This story about “Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities” first appeared in the Limited Series/Movies issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
It’s enough of a task to create the look for one horror mini-feature, but imagine if your assignment was a total of eight, in the style of “Tales from the Crypt” or “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” And each had a different director. And none of the stories were directly related to one another. And all were overseen by a beloved Oscar-winning filmmaker whose name alone is a brand. “Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities” production designer Tamara Deverell knew going in that it would be challenging to serve every vision, with filmmakers as diverse as Jennifer Kent (“The Babadook”), Panos Cosmatos (“Mandy”), Vincenzo Natali (“Splice”) and Ana Lily Amirpour (“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”) as her just-for-starters roster.
“Everything was smooth-going, and then the s–t kind of hit the fan when these directors came in,” Deverell said. “Because as much as I’m a people person, and they were all lovely, the process was difficult in that the directors were all very thoughtful and intense and had their own ideas. So it was a bit of a dance for me as a designer between what I know Guillermo wants, who is the creator, and what each director wants. There’s a lot of, like, dancing.”
And this pas de deux (or more apropos, pas de trois) included making sets to accommodate storylines as varied as the early 1900s art scene, a 1960s country home for birdwatchers, a 1970s psychedelic nouveau riche party pad, an abandoned storage lot and even a community of rats inhabiting the bowels of a cemetery.
“We built a ton,” Deverell said, noting del Toro’s love for design and effects, something she learned when working with the Oscar-nominated production design team from his 2021 noir, “Nightmare Alley.” “We had four stages full of sets. Some we used and some I tried to play the chess game of masterminding how to reuse.” You can see all of the director’s influences shuffling through “Cabinet,” while alert viewers will notice nods to movies like “Carrie” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, among others.
“I’d say 80% of the show was shot on stages,” she said. “I rely on Guillermo for the film-history aesthetics. He’ll say, ‘OK, you’ve got to watch this and this,’ and he always has go-to suggestions that are really helpful.” Another bonus was that Deverell and her team were allowed to reuse a set from another del Toro horror anthology she did not work on, “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” and only delved into location shooting when it was an absolute necessity, such as Episode 6, Catherine Hardwicke’s witch tale set in a forest. “On a show like this that’s very intense, you want to make it a stage show, just logistically, because you have one crew, and it’s just brutal going out on location, as opposed to being nestled into a studio,” Deverell said.
And then there was the last part of this puzzle, almost a feature in itself: the actual cabinet of the title. Each episode opens, Hitchcock-style, with the “Pan’s Labyrinth” director introducing every segment while standing beside an elaborate wood coffer whose many hidden drawers and cavities pop up to reveal hidden treasures. He then presents the episode and its director, depicted in individual miniature sculptures.
“That was Guillermo’s idea, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, where are you going with this and have you spoken to the directors?’” Deverell said, laughing. “But they were fine about it, and we had so much fun designing them and building them. We had our sculptures carved in the shop, and the idea was those little netsuke Japanese ivory carvings. We made three of each: one went to each director, one went to Netflix. And I think Guillermo kept a set. They were really precious and really fun to do.”
Read more from the Limited Series/Movies issue here.