When Guillermo del Toro was a baby in Guadalajara, Mexico, he used to stay awake late watching TV along with his older brother. One night they happened upon an episode of the Nineteen Sixties science fiction anthology series “The Outer Limits” called “The Mutant.” In it, Warren Oates plays an astronaut who gets caught in radioactive rain on one other planet.
“There’s a moment where he removes his goggles and his eyes are as big because the goggles,” del Toro recalled in a recent video interview. “And I began screaming. My brother put me to bed. You could possibly say the remainder of my life has been a counterphobic response to the fear I felt seeing that episode.”
Today, del Toro, 58, elicits screams from others, with movies like “Pan’s Labyrinth” and TV series like “The Strain.” And now he has his own anthology series, “Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities.” The primary season, which debuts Tuesday on Netflix, is a set of eight hourlong horror tales, each from a special director. Del Toro handpicked the eight directors featured in the primary season: a few of the world’s brightest horror minds, including Ana Lily Amirpour (“The Bad Batch”), Panos Cosmatos (“Mandy”) and Jennifer Kent (“The Babadook”).
Two episodes are based on original stories written by del Toro, who created the series. One other two are based on classic tales from the macabre master H.P. Lovecraft. All have sky-high production value.
“I got to spend all that Netflix money,” Amirpour said in a recent video interview; her wickedly funny chapter, “The Outside,” tells the story of a lady (Kate Micucci) who develops an unhealthy relationship with a recent beauty product.
“With Guillermo, whenever you work with someone who has that level of power, you’ll be able to really thrive and make something cool,” she added.
Del Toro entered the project as a curator and a fan, with the goal of highlighting stories, storytellers and filmmakers he loves.
“I used to be hoping to pick some stories that I like, which have not been adapted, or haven’t been adapted with a really protected production environment,” he said. “And I wanted to search out directors that I used to be inquisitive about. I desired to almost collect and curate a gaggle of directors and stories after which give all of them the support and freedom, final cut, the possibility to feel that the resources were there.”
There have been major challenges. In practical terms, the “Cabinet” really incorporates eight one-hour movies, with settings including rustic 1909 Massachusetts (“Pickman’s Model,” directed by Keith Thomas) and a late-Seventies version of future shock (“The Viewing,” Cosmatos). The administrators were essentially their very own showrunners.
“This really does feel like a movie of mine,” Amirpour said. “It was a complete and total creation, from having my hand on the script to completion. It felt so completely and totally mine.”
Multiple cinematographers and editors worked on the series, but there was just one industrious production designer, the del Toro regular Tamara Deverell (“Nightmare Alley,” “The Strain”), who embraced the duty of designing all the things, akin to an enormous animatronic rat (for “The Graveyard Rats,” Vincenzo Natali) and a sketchy storage facility (for “Lot 36,” Guillermo Navarro).
In a video interview, Deverell recalled that “Cabinet” had reused a set from del Toro’s 2021 film “Nightmare Alley” for each “Lot 36” and “Graveyard Rats.” She also noted the complexities of carrying out the vision of eight different filmmakers. But she’s not complaining. She sees del Toro as the proper collaborator, an artist who knows that storytelling is visual in addition to verbal.
“He understands space and things like ceiling heights and square footage and the shapes of things in a way that plenty of directors don’t,” Deverell said. “He makes it really easy. The set is of equal importance because the actors or the story. It’s a part of the identical world that he’s attempting to create.”
Del Toro is an avid collector of books and comics; as he spoke from his office in Santa Monica, Calif., stacks and stacks of volumes loomed within the background. He’s a specific fan of anthologies, those who come between two covers — the primary book he ever bought along with his own money was a horror anthology edited by the science fiction author Forrest J. Ackerman — and onscreen. When he wasn’t screaming at “The Outer Limits,” he was watching “The Twilight Zone,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “One Step Beyond,” “Night Gallery” and “Ghost Story,” amongst others.
“They were my favorite things to observe,” he said. “It’s the identical way I loved reading short stories, greater than some other form. I just find them immersive and self-contained and incredibly attractive. For those who come to the library of my horror wing, most of what I collect is anthologies.”
He worships the fabric and its history, a undeniable fact that isn’t lost on the actor Tim Blake Nelson. Nelson, also featured in del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley” and the approaching “Pinocchio” movie, is the star of “Lot 36,” the story of a racist scavenger who swoops in on delinquent customers’ storage containers and sells their belongings. Yes, he receives a ghoulish — and plenty of tentacled — comeuppance.
To Nelson, del Toro’s passion for the macabre pushes his work beyond the realm of genre.
“I feel that Guillermo’s reverence for horror is so deep that it’s now not horror,” he said in a video interview. “You’re coping with someone who’s in a position to see the macabre as reality, not fear-driven fantasy. You now not consider it as occult or genre; you’re thinking that of it as reality, and that makes it all of the more terrifying.”
Del Toro was originally imagined to direct an episode, however the pandemic delayed production of each “Nightmare Alley” and “Pinocchio.” So, as a substitute, he offered to host. Firstly of every installment, he saunters out of the darkness as much as what appears to be an elaborate model mansion with drawers.
He pulls out a miniature ivory figurine of every director and offers an introduction. (Originally, cabinets of curiosities contained anatomical specimens, talismans and the like, all reflecting the curator’s tastes and instinct for showmanship.) These introductions play just like the classic openings of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”
But when “Cabinet of Curiosities” has a spiritual forbear, it’s someone more sinister. The author H.P. Lovecraft, who lived from 1890 to 1937, has inspired memorable movies (“Re-Animator”) and tv (“Lovecraft Country”). The episodes of “Cabinet” his stories inspired are “Dreams within the Witch House,” directed by Catherine Hardwicke, and “Pickman’s Model,” a few painter (Crispin Glover) with dark and devilish muses. (“Pickman’s Model” was also the idea of a 1971 “Night Gallery” episode that gave this reporter childhood nightmares.)
Known for what del Toro called “overwrought prose and arcane adjectives,” Lovecraft can also be terrifying in his dark view of humanity.
“He was cosmically misanthropic,” del Toro said. “He was the outsider of the outsiders. It’s very hard to assume anyone overtaken by more fear. His idea was that the cosmos is malevolent by the mere notion of how large it’s. You can not encompass it, and that alone is madness. That resonates through the ages.”
Del Toro, by all accounts, isn’t any Lovecraft. He’s a jovial guy and supportive colleague who’s nonetheless drawn to the darkness. He’s on the side of the artists, and the monsters. He’s the pleased frightener.
“He’s never imposing his will on anybody,” Amirpour said. “He’s just attempting to enable you to find the most effective method to do what you’re attempting to do. What truly sets him apart is his generosity of spirit. I’m ruined now. It’s like having courtside seats after which having to go sit elsewhere.”