In “Graveyard Rats,” the second installment of Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, Masson (David Hewlett), a professional grave robber, makes a last-ditch attempt to pay off some hefty debts by retrieving a particularly valuable artifact from the recently deceased. Trouble is, per the title, the graveyard in which he plies his trade is overrun by some very determined rats, among other things. It’s a fittingly brisk setup for what’s essentially a short creature feature, rife with potential for some economical blood-letting. But beyond the impressive squick factor of this Vincenzo Natali-helmed entry, “Graveyard Rats” is an utterly banal experience, devoid of even a single novel development. Matters are only made worse by the episode’s cornball sense of O. Henry-ish irony and some terrible writing.
Natali manages to bring very little to the show other than a drably grey digital intermediate to the period setting. Instead, the real stars here are the thousands and thousands of rats and the gorgeous animatronic VFX that follow them once Masson delves deep enough into their lair. Though the episode is based on a short story by acclaimed genre writer Henry Kuttner, one might suspect that the sole reason for being here is to deliver a bunch of yucky rat stuff — if that’s the case, mission accomplished. The effects work is genuinely superb, and the gags are sufficiently… gag-inducing.
Unfortunately, the rest of the story is entirely perfunctory and deeply corny. Hewlett is particularly bad as Masson, spouting a bunch of flowery dialogue in a shout-for-the-rafters over-enunciation that smells vaguely of bad theater. Perhaps the intent is to characterize him as an in-over-his-head dummy putting on airs, but it all just winds up a distracting miscalculation. Worse still are the clumsy stabs at careful-what-you-wish-for irony; it’s the kind of thing that’s polluted genre anthology fare for decades: obvious moral lessons rolled up in derivative premises. Even the beloved original Twilight Zone couldn’t avoid that, but at least that seemed novel at the time (setting aside the vastly superior craft). In the end, this is just another undernourishing, understylized horror exercise. You’ll forget about it before it’s even over.