© 2021 KOSU
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Help us answer phones and take pledges during our upcoming membership drive on Dec 6th & 7th. Sign up here!

Horror fans will want to poke around in Guillermo del Toro's 'Cabinet of Curiosities'

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Guillermo del Toro, who's filmed "The Shape Of Water," won Oscars for best film and best director, is the executive producer, creator and host of a new anthology series presented this week on Netflix. It's called "Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet Of Curiosities," and two episodes premiere daily from today through Friday. Our TV critic David Bianculli has seen them all. He has this review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: Fantasy anthology series have a long and impressive history on TV, from "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and Rod Serling's "The Twilight Zone" in the '50s and '60s to HBO's "Tales From The Crypt" in the '80s and '90s. The current series "Black Mirror" on Netflix is more sci-fi and technology oriented and is brilliant.

This new Netflix offering, "Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet Of Curiosities," leans more towards horror and special effects, which makes sense since del Toro's credits as director include not only "The Shape Of Water" but "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Hellboy." But he's not directing or writing the scripts for any of these eight episodes. He's handing those chores to other artists. But two of the eight episodes, the best two of this first bunch, are adapted from del Toro's short stories, and del Toro himself hosts and introduces each episode, emerging from the darkness like Rod Serling in "Night Gallery."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GUILLERMO DEL TORO'S CABINET OF CURIOSITIES")

GUILLERMO DEL TORO: In centuries past, when the world was full of mystery and traveling was reserved for the very few, a new form of connection was born - the cabinet of curiosities. Now, this collection could be lost in a building, a chamber or a piece of furniture. In these private collections, one would find books, paintings or specimens of natural and unnatural history - a dragon's tooth, a Fiji mermaid, a unicorn's horn - and behind each of these, a story.

BIANCULLI: This week's patiently rolled-out first season of episodes, two one-hour installments nightly over a four-day stretch, begins and ends with adaptations of short stories by del Toro himself. The first is called "Lot 36" and stars Tim Blake Nelson as a guy who makes a living buying the unknown contents of storage sheds. Other stars showing up in these first eight shows include Crispin Glover as an obsessed painter in "Pickman's Model," Kate Micucci (ph), as a popularity-obsessed outcast in "The Outside" and Peter Weller as a wealthy recluse in "The Viewing." He invites four carefully selected strangers to his house to show them something special and spooky.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GUILLERMO DEL TORO'S CABINET OF CURIOSITIES")

PETER WELLER: (As Lassiter) I know all of you are still wondering why in the hell it is I chose to bring you here. It's because from each of your own distinctive worlds and with your own individual talent, you may shine some unique and profound appreciation on what it is that I have to show you. And the item that I've chosen to show you was acquired with the utmost difficulty, at the greatest expense.

BIANCULLI: Most of the shows in this batch are interesting to watch, once, but are far below the standard set by classic episodes of "The Twilight Zone" or "Black Mirror." But the best is saved for last, with Jennifer Kent, who directed "The Babadook," both directing and adapting del Toro's "The Murmuring." It's a story about two married ornithologists who get the opportunity to spend a month on a remote island in an old, abandoned home, observing and filming the flight patterns of a bird called the dunlin. The dunlin fly in breathtaking unison, shapes and patterns called murmurations, and these particular birds fascinate both Nancy and Edgar, the married couple, especially after some of the birds start roosting in their attic. Nancy is played by Essie Davis, who starred in "The Babadook." Edgar is played by Andrew Lincoln, the original star of "The Walking Dead."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GUILLERMO DEL TORO'S CABINET OF CURIOSITIES")

ESSIE DAVIS: (As Nancy) I cannot find one instance of dunlins roosting in a human structure anywhere. Don't you think that's weird?

ANDREW LINCOLN: (As Edgar) Well, it'll most likely give us years of grief trying to figure it out.

DAVIS: (As Nancy) It's like they're drawn to this house.

LINCOLN: (As Edgar) Drawn to this house? That's a leap.

DAVIS: (As Nancy) Well, why are they roosting in this house and nowhere else on Earth?

LINCOLN: (As Edgar) Well, that we know of yet.

DAVIS: (As Nancy) This house gives me the creeps.

LINCOLN: (As Edgar) Old houses do that. They're creepy.

BIANCULLI: The story eventually veers from natural phenomena to some very unnatural ones but hold your interest throughout, thanks to the premise of del Toro's original story. The two installments shown Thursday, one starring Crispin Glover and the other starring Rupert Grint, are based on short stories by H.P. Lovecraft, whose visions were both inspired and imaginatively revised in the HBO series "Lovecraft Country." But the focus of "Cabinet Of Curiosities" is more on the directors, and in this first go-round, the special effects are a lot more special than the stories. But if, like me, you're a fan of the horror genre and of the anthology TV format in particular, then by all means, take some time to poke around in this cabinet.

DAVIES: David Bianculli reviewed "Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet Of Curiosities" on Netflix. On tomorrow's show, David Rothkopf tells us how veteran U.S. government officials, sometimes scorned as the deep state, repeatedly intervened in the Trump administration to undermine presidential orders they thought were illegal, immoral, unworkable or against America's interests. His book is "American Resistance." I hope you can join us.

Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAVIER NAVARRETE'S "THE FAIRY AND THE LABYRINTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.
Hey! Did you enjoy this story? We can’t do it without you. We are member-supported, so your donation is critical to KOSU's news reporting and music programming. Help support the reporters, DJs and staff of the station you love.

Here's how: