Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities
1×01: “Lot 36”
Directed by Guillermo Navarro
Based on a Short Story by Guillermo del Toro
Written by Regina Corrado & Guillermo del Toro
* For a recap & review of 1×02, click here.
George H.W. Bush is on television talking about “New World Order.” This is right before Operation Desert Storm in 1991. An old man’s listening to Bush on television while chopping up a bunch of meat. Then he has a heart attack and falls to the floor. There’s a key chain with 36 on it nearby. Elsewhere, Nick Appleton (Tim Blake Nelson) is listening to a Rush Limbaugh-esque radio host talking about “white rights” and immigration; not much has changed in American since ’91. He’s pretty into it. He’s also a veteran. He goes to a storage lot sale hosted by a guy called Eddie (Demetrius Grosse).
Lot 36 is up for sale first. It was owned by the same man for many years. Eddie cuts the lock on the lot and opens it for everyone to have a look for a quick moment. Then, a new lock until the bidding’s done. An auctioneer steps up and starts the bidding while Nick and others bid on the lot. Eventually, Lot 36 goes to Nick. Later on we discover Nick’s got debt issues and there’s someone very unhappy, telling him he has to get the money by tonight. We also see Nick and Eddie are in business together, at least to a degree. Then Eddie shows Nick a videotape of the Lot 36 owner, who always came to check on the lot regularly. He thinks there’s something special inside, whereas Nick assumes it’s just a bunch of junk gathering dust. Plus, the old man did some strange hopping each time he came and left. Weird.
Operation Desert Storm is all over the news on television. Eddie gets a visit from Emilia (Elpidia Carrillo), who had a unit there but it turns out he sold it when he couldn’t get in touch with her. He says that Nick is the one who bought it, suggesting Emilia talk to him about it. Nick doesn’t have much time but Emilia urges there was a lot of personal stuff in the unit. He says he owns whatever’s left now. He offers to give it back for $1,000. Then he does a bit of racist ranting as Emilia tells him to “rot in Hell.”
Afterwards, Nick goes to check on Lot 36. There’s a lot of furniture, from lampshades to chairs and more. He also gets into an argument with Eddie. He’s an angry white veteran. Eddie tries to point out the lack of equality in the military but Nick insists everyone in his unit “was green.”
The whole storage facility is about 80 years old, built in the 1940s. So, as you’d expect, there are maintenance issues, whether that’s strangely-sized storage units or bad electrical wiring. Nick goes back to Lot 36 and has a more in-depth look inside, finding a suitcase with old photographs and a candelabra; some of the photos include snaps from Nazi Germany. When Nick heads out with a bunch of items to his truck he gets attacked by whoever it is seeking to collect on his debt. His truck gets beat up and he gets whacked with a hammer. Emilia witnesses some of it, too.
One of the things Nick found in the storage unit was a “seance table,” which he finds out from a buyer, Agatha (Martha Burns), who’s able to help open the table. Inside, Nick finds several books with ominous names. Agatha calls a friend who deals in books, Roland (Sebastian Roche). Roland claims the seance table is from “19th–century Austria.” It was made to facilitate the summoning of an entity. Nick has no real interest in it, aside from the money. He shows Roland the books and the latter asks about “a fourth volume.” If he can find the fourth, then the four books together would net $300K. The books were meant to help people bring a demon into the world. But Nick just wants to find the other book and get the big payday so he can save himself from the debt collector.
On the way to Lot 36, Roland tells Nick he knows the family of the man who owned the lot. Apparently the family made weaponry “for the wrong side” during WWII. Roland says the head of the family did awful things, and later, the latest lot owner, squandered the family fortune. The family patriarch was into occultism and darker things. His sister Dottie went missing, too; rumours that her brother was trying to bring a demon into the world to possess her went around. Again, Nick cares nothing about any of this, concentrating solely on getting back to the lot and searching.
Back at Lot 36, Nick and Roland start to look through everything. They realise there’s a hollow wall behind some of the furniture, which makes sense given Nick already thought the lot wasn’t as big as it was meant to be, and so Nick goes about having a look behind the wall. When the wall opens, a stench greets Nick and Roland. Then Roland lights the candelabra and he advises Nick not to make eye contact with anything they might find inside.
The two men proceed down a corridor behind the hollow wall. There are papers stuck everywhere, likely bible verses, along the walls inside, along with crucifixes every so often. Eventually, Nick and Roland find a circle drawn on the floor and a woman’s shrivelled corpse inside; it’s Dottie. There’s a demon still wriggling inside the woman’s head. Nick walks right through the magic circle, not believing in any of it, and that starts some serious shit. The demon’s tentacles burst out of dead Dottie and they swallow Roland whole. Nick drops the book and makes a run for it. But it’s tough to escape a demon, especially when you have to keep cranking on the lights. Nick makes it to a locked door where he sees Emilia on the other side. He urges her to open the door. Emilie instead decides to put the lock Nick gave her earlier on the door instead. This perfectly leaves the angry racist in the storage facility with a monstrous demon of Nazi origins. And moments later, the demon gobbles Nick up.