Monsters in the Cupboard – Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities review

As an occasional writer of short stories, an anthology is always an interesting prospect. Whether it’s flash fiction, short films or short comics, sometimes it’s just nice to dig into a collection of bite-sized stories. However, I can see why anthologies may put people of: Not everyone likes shorter media and the potential downsides it brings; it can also be tricky if you don’t connect with many of the stories or overarching themes within a collection.

The scripts and talented directors that Del Toro has assembled for Cabinet of Curiosities promise an interesting series, if nothing else. There’s variety to be had in the stories, and certainly some stand-out episodes that I really enjoyed. On the flip side, there’s a couple of duds, and some stories suffer from being a little too similar in tone and theme.

The Autopsy, the third episode of the series, is firmly planted as my favourite. The premise, the pacing, the acting, the payoff – it all works really well together to make an effective and engaging 57 minutes of TV, and I’ll say nothing else to avoid spoilers. My second favourite episode is The Outside: It reminded me of Kit Reed’s classic SF short story “The New You”. Kate Micucci’s performance as Stacey is the strong central pillar around which director Ana Lily Amirpour weaves an impressively uncomfortable tale of self-image woes and social pressure. Coming in third is The Murmuring, which blends some tense horror with fairly well-developed character drama. In general, I felt the more dramatic episodes all consistently managed to balance the plot & characters with the unfolding horror, especially given their run times.

Outside of my top three, the series really felt like a mixed bag. I hope, dear readers, that you like the works of H.P. Lovecraft: The series has two Lovecraft adaptions and one very heavily Lovecraft-inspired episode. It’s not that they’re bad adaptions, per se, but Graveyard Rats – the second episode – brushes gently with Lovecraftian elements; by the time Pickman’s Model and Dreams in the Witch House come along (the fifth and sixth episodes respectively) the novelty of Lovecraftian influence begins to wear a little thin. Graveyard Rats was best of the three for me, in part due to its shorter run-time and more comedic angle.

Outside of the unofficial Lovecraft trilogy, the remaining two episodes are Lot 36 and The Viewing. I found both somewhat interesting, but they felt like typical short films: Problems with establishing characters, pacing and a lack of satisfying payoff at the end. It’s a shame that Lot 36 is the first episode in the anthology, as it nearly put me off the series, and some friends of mine felt the same; both that and the back-to-back duo of Lovecraft adaptions make me wonder how they decided the viewing order for the series.

Despite the varied execution, the anthology is well done from a technical standpoint. Each episode is well-shot, well-scored and the performances are never bad, just occasionally at odds with mediocre characterisation. I’d be remiss to go without mentioning the introductions: After the trippy title sequence, Del Toro introduces each episode by reaching into his titular cabinet for a trinket. As he does so, he delivers a teaser for the story to come and introduces the director by name. It’s very reminiscent of Hitchcock and the old Twilight Zone episodes, and makes it stand out a bit from other recent anthology series like Netflix’s Love, Death & Robots.

Despite the uneven feel to the series, I hope it’s done well enough overall that Del Toro gets to make another anthology; it’s nice to be able to sit down and watch a variety of shorter stories, especially as someone who doesn’t often mess with horror (it’s either too naff or too scary for me). Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities has ups and downs that are very typical of most anthologies, but I’d still recommend it: Not just for my three favourite episodes, but because the variety of horror sub-genres it presents means there will probably be something for everyone to enjoy.

So, there you have it dear readers! Something a bit out of my usual wheelhouse, but as a fan of del Toro’s work I was intrigued enough to push through the spooks. Interestingly, the original draft of this review was 666 words… I’ll try not to let it keep me up at night. Let me know what you think of the show, or my opinions on it, in the comments or on my Twitter here. If you’ve got some spare change for a scared old sod like me, here is my Ko-Fi! Until next time, thank you for reading and take care!

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