From "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" to "Black Mirror," horror anthologies have long been a treat for fans of spooky tales. You get to sample various themes and styles from different directors and writers, all with the common goal of sending a shiver down your spine. "Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities" continues that tradition, delivering a collection of horror stories personally curated by del Toro himself. Though the Mexican filmmaker has an impressive history of serving up stellar horror films to the public, he didn’t direct any of these episodes himself. Instead, each of the eight episodes is helmed by a different director, with most being based on short stories.
Del Toro introduces each episode, much like Alfred Hitchcock in his self-titled anthology series or Rod Sterling in "The Twilight Zone." As he gives some context for the story we’re about to see, he pulls out a complimentary object from his eponymous cabinet of curiosities. The exquisite craftsmanship of the cabinet is soon forgotten, however, as the terrifying tales begin. These are the most disturbing moments in "Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities." Be warned, there are major spoilers and some disturbing images ahead.
Release of the Dottie monster
Director Guillermo Navaro told Newsweek that the "Cabinet of Curiosities" episode "Lot 36" is inspired by Guillermo del Toro’s "experience of losing precious family items." Nick (Tim Nelson) makes his living buying abandoned storage lockers and selling off any valuable contents. After purchasing a unit whose owner recently died, he takes some of the things to a collector, Agatha. Among the unique items is a séance table with hidden drawers that contains three books.
Agatha brings in Roland, who specializes in rare texts. He’s ready to pay $300,000 for the set, but only if Nick can produce the fourth missing volume. Combined with spells and symbols, the fourth book is meant to bind a demon to Earth. As they go back to find the text, Roland reveals the story of the original owner of lot 36: A German man, heavy in the occult, was rumored to have offered his sister Dottie Wolmar as a vessel for a demon.
The men discover a hidden room within the locker that holds the decaying corpse of Dottie, containing a demon in the hollowed-out face. Spotting the fourth book, Nick walks straight to it. This disturbs the containment symbols and awakens the dormant demon. Dottie stands up as numerous tentacles reach out of the face hole, immediately eating Roland. Writhing tentacles on human corpse legs are the last thing Nick sees right before he’s pulled in by his neck and devoured by several rows of teeth. Created using both practical and visual effects, the Dottie monster will haunt your dreams.
Rats of every size
Written and directed by Vincenzo Natali and based on a short story by Henry Kuttner, "Graveyard Rats" may not be for those who suffer from claustrophobia, or musophobia, the fear of rats. Set in Salem at the beginning of the 20th century, the story follows Masson (David Hewlett), a gravedigger who turns grave robber in order to pay off gambling debts. He comes up short in his latest payment because he’s convinced that rats are stealing the bodies along with the valuables before he can get to them.
One night, as Masson lies in bed in his dilapidated room, he sends a prayer for a more profitable score the next day. His gaze goes upward to something poking out from the water-stained ceiling. He stands up to inspect, pulling on what looks like a cord. One good yank and out comes a rat, and Masson freaks out, falling backward. As the rest of the ceiling continues to crack and open, hundreds of rats pour out, all over Masson and his bed.
Later on, while Masson is unearthing a fresh grave, he opens the coffin just in time to see the body being dragged off further underground. Determined to retrieve his fortune, Masson goes in after it. Soon enough, he comes face to face with a rat that would make the Rodents of Unusual Size from "The Princess Bride" quiver, with trails of drool dripping from its razor-sharp teeth. And things don’t get any better for Masson from there.
Small spaces and being buried alive
The idea of digging up a grave and stealing possessions off a corpse is pretty disturbing in its own right. But things get even more unsettling in "Graveyard Rats" when Masson goes underground to acquire the stolen goods. Speaking to Newsweek, Director Vincenzo Natalithat said the episode’s sets were actually "about as small as it looks onscreen." In an effort to make the episode feel extra confined, there’s also a black and white version.
Tight, cramped, and dark spaces aren’t where most people thrive, But Masson is determined to retrieve the valuables he seeks. While completely underground, he must crouch and crawl through tunnels as he fights for his life, battling the Rat Queen, its swarm of babies, and half a corpse dragging itself.
Thinking he’s found the actual light at the end of the tunnel, Masson quickly makes his way toward what he hopes is the way out, only to discover it’s just the reflection of his own flashlight on the inside of a closed coffin buried six feet deep. Poor Masson is left to be eaten by the swarm of rats while he’s buried alive. To send an extra shiver down the spine, we get one last unsettling look at Masson as rats crawl from his dead mouth.
An alien parasite describes its plan for torture
In "The Autopsy," F. Murray Abraham plays Carl, a medical examiner dying from stomach cancer. His friend, Sheriff Craven (Glynn Turman), asks for his help explaining some mysterious deaths that happened in the local mine. The tension builds as Carl examines the bodies, all alone, in the middle of the night, in a dark and quiet room. This is when the alien creature reveals itself — a parasite that’s taken over the body of one of the men killed in the mine, Eddie Sykes (Luke Roberts). The inhuman way it contorts its borrowed body towards Carl seems to leave him frozen with both fear and curiosity.
