Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities brings the brand-name director and Netflix money to a somewhat dusty genre, the horror anthology, and seeks to give it new shine just before Halloween. The streaming service says del Toro “personally curated” the eight stories, which are all available now, but he didn’t direct any himself, outsourcing to the likes of Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Splice), and Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night). The roughly hour-long instalments—many based on short stories by H. P. Lovecraft or del Toro himself—vary sharply in their chosen horrors, their tone, and, I’m sorry to say, their quality. Thankfully, they also don’t need to be watched together, or in any particular order, so you’re free to pick and choose. Accordingly, here is a guide to which episodes are actually worth watching and, borrowing from Slate’s patented Scaredy Scale, a bonus subjective rating for which are most suitable for the wimps among us. The episodes are listed in rough order of preference, best to worst.
1. “The Autopsy,” Episode 3
David Prior (of the new horror-nerd favorite The Empty Man) directs another strange mélange of genres in this tale of a man who disappears one night while hiking during a meteor shower, then reappears with a mysterious object he brings into the mine shaft where he works—only to promptly blow everyone up. And that’s just the setup! We follow an interweaving story that centers on a doctor (F. Murray Abraham) who arrives to perform the titular task on the dead miners. I will say no more, except that while I cannot attest that this episode makes any sense, hoo boy is it freaky.
Scaredy Scale: 7/10. I say this fondly, but this is one of the most disgusting hours of television I have ever seen. Should this have been subject to our individual Scaredy Scale ratings, the gore would be 10/10. God. And it doesn’t skimp on Black Mirror-levels of psychological horror, either. Strictly for the degenerates.
2. “Pickman’s Model,” Episode 5
One of the Lovecraft adaptations, from director Keith Thomas (The Vigil), this one has an unfair advantage in that it casts Crispin Glover as the main antagonist, a haunted painter of horrific Gothic images who makes a dark impression on a fellow art student (Ben Barnes). Years later, the men meet again, and the painting-prompted hallucinations the fellow student saw when he was younger become all too real.
Scaredy Scale: 6/10. One of the most traditionally horror-minded episodes, with creepy motion effects, jump scares, and all. To my eye, the gore is more loving movie magic than truly disgusting, but if you dislike gaping eye sockets or are a new parent, maybe skip.
3. “The Viewing,” Episode 7
Perhaps the biggest WTF of the collection brings a high-achieving group of artists and scientists (including Eric André, Charlyne Yi, and Steve Agee) together at the behest of a mysterious, deep-pocketed man (Peter Weller), who proceeds to ply them with expensive Scotch, weed, and Peruvian cocaine, all leading up to a finale that I can pretty much guarantee you will not see coming. One imagines at least some of those substances factored into the making of this very strange but quite fun hour.
Scaredy Scale: 5/10. It is hard to say more without giving the episode away, but in the final 15 minutes, the host’s intentions become clear, and someone has been watching the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
4. “The Murmuring,” Episode 8
Two married ornithologists who suffered a terrible loss a year earlier travel to a house on a secluded island to study the local bird population. Guess what?? The people who used to live in the house also suffered a terrible loss—and they never left! No surprise from Jennifer Kent, of Babadook infamy, the episode has the most polished craftmanship of the bunch, even if it’s mostly a by-the-numbers ghost story about maternal grief.
Scaredy Scale: 5/10. Also no surprise, this one has some classic haunted-house scares, and the dead (and indeed, murmuring) children will surely be too much for some. But it’s relatively mild, all in all.
5. “Lot 36,” Episode 1
An early sign of this series’ half-baked ambitions at social relevance, the episode (directed by Guillermo Navarro, a frequent cinematographer for del Toro) follows a broke, xenophobic U.S. veteran (Tim Blake Nelson) who buys storage units at auction. One unit was apparently owned by a man who did “terrible things” for the Nazis, and inside, the man discovers some spooky old volumes—and a false door he really shouldn’t have opened. A passable entry.
Scaredy Scale: 5/10. Some creepy-crawly creature comeuppance for bad behavior.
6. “Graveyard Rats,” Episode 2
Fine sci-fi horror director Vincenzo Natali brings us this fairly doofy tale of a graverobber with a rat phobia (tough combo!) who goes for his biggest score yet and comes to regret it, in a subterranean adventure of escalating terrors. The charming practical effects go a long way.
Scaredy Scale: 5/10. Slate has long had an in-house debate about the following question: If you had a choice between falling into a pit filled with rats, or having rats rain down on you from above, which would you choose? Let’s just say this episode offers a dramatization of both scenarios.
7. “Dreams in the Witch House,” Episode 6
Another Lovecraft adaptation, this time from director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Twilight), follows a man (Rupert Grint, of Harry Potter fame) dabbling in the supernatural to find his sister, who died when they were young and was whisked away by mysterious spirits. He ends up at the titular witch house, where nothing good happens. The episode plays like a richly designed tribute to del Toro, on the milder end of his dark fairy tales. It is, in a word, meh.
Scaredy Scale: 4/10. There are lots of witchy proceedings, child-snatching trees, and terrible indignities on poor Ron Weasley via humanoid rodent, but it’s all pretty PG-13.
8. “The Outside,” Episode 4
In what was for me the great disappointment of the series, an odd-duck bank teller (Kate Micucci) becomes convinced by her nauseating co-workers that she needs to experience the world as a conventionally beautiful person. When one of them introduces her to a strange body cream—sold by an infomercial ghoul (Dan Stevens)—a plodding body-horror odyssey unfolds. Director Ana Lily Amirpour has all the elements in place and delivers a few stylishly depraved sequences, but the rest is (sorry!) pretty skin deep.
Scaredy Scale: 4/10. It is, again, gross, and the skincare nightmares are legion, but it’s more unpleasant than haunting.