Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities
1×06: “Dreams in the Witch House”
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke
Based on a Short Story by H.P. Lovecraft
Written by Mika Watkins
* For a recap & review of 1×05, click here.
* For a recap & review of 1×07, click here.
When Walter Gilman (Rupert Grint) was young, his twin sister Epperley (Daphne Hoskins) was ill. She talked about “the ghosts” and not wanting to go with them. Then suddenly she was dead. Walter blamed himself, having promised to protect her. Out of nowhere, the sky raged with thunder and lightning. Walter saw the ghost of his dead sister, but she was soon dragged out of the house and into the woods where she disappeared.
In 1933, Walter’s at a show by Madame Levine (Nia Vardalos), a psychic who’s able to bridge the dimension of our world with that of the spirits. He watches on as Madame Levine conducts a seance. He witnesses ectoplasm come from her mouth. She passes out briefly before the show finishes. “The bridge is real!” says the show’s host, as he takes the Madame backstage. Walter goes backstage hoping for more. He sees everything on the stage was just a lot of theatrical trickery and he’s disappointed. He remains desperate to prove the Other Side is real, even if it keeps him poor.
Walter works for the Massachusetts Spiritual Society and it doesn’t pay much. But he’s personally connected to a search for ghosts and other supernatural things. He’s trying to go on the road to meet with a couple promising mediums, one of whom has been seen levitating. Yet his boss at the society doesn’t have the money to dole out. He even thinks it’s possible the society might close their Massachusetts office. At least Walter has a job tending bar to keep him off the streets. One night at the bar, Walter hears an Indigenous man called Atsidi (Wesley French) talking about “another dimension.” He tells the man about his sister and seeing her spirit before she was pulled into “some kind of vortex.” Atsidi says the vortex is called “the Forest of Lost Souls.” Walter asks if Atsidi can take him there, and it’s possible for a price. Because it only takes a drug to get there.
Off Walter goes in a drugged haze, searching for the mysterious forest. He sees an opening to the woods appear from nowhere and heads inside. A bunch of vines grab hold of Walter, pulling him deeper into the forest. Soon, Walter finds Epperley in a garden-like place, except the vines won’t let them close. The vines pull Walter all the way back into reality, as he wakes on the floor. Right away he rushes off to find his friend and former colleague Frank (Ismael Cruz Cordova), rambling about everything he saw under the influence of “Liquid Gold.” It sounds insane to Frank, who’s never seen any evidence of the supernatural himself.
So Walter goes back to take more of the drug, searching for Epperley. He wanders through the forest again, seeing a painting of “the Witch House,” once belonging to Keziah Mason (Lize Johnston). Then he finds Epperley and they’re able to talk, catching up after so many years. He tells her all he’s thought about since she died is finding her again. But quickly, Walter is pulled back to reality by the vines once more. Although this time, he’s brought a long a piece of his sister’s gown.
Walter reads about Keziah, who used “an ancient ritual dagger” to contact different dimensions. Keziah was later executed for being a witch, though her “body was never found.” All this convinces Walter to go investigate the Witch House himself to seek more answers. He tells his whole story to his boss, but the man decides a tale of drugs and hallucination only deserve a termination; he can come back when he’s “an honourable man again.” From here, Walter has to do the investigating all on his own, and not having a job isn’t going to stop him.
Walter goes to seek room and board at the Witch House, which is fairly dilapidated and hideous. There are rats who laugh like they have a smoker’s cough, along with strange things carved into the walls, as well as a yonic stain seeping through the ceiling. What a place to stay!
Walter goes about his readings at night and it’s as if he hears the voice of Keziah herself speaking through the books. He sees something strange in the shadows but upon closer inspection there’s nothing. Yet something, or someone, keeps creeping in the darkness. Later, Walter wakes in the night and sees someone approach his bed: the charred remains of Keziah Mason. He’s terrified and can’t move an inch, even with a human-faced rat crawling over him and making fun of him. The witch and the rat ponder over Walter more. The rat asks if Walter is the one who’ll free them. The witch uses her fiery wand, touching symbols on the wall, then… Walter wakes.
Walter gets more Liquid Gold and heads back to the Witch House, now knowing that twins are “the key.” He heads back into the forest again to search for his sister. He quickly finds Epperley, who says he’s “causing ripples” and must leave. The witch is disturbed from the earth and unroots herself, chasing after the twins. Keziah’s rat familiar finds the twins, nearly catching up with them, and she manages to get her hands on Walter. But Epperley pulls her brother away, back to reality, where he’s on the floor of his room in the Witch House again.
This time, Epperley’s with Walter in the real world. The rat familiar is back, too, and it gives chase. Walter and Epperley run to Mariana’s (Tenika Davis) room. She lets them in to keep them safe. She talks about the torture of Keziah and that the witch compels her to paint. She recognises Epperley, too, because she’s been in the forest, as Walter saw earlier. But she’s worried that a door’s now open in the Witch House, which means Keziah may have come back through, too. She says: “For the dead to become flesh, the living must die.” She claims Keziah will kill Walter before the sun rises in the morning. That’s when Epperley runs off.
Walter and Mariana go to the church, where Sister Lucretia (Diane Johnstone) tells them she’ll offer no help. Mariana begs the religious woman to help keep them from the devil. Lucretia offers sanctuary, but she doesn’t know if it’ll even keep Keziah from finding and getting to them. A great moment for Frank to show up looking for Walter. Then they all hear Keziah calling for Walter, looking to take him. The witch attacks the church, striking down Lucretia, as Walter’s gripped by her magic force. And after a while, she pulls Walter out of the church. They’re gone. Epperley remains and Frank witnesses her spirit.
At the Witch House, Keziah has Walter in her clutches. She’s about to take his soul when Epperley stops her, stabbing the witch with her own wand. Keziah disintegrates on the floor as her rat familiar watches on in horror. The witch becomes nothing bust ash and dust. Epperley insists that Walter must let her go; she doesn’t belong in that world anymore. And the twins say goodbye all over again, as Epperley is released from being trapped inside the Forest of Lost Souls.
Walter hasn’t died before sunrise. Some good has come of his tough journey. While Mariana and Frank watch over Walter in bed they see the stain above it, wondering what might be in the attic. They go looking upstairs, discovering a corpse, as well as the corpse of a rat with a human skull. Simultaneously, Walter feels something inside him like it’s trying to burst out of his chest. He goes limp when Frank and Mariana come to check on him. The rat skeleton disappears, then the rat familiar bursts free from Walter’s body cavity, gloating over the triumph of killing Walter. The witch has won after all. The rat crawls back into Walter, reanimating the corpse.