The creature uses the human body as a host as well as nourishment. It ties Carl to an autopsy table and prepares to transfer out of Sykes’ now useless body and into his. When Carl raises some objections, it threatens the life of Sheriff Craven, saying, "He will make a fine first meal for us." While cutting itself open, emotionless, the alien explains to Carl how slow it can make his death. When it takes over his body, he will still be present but helpless. It will first devour his pain, followed by protein, blood, and slowly his organs. The most unsettling moment is the alien telling Carl how his body will orgasm after it uses his hands to put the sheriff’s "smoking entrails" into his mouth. His body will be used, without his consent, to murder his own friend.
Carl blinds himself to survive
During Carl’s capture by the alien parasite in "The Autopsy," he learns that in its natural state, the creature has no senses of its own. They’ve evolved to the point of not needing them on their planet, but they’re very much needed in Earth’s environment. This is one of the reasons they invade the human body as a host. Carl takes advantage of this information by determining that he will have a small window before the transfer when the alien will be vulnerable.
Once out of Eddie’s body, the creature is blind and deaf. Carl acts fast, grabbing the knife from Eddie’s dead hand. Still tied to the autopsy table, he tries to kill the creature, but can’t reach it. He realizes that he won’t survive this, but he decides to make sure that the creature doesn’t either. In an act of pure desperation, he jams the knife deep into his ears. He then slices his own throat right before he stabs out his own eyes. Even once it makes it into Carl’s body, the alien won’t be able to see or hear its next victim before the body bleeds out and dies. "Stabbing an Exacto knife into your eyes and ears is about as cringey as it gets," producer J. Miles Dale said in an interview with Den of Geek. "I still wince at that one frankly. And I’ve seen it 25 times."
The horrors of fitting in
Lots of people wrestle with the idea that one product could change every aspect of their lives for the better. This idea is explored in the "Cabinet of Curiosities" episode "The Outside," directed by Ana Lily Amirpour. Stacy (Kate Micucci) is a socially awkward bank teller desperate to fit in with the women she works with. She covets their conventional beauty, fashionable clothing, and seemingly perfect lives. Stacy’s unexpectedly invited to her co-worker’s home for a holiday party, where everyone’s given a box of the popular and expensive Alo Glo lotion. Convinced that Alo Glo will be the answer to her popularity problem, Stacy immediately slathers some on her face. Unfortunately, her allergic reaction is just as immediate.
Stacy refuses to be deterred by the red, itchy, peeling skin — especially after she’s "visited" by the Alo Glo infomercial spokesman (Dan Stevens), who assures her this is all part of the transformation process. She pushes through, continuing her Alo Glo skin regimen, even as her skin rash worsens and her devoted husband Keith (Martin Starr) begs her to stop. She experiences both bodily harm and psychological damage as she slowly descends into madness while searching for optimal beauty and acceptance, and her descent is amplified by the distorted camera angles and lens choices made by Amirpour. Stacy’s obsession with the product and everything it promises is truly disturbing, especially because we can all see a bit of ourselves in her.
The fate of Stacy’s devoted husband
From the very beginning of "The Outside," Stacy’s husband Keith (Martin Starr) is a beacon of sensibility. He’s devoted to his wife and truly loves her. The pair make a cute couple as they bond over eating hot wings and watching their favorite shows. He’s also truly impressed with her gift of taxidermy, which he will come to regret.
Keith tries his best to be supportive of Stacy and her transformation journey, but as her skin and mental state get worse, it becomes too much for him to watch. He begs and pleads for her to stop using the lotion, naming all of the reasons he already finds her perfect. Stacy reads this as Keith not wanting her to change, so she takes an ax to his back — several times. Even as she’s murdering him, he manages to still call her "hun" in the most gentle tone.
Stacy does get her transformation, though it’s unclear whether it’s real or a figment of her imagination. She then excitedly tries to share the news with poor dead Keith. More disappointed over his death than sad, she does the only thing she can do: She taxidermies Keith, turning him into just one more of the poor, dead, stuffed creatures that adorn her home.
A feast fit for a demon
Inspired by an H.P. Lovecraft short story, "Pickman’s Model" follows talented young artist William Thurber (Ben Barnes) as he deals with the impact of a fellow artist’s work. Richard Pickman (Crispin Glover) is an odd fellow who invites Thurber to look at some of his artwork. One of the paintings depicts a scene surrounding one of Pickman’s ancestors, Lavinia. Executed for witchcraft, Lavinia was believed to have killed her husband and served his flesh to members of her coven. Pickman recreates this disturbing scene with paint and canvas and taunts Thurber while he takes it in: "Do you hear them, Will? Beneath us?" The imagery haunts Thurber and disturbs him to his core.
"I think Thurber’s journey is that essentially he sees all these terrible things in Pickman’s paintings, and he feels all this disgust and fear and darkness," Barnes told Netflix’s Tudum. "It catches ahold of him even though he’s trying to fight against it." Years later, after he’s distanced himself from Pickman, Thurber has a realistic nightmare where he walks into his dining room to find the very same dinner party happening. He recognizes the guests from Pickman’s painting that disturbed him so many years ago. On the table is a feast fit for a demon, including rotting food, slithering bugs, and decomposed human remains. At the center, it appears to be his own decapitated head being served as the main course. Talk about disturbing.
