Download: How 'Cabinet of Curiosities' Production Designer Tamara Deverell Created 8 Distinct Worlds to Terrorize Us
Everything Guillermo del Toro puts on screen is atmospheric. He is a master of mood, color, and pacing, and his latest effort, Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, is a treat into unexpected darkness. By giving space to 8 different directors to tell individual tales of terror, del Toro has created a sophisticated descent into our nightmares. Every episode is impeccably designed by Tamara Deverell.
The series opens with Guillermo Navarro’s “Lot 36,” a story about a man who scavenges storage spaces after their owners die. Played by Tim Blake Nelson, this man believes he hits the jackpot when he wins an auction to a space packed wall-to-wall with bins, newspapers, and Nazi memorabilia. When he tries to sell his new items, his greed gets the better of him. The storage space is so jammed with items, I had to ask the designer if there were things in the space that we don’t even know about.
“Oh my God–there were so many things,” Deverell says with a laugh. “There was a set of gaudy newspapers that we built that we didn’t get to feature. There were so many hidden things. That was an entirely built set. We had piles of clothes. The Nazi paraphernalia was all throughout. Some you get the essence of and some you don’t. We built the pentagram table and the crazy Victorian hair wreath.”
“The Outside” looks and feels different on the surface, because it features so much color. Most of the action takes place in Stacey’s home that features a lot of wood details, but key scenes take place in Gina’s home. There is a huge, purple Christmas bulb wreath on Gina’s front door and that festive sheen is key to the arc of these two women.
“The whole idea was that it was steeped in the ’70s, and since Stacey did taxidermy, we wanted to go over-the-top with it,” she said. “We wanted it to be a normal, Midwestern home but turned up the creep factor. I fashioned it after my own basement even though I don’t have a lot of weird, animals hanging around. Just a lot of movie props! It’s the same idea, though.”
Jennifer Kent’s “The Murmuring” closes the season with a somber tone. It is a ghost story, but it is so personally felt. Deverell re-established a previous set, and the results look totally different. You can feel how much history this house holds within its walls. Any time a new scene started, I couldn’t stop staring at the wallpaper. In one scene, Essie Davis and Andrew Lincoln get into bed, and the walls glimmer from the gold flecks in the wallpaper.
“The Murmuring” / re-established a house that was use for another film / wallpaper
“A producer told me that they had a manor that could possibly use, but I wasn’t familiar with it. I looked at the plans, and we added some of the key rooms. We painted the entire thing and wallpapered it. We don’t know where the old house ended and the new one began. I like to repurpose things, and we re-used a few things from Nightmare Alley. I think they have such tremendous value and it feels good on an environmental level, and there was so many years of plaster that our construction coordinator was worried that the set was going to crumble upon itself since there are so many layers.”
“The wallpaper conversations were endless. There was a company that we worked with all of that called William Morris, and we worked with the costume department to help capture that feeling of sadness. We wanted to create a blue mood. Jennifer Kent’s previous movie, The Babadook, was very blue, and, I think, she was a little worried about it feeling repetitive. I told her that it’s really a horror signature, and we thought we should go with. We were doing a house that was timeless, but the time period was the ’50s and the house was built in the ’20s. We had to help build the history of that house.”
All the indoor locations deserve individual attention, but I was shocked to discover that Deverell and her team designed some outdoor spaces as well. In Catherine Hardwicke’s “Dream in the Witch House,” she created a forest that feels lifted from our dreams with its gnarled trees and spooky smoke.
“We wanted to create a space that didn’t really exist,” Deverell admits. “That forest has a lot of truncated trees and Catherine Hardwicke, Guillermo, and I were trying to find a space, but then we decided to build it. Shooting in a forest in Ontario in November wasn’t appealing to many people, and we had to do a lot of extra things like smoke and steam. We took a mold of a locust tree that was featured at the beginning of the film, so it had a specificity that resonated with one of the characters. It was a cool bark, but it was also a great meeting of the spiritual world of the themes of that particular story. That forest was a lot of work, and we layered real trees with fake ones to give us a desired effect.
Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities is streaming now on Netflix.