When I first heard that Guillermo del Toro was launching an anthology TV series I. Was. Hooked. When I found out it was going to be horror-based for Halloween? Dead!
My relationship with del Toro isn’t complicated – but it is very shallow. Pan’s Labyrinth. And I know, I know, I’m missing out. The Shape of Water… I’m told it is a MASTERPIECE! Hellboy… a cult classic, I’m sure. But del Toro was never quite horror enough for me, and his fantasy wasn’t the kind of fantasy style I could get lost in. But Pan’s Labyrinth? That was a head fuck and a half. And now, with his new series the Cabinet of Curiosities on Netflix absolutely dominating my Halloween watch schedule, I will fully take on board all criticisms that I was a cultural fool to have ever been scared to have a dalliance with del Toro’s movies.
Lesson learned. His movies are the ONLY movies I’ll be watching that don’t contain Santa Claus or the Grinch between now and Christmas.
And it all started with how that first episode HOOKED me like a steady salmon just going about my business. Let’s take a look at Lot 36 from Del Toro’s “Cabinet of Curiosities,” including that particular monster found in it.
The Right and Lot 36
I will absolutely not be getting political. Not a chance. There are three things I would never discuss with strangers: Politics, Religion, and Toni Collette (if you don’t think she’s a goddess on this Earth you are incorrect and, frankly, a scallion).
But I mention it here because never (ever, ever, ever) have I consumed media in which someone who was openly racist, Right-leaning to the point of tipping over, and so diametrically opposed to my core beliefs was cast in the main role. A villainous role, sure. But as a protagonist? Never. Which alarmed me. In fact, it scared the bajezus out of me. It highlighted to me that perhaps the media I do consume is intrinsically more political than I’d been critically engaged with.
And this is where the brilliance of this episode lies.
Lot 36 and America’s International Baggage
Nick (played by Tim Blake Nelson) is that racist protagonist. A war vet of Bush’s invasion of the Middle East, it is implied that his return from war caused the break up of his marriage and his descent into a debt that pushes him into the yawning maw of a demon’s mouth (spoilers, obv, but c’man).
We see his loneliness curdle into a pulsing infection of xenophobic distaste and latent American greed. Nick agrees with the self-righteous radio host who denounces all immigrants on his way to the storage facility that most of Cabinet of Curiosities’ Lot 36 takes place. We see this mutated and callous form of American patriotism, too, in action when he denies Emilia (played by Elpidia Carrillo) the decency of combing through her sold lot for mementos of her family (which Nick knows fine well he can’t sell anyway).
Nick is an A-hole. Yet he’s the viewpoint we have for the entirety of the episode. And while his political, moral, and philosophical predilections are abhorrent, we find our own tension mirroring his throughout the story.
It’s curious why Cabinet of Curiosities’ Lot 36 is so dependant on its storage facility locale. There are numerous other, perhaps more poetic, settings that del Toro could have selected – yet he chose this. Now, this may just be the English student in me talking, but it feels pertinent – vital even.
Nick’s baggage is emotional, but dictatorial over his life. And so he spends his life amongst the ruins of other people’s emotional baggage in the form of the literal junk they choose to store within their ‘lots’. There seems to be a parallel here between Nick’s personification of the American far-right and America’s own challenges with its citizen’s growing clamour for immigration reform being based along xenophobic lines.
There’s an irony here too, as Nick once forced himself another country via the American war machine, could his political misgivings about immigration come from a place of retribution? Nick witnessed the horrors of people from another land invading someone’s home, and now he fears this too shall come to pass on America.
And, in fact, it does.
He was right to be scared.
Cabinet of Curiosities’ Lot 36 Ending Explained
With the help of Agatha (Martha Burns) and her associate Roland (Sebastian Roche), Nick finds himself in a position to earn a tonne of money off of some demon books (“Liber Primus, Daemonia”, “Liber Secundus, Symvolia”, and “Liber Tertius, Perilipsi”). As his current debt with the shady window smasher of his truck is only $12,000, the $10,000 he can earn from these three books and the séance table they were found in could be the end of his financial worries. But, then, Roland offers Nick a bargain (very Faustus, I know) and says that if Nick can find the fourth book in the demonic set (“Liber Quartus, Sacramentum”), their combined total would be $300,000. Quid’s in, right? Wrong.
