Guillermo del Toro – the Oscar-winning director behind Hellboy, The Shape of Water, and Pan’s Labyrinth – presents eight horror-filled tales in Cabinet of Curiosities, his first official venture with Netflix. In a manner reminiscent of The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling, del Toro emerges from the shadows to introduce each episode and its director, selected to showcase the horror genre’s rising talent.
Each standalone story, curated by del Toro, explores an affection for the old-school tropes of the genre. In this batch of short stories, you’ll encounter ghosts, ghouls, monsters – all emblems of modern horror cinema, undoubtedly – but with a preference for practical effects over CGI and a penchant for the gothic.
Thanks to its anthology format, you can enjoy entries in any order you like. Even so, a major question remains: which is the best Cabinet of Curiosities episode? While del Toro’s eye means they’re all watchable fun, some are arguably better than others. Here’s our ranking of every Cabinet of Curiosities episode, ranked worst to best.
8. Dreams in the Witch House
One of two H.P. Lovecraft adaptations, Dreams in the Witch House is the best attempt at covering up a lack of story with glossy production design and elaborate world-building.
Rupert Grint plays a man dedicating his life to locate his dead sister in the afterlife. Taking residence in the titular house with hopes of contacting her, we’re delivered one haunting sequence, the bare minimum required of every ghost story. While it’s a passable yarn, director Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight) steers it to the fairy tale side of gothic rather than horror. Come for the frankly bonkers ending but try not to dwell on its dull middle act.
7. Lot 36
Proof that the worst antagonist can really pull you into a story if they’re well-drawn. Tim Blake Nelson plays a xenophobic veteran who buys abandoned storage units and resells the contents. That’s until he scores Lot 36 and gets more than he bargained for – think Storage Wars meets Poe, and you’ll immediately get a sense of where this one’s going.
Penned by del Toro and directed by frequent collaborator Guillermo Navarro, Lot 36 lays the groundwork for the entire Netflix series, acting as a gentle introduction into otherworldly things that go bump in the night. It wraps a bit quicker than it should – an odd choice given its short runtime – but the last two minutes make it work.
6. Pickman’s Model
The second Lovecraftian adaptation, Pickman’s Model veers a bit too far from its short story origin. Art student Thurber (Ben Barnes) encounters the work of classmate Pickman (the wonderfully deranged Crispin Glover) whose paintings of hell beasts and cannibalistic last suppers cause anyone who lays eyes on them to go insane. Soon enough, the subjects of those artworks begin to stalk the edges of Thurber’s life.
Keith Thomas, who delivered 2019’s phenomenal Vigil, directs with a strict devotion to Lovecraft’s New England, deemed a character itself in the cosmic maestro’s canon. The quiet gothicism doesn’t stop the sting in the tail from providing one hell of a shock, but there are better entries in this anthology production.
5. Graveyard Rats
Vincenzo Natali (Splice, Cube) brings to life a grim Henry Kuttner story and turns it into a goofy black comedy that’s the most straight-up fun entry in the series.
Graveyard Rats is set in turn-of-the-century Salem, where Massam (David Hewlett), a cemetery caretaker, robs graves on the side to pay his mob debts. When he discovers bodies are going missing, he quickly comes to face a more pressing fear than loss of income: rats. This subterranean adventure preys on multiple phobias all mashed into one, claustrophobia being at the top of that list, and there are a handful of surprises along the way thanks to some truly excellent creature work. Not one for those who hate rodents, mind you.
4. The Outside
Ana Lily Amirpour dissects the beauty industry and its sway over Stacey (Kate Micucci), a meek bank clerk desperate to fit in with her vapid colleagues. This twist on society’s obsession with appearance is meshed into the camera methods Amirpour employs: faces leer at the odd lenses, while supposed emblems of attraction that up close look garish. Equally, overly lipsticked mouths spew mindless gossip, making you question Stacey’s decision to use a mystical cream promising a transformation.
What ensues is Cronenbergian body horror twinned with Annihilation-influenced weirdness. This jet-black comedy is studded with mesmeric moments, where it’s hard to tell what’s real or imagined, but you’ll love every madcap second.
3. The Murmuring
Once again, The Babadook director Jennifer Kent brings a looming sense of dread to a home. This emotionally-fraught tale follows Nance (A sublime Essie Davis) and Edgar (Andrew Lincoln), a couple whose recent loss prompts them to follow their birdwatching passions and take up residence in an isolated abode to study dunlins.
The Murmuring edges closer to a traditional haunted house tale than any other in Cabinet of Curiosities. Figures lurk in doorways and unexplained sounds appear on recordings. They’re enough to generate chills, certainly, but its strength rests in the interweaving of Nance’s trauma with the house’s own unshakable past. Kent’s not one for showy horror, instead she lets this terror simmer away, until the final moments deliver an emotional wallop.
2. The Autopsy
Last year’s The Empty Man dripped with lurching dread, depicting it as a rare studio horror that focused on surreal production and an orchestra of mood. Director David Prior brings the same scope to The Autopsy. It starts with a sheriff (Glynn Turman) regaling his doctor friend (F. Murray Abraham) with the story of a recent disappearance and concludes with ten men killed in a mine. That escalated quickly, huh.
You might think you know where this one’s going but, around the midway point, it swerves into eerie sci-fi flecked with body horror squelching and dripping all over the joint. It bows out on a terrible moment of psychosis, as Abraham’s doctor experiences an awful realisation about what killed the men, offering a true shudder to the soul.
1. The Viewing
Panos Cosmatos’ visual flair is out in full force for this stoner fever dream. The Viewing is a sensory nightmare, soundtracked by a syncopating synth slowly threading dread into the episode in a way that burrows beneath your skin.
It’s 1979 and Peter Weller’s rich eccentric invites four top artists and scientists to his bunker-like homestead promising a viewing of, well, something. Plying the group with expensive drink and drugs (the “space cocaine” mentioned could also have been the episode title), they casually banter for most of the runtime until the viewing itself.
Its last act unveils an otherworldly finale that ebbs and flows with a pulsating ick as the subject is revealed. The set design is jaw-dropping, the effects work packed with grue, and the final transformation carries a parting shot to die for. A cosmically demented brain-melter that’s easily the best of the bunch.