Alright, beasties. It’s that spooky time of year again. For this edition of Spooktober, I’m going to do a post a day but, like a great haul after trick or treating, I’m hoping to mix it up and deliver some surprises. There’ll be reviews, new or old, seen/unseen, TV or film. Depending on my wicked mood, lists, audio, or video may also exist. I hope you’ll enjoy it and remember: stay spooky.
One of my most awaited things this October was for Guillermo del Toro‘s Cabinet of Curiosities to drop on Netflix. From the 25th through the 28th, two new episodes a day would hit streaming, each with its own story and each directed by a prominent voice in horror.
Naturally, I gobbled these, but consumption is easy when they are bite-sized. Generally around 60 minutes there’s an array of talent both in front and behind the camera, and each tale is given an intro by the master, del Toro, himself. Let’s just say, I was gushing. Some of them hit harder than others, but they were all intriguing tales of fantasy and horror. Each is a trip and all were worth it. Some were spookier than others, and I have my favorites, but I’m glad I came. More, please!
Eight tales, eight different perspectives, different eras, and ways to haunt, each finding ways that make us tick. Lovecraft, haunted houses, witches, giant rats, demons, and much, much more. Let’s unlock the mysteries within.
We received the first two: Lot 36 (Guillermo Navarro) and Graveyard Rats (Vincenzo Natali). Both feature somewhat grating, unlikable characters who are both trying to pay off debts. Each seems to also get the comeuppance by its end.
First, in Lot 36 we follow Tim Blake Nelson, a man who purchases storage lots that have gone on sale, selling everything inside that he can. After spending a few minutes with the character we see the way cruel way he treats others and his general aggression toward people. His newest purchase houses some intriguing and rare items and he doesn’t yet realize that it also packs an especially otherworldly punch. Nelson plays his character with a grimace and a cynical sneer. Lot 36 mixes dark humor throughout and elements of religion and pure evil.
In Graveyard Rats, David Hewlett is a graverobber, especially focusing on the wealthy new arrivals at a cemetery. He runs into a problem when suddenly he’s got competition. The corpses are disappearing out of their coffins and it seems that rats are at the heart of it. When he has no other choice, in debt with the wrong people, he heads back for the wealthiest prize he’s seen but when he returns, again, rats are pulling the body down a hole. He goes in after them to discover a whole system of tunnels and some other, disturbing discoveries.
This episode really plays on our fears, more so than some of the others. For many, including myself, the idea of being covered in rats is horrifying, but then add in the claustrophobic holes our lead is squirming through, and suddenly, panic. While these two intro episodes aren’t maybe the best, they are a terrific starting point.
The next two we receive The Autopsy (David Prior) and The Outside (Ana Lily Amirpour) are quite different in their storytelling but are two of my favorites of the bunch with two of the best final scenes.
In Autopsy, a medical examiner (F. Murray Abraham) gets contacted by his good friend the sheriff (Glynn Turman) to take a look at a body. This one has a strange tale behind it which includes something falling from the sky and mine accident. As you cut in deeper, though, you see the full story and it’s intelligent with some fascinating tricks up its sleeves (erm, skin).
When you don’t feel like you fit in, life can be hard, especially as a girl. Outside gives the wonderful Kate Micucci here as our sort of, “ugly duckling” who after being invited to a secret Santa swap with her female coworkers feels really on the outside. That night she uses some of the beauty creams she had received as a gift, and her skin breaks out in a red, itchy rash. What’s fun about this one is that the dark comedy is weaved throughout, but there’s also a deep seeded discomfort too.
One night an comes on for her to receive more, by a hilariously convincing Dan Stevens who talks directly to her, referencing the transformation she can have if she continues to use it. The dangers of getting what you wish for, include jeoparding her happy marriage to Martin Starr. In twisted and creative fashion, perverse and harrowing, Outside is bound to shake you could of your skin. Love the Christmas season feel too.
Pickman’s Model (Keith Thomas) and Dreams in the Witch House (Catherine Hardwicke) both dwell in the supernatural and feel united in a strange nightmare-like feel, along with their Lovecraftian inspirations.
In Pickman’s Model Will (Ben Barnes) meets the intriguing Richard Upton Pickman (Crispin Glover) at art school. Pickman’s work is unlike anything he’s seen before, dark and unsettling. These paintings seem to leave an effect on those who see them. We then skip ahead 17 years when they meet again and Will is jealous of Pickman’s success. As their lives connect once again he’s plagued by visions and nightmares, and his sanity is plummeting.
Pickman’s Model gives Barnes and Glover an opportunity to shine, and it features some beautiful/terrifying imagery that really remains the star of this episode.
In Dreams in the Witch House, Rupert Grint is dealing with the loss of his twin sister at a young age. When she passed he saw her ripped through a portal into another world and has spent his life devoted to finding it. Working with a spiritual society, researching claims, and disputing frauds, he’s searching for any evidence that it exists. Eventually, he is led to a drug that allows him to journey to this place, where he is reunited with his sister. However, he can’t seem to get her out, and no one believes what he’s seen.
The episode is filled with gorgeous visuals and sets, especially that of the decaying home he stays in, but the story suffers a bit in the final act. Grint gives his all and is very believable. While it may have suffered some narratively Dreams in the Witch House has an intriguing premise and a terrific atmospheric tone.
The final two episodes are quite immensely varied, with one The Murmuring (Jennifer Kent) focusing on grief and what loss does to a person and a couple, and the other The Viewing (Panos Cosmatos) a bizarre, psychedelic invitation to a billionaire’s home.
The Viewing (Panos Cosmatos) has four individuals (Charlyne Yi), (Steve Agee), (Eric André) and (Michael Therriault) who don’t know each other invited to an eccentric billionaire’s mansion (Peter Weller). From here they share some party favors, lots of stories, and laughs.
The music and environment are terrific, Cosmatos brings his usual flair to the episode, and with this wild cast, it’s a fun, the unusual night served in a retro style.
A couple of ornithologists Nancy (Essie Davis) and Edgar (Andrew Lincoln) are reeling from an unimaginable loss. As a way of healing and moving forward, they head off to study dunlins off the coast of an island. They are put up in an old home that seems to have a lot of history, and as Nancy begins hearing and seeing things, we learn, it’s filled with a lot of pain too.
By far my favorite, The Murmuring is a gorgeous, haunting, impeccably performed rumination on grief. Jennifer Kent does an excellent job writing and directing and our cast is emotional and heartbreakingly perfect.
Part ghost story, part journey through loss and despair, The Murmuring looks at these characters through an honest lens, with something blurry, and spooky inking the corners. I loved it.
Guillermo del Toro‘s Cabinet of Curiosities feels like a wonderful night of storytelling among friends. Ghost stories around the campfire with the most beautifully designed sets and talented players you can find. An assortment of oddities and eerie sights, Guillermo del Toro‘s Cabinet of Curiosities is a sure, curious delight.
Guillermo del Toro‘s Cabinet of Curiosities is currently streaming on Netflix