Guillermo del Toro has long been both a brilliant teacher and diligent student of horror. His most recent creation, the Netflix horror anthology series, Cabinet of Curiosities, also reflects these facets of the Oscar-winning director. Although the eight horror-filled episodes are delightfully dark in his own way and demonstrate, once again, del Toro’s great skill for selection and taste for genre narrative, it is the narrative role played by the director that we celebrate today.
Each episode begins with del Toro exploring the cabinet that gives the series its name. He introduces us to it before the first installment, as it grows almost organically from the ground. It is here that he lays the groundwork for the charming and creepy gifts that each story will offer. Behind every door there is a carving, a strange letter or a memory that will give us a clue as to where our visual experience is headed. It is an ornate and, at least in part, practical creation, which reminiscent of del Toro’s earlier works, such as Cronos. There is something tangible and terrifying here, a belief that you might as well touch the cabinet and maybe if you did you might find something creepy inside. The cabinet is an effective accessory that connects del Toro and his performances with those who influenced him.
Throughout his life, del Toro has spoken of his love for Alfred Hitchcock. In fact, when he was in his early 20s he wrote an entire book in which he analyzed each of the director’s films. It makes sense, then, that the biggest inspiration for Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities comes from the classic television anthology Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Here del Toro manages to honor his hero not only with a dynamic and suspenseful narrative, but as our chilling guide through the horrors to come. That 1955 series, which originally aired on CBS and NBC, featured Hitchcock introducing each of the tall tales theatrically. Guillermo del Toro channels that here, bringing a cool seriousness and disconnected respect for the damned souls we’re about to meet. Like Hitchcock before him, he uses props to draw us in, artifacts to make fables seem more real.
Nevertheless, It’s not just about Hitchcock, as many viewers probably thought of Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone when they saw del Toro’s delicious interludes. And Serling was certainly an influence, though it was more likely his other (criminally underrated) horror-focused anthology series that really shaped del Toro’s role as narrator. Like anyone who watched the haunting series as a child, the director was deeply affected by it. “I would go into complete paroxysms of terror,” he said in an old interview. “The only time I literally peed my pants out of fear. I did. I’m not talking figuratively! I let my bladder out! It was in an episode of The Night Gallery called ‘The Doll’ which was based on the story of Algernon Blackwood”.
Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities takes its form from The Night Gallery and The Twilight Zone. The series not only adapts stories from classic authors, but also features stories from the mind of del Toro, as did Serling, who wrote the introductions to those iconic shows. Just as del Toro has his cabinet, Serling had his surreal paintings that hinted at what was to come in his experimental stories and pushed boundaries. It’s no wonder del Toro enjoys playing him, as he follows in the footsteps of two of his heroes, pioneers of genre storytelling. His cool, calm speech mirrors Serling’s seriousness with a bit of Hitchcock’s deadpan tone. While the latter liked to poke fun at himself a bit, del Toro and Serling share a sincerity, almost in awe of the stories they present us with. And in The Cabinet of Curiosities, del Toro also contributes something of his own. It is a prophetic voice, a warning, making sure we know that pursuing these curiosities comes at a cost.
After watching the first season of Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, it seems that del Toro has found a new niche for himself. It’s a role that expands and utilizes his love of horror and film. Seems like the natural next step, one more string on the bow of the award-winning director. He’s known for his incredible collection of horror ephemeris and movie-making memorabilia, and by introducing us to the wonders of The Cabinet of Curiosities, he seems to be lifting that veil and giving us a glimpse into the nightmares that inspire him to scare us. .