Roland clearly says that the only way this book would still exits and not Dracrys’d itself is if the demon that the set had summoned had been cheated in some way. Now, forgive my objectivity here, but surely a better bargain to strike here would be “give me my 10K, and another 5K for the lot (Roland doesn’t seem short of a few bob) and YOU can go after this cheated demon book, and, in the famous words of Duncan Ballantyne ‘I’M OOT’”. But no, Nick hears $300,000 and decides to hunt down this book with his new pal, Roland.
Now, a whole lot of Storage Wars-esque rummaging happens between that point and the good stuff, so I’m going to skip it. Nick and Roland find a false panel that has artificially shortened Cabinet of Curiosities’ Lot 36, and created a hidden room at the lot’s back. Roland and Nick pass the usual markers of a bloody awful smell (phone the police), multiple crucifixes nailed to the wall (phone the police!), before finally stumbling on a secret room with a dead body at its centre with a circle of symbol filled red sand around it (CALL THE POLICE, FS!!!). The body is the missing sister of Lot 36’s original owner who we saw pass away at the episode’s beginning, and has had her face hollowed out. But Nick, good ole Nick, sees the book that Roland needs to part with $300,000 and decides to clunk his way through the red sand that, even to a casual observer, would appear to be some kind of barrier that, even if you don’t believe in demons, you’d avoid kicking like a toddler on the beach because, I don’t know… EVIDENCE! But I digress.
He does kick the sand on his way to the book, and wouldn’t you know, the trick that held the demon in place, and, by extension, the book from turning to ash, is gone. So now Nick has no book, no $300,000, and a Lovecraftian mass of slimy looking tentacles erupting from Dottie Wolmar’s deceased body – you reap what you sow, Dickhead.
As Nick runs through the cavernous darkness of the storage facility, he finds himself at what was previously called the complex’s “only exit” and finds it locked from the outside. As he pounds on the door to be let out before he’s devoured, who should be standing there? Emilia, the woman he’d previously denigrated and who represents everything he hates within America. This was an absolutely kicker for me. While above I had mentioned that the media I consume isn’t usually centred around people of the far-right, nor is that media willing to concede the darkness in those who are closer to the centre and the left. Because, in any other story, Emilia, the disrespected immigrant, would have a conscious too great to ignore, who, despite the absolutely abhorrent way she was treated earlier by Nick, would graciously set him free as it is “the right thing to do”. Let me tell you something, that would absolutely not happen. It’s a fairy tale construction invented to give those on the far-right a feeling of carte blanche freedom to be total assholes because they will be forgiven in heaven or some other such nonsense. Emilia does what everyone else would do, left leaning or not, and leaves his ass to fix his own mess. This mess, of course, being that he then gets eaten by the demon. Nom-nom (yuck, I hate that phrase too but not as much as “yum-yum”).
Final Thoughts on Lot 36 and del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities
— FOUNDATIONS OF HORROR —
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I’m not saying he deserved to get eaten like a Big Mac, but I’m not bawling my eyes out that he did. What is interesting to note here is that Nick has been afraid of immigrants coming into his country at least since he came back from the war. And while he directed his hatred onto skin colour and country of origin, his fear should have been placed on something far more spiritual. Because Nick was eaten by Lot 36’s monster who invaded American territory – both religiously, and territorially. This demon is not of our day-to-day world. It existed on the periphery of even religious texts, skulking through shadowy groups of likeminded individuals that dabbled in the darkest fathoms of occult study. Whether conjured from Hell or a parallel dimension, this monster or demon was, for all intents and purposes, the “illegal alien” that Nick had let his life be consumed by (pun intended). The irony here is that the monster serves to underscore the sameness and kinship between all creeds of the human race and reaffirm the boundaries of humanity that Nick should have been thankful for.
I don’t know where you go when you’re eaten by a demon monster like this. I’m sure your body becomes a little offering buried near the lake of fire, but your soul? It doesn’t bear thinking about. I hope wherever you are though Nick, it is full of people that look like you, and think like you, and you can all be grateful that you’ve finally found a home for all that hatred. Adios, amigos!
Last Updated on November 11, 2022.