is reminiscent of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. In a day and age of influencers and social media stars seeming to be the tastemakers of society, it’s refreshing to see an actual filmmaker share his macabre curations, adding to the authenticity of the series. The show is produced by del Toro, who helps out with a couple of writing credits, but the shorts are mostly based on pre-existing short stories, and all are directed by established or up-and-coming horror filmmakers. You’ll notice a refreshing amount of women writers and filmmakers here, which has been sorely missing from the genre until all too recently. At its core, the series is giving TALES FROM THE CRYPT vibes with a little more panache.

The truth is there’s not a bad episode in the series. They each have their merits, and while some are better than others, they all shine in their own ways. I’ve decided to rank them from my least to most favorite based on the impressions they left on me and their merits in filmmaking, but this in no way means that any of these episodes are bad. They should all be enjoyed, and I encourage watching them in the order in which del Toro has curated them to be presented.

So here we go…

8th place: E1 LOT 36
Based on a short story by Guillermo del Toro with a teleplay by Regina Corrado and del Toro. Directed by Guillermo Navarro (cinematographer, PAN’S LABYRINTH), the story centers on an indebted, bigoted man living in the early ’90s who purchases the storage unit of a deceased man in a blind auction and, you guessed it, horrific events ensue. The story is interesting and feels like an appropriate kick-off to the series, but in the end, it offers very little I haven’t seen before and feels a bit disjointed. It is, however, enjoyable.

7th place: E8 THE MURMERING
Based on a short story by del Toro, the episode is written and directed by Jennifer Kent (THE BABADOOK). It follows a married couple in the 50s who study the habits of birds and find themselves in a house filled with grief and pain. The finale episode is in no way a bad episode. After viewing it, you will understand why it needed to be the final episode of the season. However, it’s a bit of a slow burn and the scares in it offer nothing new. It’s giving me Shirley Jackson vibes, which I love, but compared to the other episodes in the season, this one is aiming for more of an emotional response. It’s effective and very well-acted and directed.

6th place: E5 PICKMAN’S MODEL
Certainly the bleakest of the installments, the episode is based on an H.P. Lovecraft short of the same name. With a teleplay by Lee Patterson and directed by Keith Thomas (the terrible FIRESTARTER remake), the installment follows the story fairly closely, embellishing where it needs to, but in my opinion, perhaps tries to cover too much ground for an hour-long episode. An art student is shown his classmate’s hellish nightmare of a painting, the mere sight setting off terrifying events—evil ensues. It’s about as Lovecraftian as you can get and a very good adaptation of his cosmic themes. It’s very well-acted, and an appearance by a Boston-dialect Crispin Glover will keep you glued.

Another Lovecraft tale makes its way into the series, penned by Mika Watkins and directed by Catherine Hardwicke (RED RIDING HOOD). Her past foray into fantasy horror helps in this tale, which wins the award for best creature design, and it’s fun to see HARRY POTTER’S Rupert Grint flaunt a Massachusetts accent and fight a witch. A brother whose twin sister died when they were young is determined to find a way to the other side, no matter the cost. And boy, is there a cost. Visually beautiful and cheeky, it captures something many people miss in Lovecraft stories: fun (There’s not much, but it’s there).

4th place: E3 THE AUTOPSY
Based on a short story by Michael Shea, teleplay by David S. Goyer, and directed by David Prior (THE EMPTY MAN), we follow a terminally ill forensic pathologist (F. Murray Abraham) performing autopsies on the remains of those killed in a recent mining accident. While not based on a Lovecraft tale, it certainly captures the spirit and offers a very unique take on the lore. Makeup effects are excellent here and it features wonderful performances all around.

3rd place: E2 GRAVEYARD RATS
While I enjoyed the first episode, this second installment is the one that got me hooked. Based on the short by Henry Kuttner, the episode is penned and directed by Vincenzo Natali (CUBE, SPLICE). I’d seen this story adapted to screen once before in the less-than-memorable made-for-TV sequel TRILOGY OF TERROR 2—it was the best story in that film and one of the best in this series as well. An indebted graveyard groundskeeper is robbing graves to pay his debts when he discovers there’s more than just corpses lurking six feet under. The short is effective, scary, gross, and original (And better than its previous screen iteration—I’m actually really glad to see this story get a much better adaptation than the previous attempt).

2nd place: E4 THE OUTSIDE
I must admit: putting this episode in second place rather than first hurts a little bit. I loved it. Based on a webcomic by Emily Carroll, with a teleplay by Haley Z. Boston and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour (the perfect A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT), the episode tells the tale of a homely, awkward, lonely woman who wants to be beautiful and fit in with her coworkers. Kate Micucci stars (and shines) as our pitiful protagonist—her comedic and voice-acting chops come into full swing here, but it’s fun to see her take her usual silly/mousy type a macabre step further. She’s always a joy to watch, and here she gives my favorite performance in the series. The episode sets a much different, though welcome, tone than the others and is by far the most unusual—and nothing but fun to watch (I actually watched it twice).

1st place: E7 THE VIEWING
If you saw the 2018 horror fever dream MANDY starring Nicolas Cage and directed by Panos Cosmatos, you already know what to expect from this film. Directed by Cosmatos and co-written by him and Aaron Stewart-Ahn, a reclusive bazillionaire (ROBOCOP himself, Peter Weller) curates an elite group of strangers to view the latest addition to his mysterious gallery under the influence of some pretty heavy substances. The episode perfectly reflects Cosmatos’ drug-fueled nightmare world sensibility, leans into its late 70’s setting, and leaves its audience laughing in disbelief with a “WTF did I just watch” look on their face. It’s a modern take on Lovecraft and precisely what I wanted from the bizarre filmmaker.

And there you have it: all eight episodes of CABINET OF CURIOSITIES ranked from my least to most favorite. Again, I can’t express enough that every episode is good, and I highly recommend watching them all. In the dark. Alone. If you dare.


Ricky J Duarte

[He/him/his] Ricky is an actor, singer, and writer in New York City. He's also the host of the RICK OR TREAT HORRORCAST podcast. Passions include: theme parks, Disney villains, and watching horror movies with his cat. He's also on a constant quest for the best taco truck in NYC.

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