Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities
1×03: “The Autopsy”
Directed by David Prior
Based on a Short Story by Michael Shea
Written by David S. Goyer
* For a recap & review of 1×02, click here.
* For a recap & review of 1×04, click here.
A bunch of miners are hard at work underground. When they go for break someone jumps on top of the lift and then tosses a strange device that explodes. We see memorials to the miners killed some time later. We also see a bunch of missing posters everywhere. Dr. Carl Winters (F. Murray Abraham) arrives in town late one evening and heads directly over to the police station where he meets his old friend Sheriff Nate Craven (Glynn Turman). They haven’t seen each other in quite some time. They catch up about family a little over a cup of coffee before Carl wants to get down to business. They talk about the incident in the mine and “presumptive evidence of a bomb” that went off down there. A wild, strange situation. The sheriff calls it “one of those nightmare specials.”
A month prior, a family man in town went missing. A week after that a woman who ran the laundromat went missing, as well. A bunch more after that, too; six people in barely over a month. The sheriff tells Carl they never found much of anything, apart from a body tied up in a sack; the corpse had been “butchered clean” but there was no blood whatsoever. Nate had some hunters stake out nearby while the other cops put the corpse back where it was in the tree, hoping the killer would be back at some point. That night, the sheriff returned with one of his men, but they couldn’t find the hunters and the corpse was suddenly gone.
Sheriff Craven found out from a sheriff in a neighbouring county that a man called Abel Dougherty was killed and turned up in similar fashion to the corpse they’d found. Abel ran into somebody at the bar, believing it was a guy he was working with, Eddie, but the guy claims he’s Joe Allen. He’s confused and asks why Eddie’s doing this to him. Eddie/Joe says he’ll tell Abel. But he starts hypnotising Abel to make the man act sloppy drunk, making it seem like Eddie/Joe has to take Abel home. Then, Abel was found dead just like the other corpse. Joe is indeed a man called Eddie Sykes, who also went missing when going to watch “a meteor shower” in the woods; Eddie never returned to work, then came back as Joe.
Sheriff Craven went looking for Joe at the place where the latter was staying. He checked the guy’s apartment, finding nothing immediately out of the ordinary except for a dead possum in the fridge. The sheriff eventually finds something odd by the bedside: it’s the thing that blew up in the mine. Apparently Joe found it during the meteor shower. Sheriff Craven and his man took the weird object, then headed for the mine, where Joe was working at the time. He called ahead for reinforcements to make sure nothing gets too out of hand. Craven arrived at the mine and Joe appeared, grabbing his strange meteor thing from the cop car. That’s when Joe ran inside and hopped onto the elevator, right before he tossed the bomb and it exploded, causing all those miners’ deaths. Craven and a few others were tossed backwards during the blast as the explosion ripped up through the elevator shaft.
They never found a trace of the meteor thing. Sheriff Craven didn’t understand how Joe even knew they had the thing with them, yet he went right for it instead of running for the woods. He still doesn’t get it. But that’s part of why he asked his friend Dr. Winters to come to town, too. They head off that night to get to work. Carl mentions he only has six months left to live after receiving a terrible cancer diagnosis. He’s “made peace” with it, as if he has any other choice. “We‘re all heading for the same destination,” Dr. Winters says.
Across town, Sheriff Craven’s had his people setup a makeshift facility in which Dr. Winters can conduct autopsies on the 10 people killed in the mine. Carl urges his policeman pal to go get some rest. He figures he’ll only get a few corpses autopsied before the night’s over. A lot of hard work ahead, but Dr. Winters seems ready.
Dr. Winters starts with a corpse belonging to Hudson Miller, in whom the doc believes there may be bomb fragments, if there are any in the victims at all. He goes about getting Miller’s corpse on the table and puts on a little music to accompany his lonely death work. He apologises to the dead man before opening up the body cavity. He finds no evidence of bomb fragments. When he’s about to put the corpse away, he hears a voice that says: “Run. Get out, now.” The doc ignores the voice and goes for the next corpse, beginning the second autopsy on Walter Lou Jackson. He starts to wonder if Joe was trying to destroy the meteor thing, “the sphere,” and not attempting to detonate it. Dr. Winters find an odd wound on Jackson’s corpse. He opens the sternum, discovering the wound goes to the heart and the organs inside the man are “completely drained of blood.” The next corpse, Brady, has a similar wound to Jackson’s body. And the organs inside are drained of blood, too.
The lights go out, leaving Dr. Winters in the dark. Soon they return, thankfully for the refrigerated corpses especially. Carl starts to wonder if all the blood from the other corpses is in Allen’s stomach. He recognises it’s a crazy thought. But he’s too curious not to find out. When he goes back to get the corpse he sees Joe reanimate, crawling off the gurney and across the floor towards him. It rightly horrifies the doctor. Joe stands up, still shambling towards the doctor. He says he’s “a traveller.” He’s meant to destroy a ship, so that his kind aren’t discovered.
And then, the alien inside Joe attacks the doctor.
Dr. Winters wakes up some time later strapped to a gurney. He’s going to be another vessel for the alien entity. Quite the change from earlier, being the one working over the table rather than the one strapped to it. The alien’s excited to use a doctor for a host because it’ll give it access to all kinds of meals without suspicion. Now, the alien’s preparing to transfer itself from Joe to Carl. It explains the streamlining of their process over the ages. Then it makes the necessary cuts to Joe’s body, beginning the transfer. Dr. Winters starts to taunt the alien, calling it a jealous thief: “You’re nothing but cancer with a big mouth.” But the alien’s unconcerned, only thinking about taking Sheriff Craven for a “first meal.” It goes on taunting Carl, just as it pulls its alien form out of Joe and lays it on the doctor.
Joe’s body makes an incision in Dr. Winters’s side, then it goes limp, leaving the alien form to crawl for the wound. The doctor then decides to nick his throat, writing on his chest in blood, before stabbing himself in the eardrums and cutting his throat, as well as sinking the scalpel into his eyes. This leaves the alien entity with a damaged host that’s bleeding out fast. When Sheriff Craven arrives in the morning, he finds Dr. Winters dead on the floor. He sees the message the doc left in blood: PLAY TAPE, BURN ME.