Thurber doesn’t want what’s for dinner
Later on in "Pickman’s Model," we see William Thurber as an older man in 1926. He now has a wife, a young son, and his own museum. Pickman unexpectedly returns to Thurber’s life, promising to stay away from his family and museum as long as Thurber comes to see his new paintings. In an attempt to save others from the madness he’s suffered, Thurber pays him one last visit. Once among Pickman’s new paintings, Thurber, overwhelmed by the mental torment caused by the images, goes to set fire to the artwork. He ends up shooting and killing Pickman in the confusion and leaves the house to burn.
Thurber takes his family to his museum the next day. Bafflingly, Pickman’s work is hanging there, and one of Thurber’s colleagues, Joe, stands in front of it, appearing to have gouged out his own eyes. Thurber rushes his family out, hoping to save them from the madness. But a few hours later, he returns home to find out that his wife has cut out her own eyes. Her demeanor is oddly calm, and she warns Thurber not to spoil dinner. Thurber sees puddles of blood around the kitchen and in a panic asks for their son, James. With the two empty cavities in her face, she continues to chop vegetables. Thurber slowly makes his way to the smoking and sizzling oven to reveal his son’s head in a casserole dish.
Making out with the witch Keziah Mason
Another "Cabinet of Curiosities" episode inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, "Dreams in the Witch House" is a dark fairy tale brought to life by director Catherine Hardwicke. It tells the story of Walter (Rupert Grint), a man obsessed with bringing his dead twin sister back to life. He becomes part of the Spiritualist Society in order to seek out ways of communicating with the dead. Eventually, he comes across a potion that allows him to find his sister in a place called The Realm of the Dead. Walter tries to bring her back to the land of the living, but she’s being kept in her new home by a witch named Keziah Mason — a sinister being brought to life through impressive special effects. With skin that looks like petrified wood and branches mimicking hair, she resembles a gnarled tree taken human form.
During one of the times Walter tries to bring his sister back from the Realm of the Dead, Keziah grabs hold of him. Her screams sound like nails on a chalkboard, and the "bark" of her chest and hair emits a glow of burning embers. Keziah claims Walter as her own, pulling him into a deadly embrace as she kisses his soul out of his body. Not exactly the most romantic encounter, but certainly a spooky one.
Lionel throws the worst party ever
Peter Weller stars in the "Cabinet of Curiosities" episode "The Viewing" as Lionel, an eccentric old guy who loves being rich and having things that nobody else has even heard of. He invites four people, each an expert in their own field, to his mysterious mansion: The psychic Targ (Michael Therriault), astrophysicist Charlotte (Charlyne Yi), transcendent musician Randall (Eric André), and Guy (Steve Agee), one of the great novelists of the era.
They all sit around as Lionel pontificates about life and things beyond. The 1970s-themed story is a slow burn, as the experts and the audience all try to understand why Lionel has gathered them all there. in truth, he’s looking for some understanding of an artifact he’s tucked away, which could be an alien life form.
Eventually, the group awakens the artifact, and things go bad fast. The meteor-like rock glows and cracks open. Out comes a gooey creature with worm-like tendrils that turn into demonic horns, which releases a terrible energy and a high-pitched sound. Targ’s face melts away, with the effects giving a glimpse of his skull, before we move on to the next horrendous event — Guy’s head exploding all over Randall and Charlotte. It’s a head explosion that would make David Cronenberg’s "Scanners" proud. The head explosion breaks everyone’s trance, giving Randall and Charlotte time to get away. The orange hue over the entire episode adds to the disturbing aesthetic.
The creepy ghost kid
Married couple Nancy and Edger are grieving the loss of their daughter in the "Cabinet of Curiosities" episode "The Murmuring." Instead of dealing with their devastation, they throw themselves further into their work, ornithology. Jennifer Kent directs this chamber drama starring Andrew Lincoln as Edgar and Essie Davis as Nancy. The couple temporarily moves to an old isolated house on an island, and it isn’t long before Nancy starts feeling and seeing a presence in the house.
Nancy is eventually led to a stack of old letters and reads about the previous occupant, Claudette, whose photos are still on the walls. Apparently, she learned that her soldier husband was married to another woman. When Claudette got pregnant, he abandoned her and their unborn child. To hide away from the scandal, Claudette and her son lived in this isolated house. One night, while in the attic, Nancy hears a child crying and turns to see a little boy standing at the top of the stairs. He’s dripping wet and leads her out of the attic and into the hallway. She kneels down to comfort the child, and he turns to reveal a decaying and water-bloated face. The shock knocks Nancy to the floor.
Nancy gets the nerve to ask the groundskeeper about Claudette, and he tells her that in a fit of rage one night, she accidentally killed her son, drowning him in the bathtub. They’re both bound to haunt the house with their fear and sadness. It seems that grief is the biggest monster in "The Murmuring."