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Cabinet Of Curiosities' Rat Queen Design Proves Practical Effects Win Again

Halloween may only be once a year, but "Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities" is forever ... provided that the inevitable pop of the burgeoning streaming bubble doesn't spell the end for Netflix and all the media housed within. That's a different kind of horror story, though. "Cabinet of Curiosities," rather, is an anthology series comprised of eight spooky tales starring the likes of Andrew Lincoln ("The Walking Dead"), Rupert Grint ("Harry Potter"), Ben Barnes ("Shadow and Bone"), and Kate Micucci ("Steven Universe"). A brief glance through the rest of the cast list proves that, while prevalent celebrity talent might not show up for horror projects in general, everyone shows up for del Toro.

The curiosities vary drastically (although an uncomfortable number of them feature the gouging of eyes), featuring everything from demonic storage units to alien-infested corpses to ghostly forests to rodents of unusual size. Fortunately, only one of those abominations was attempted with wholly practical effects. Unfortunately, it was the rat, and that thing is terrifying. 

Enter the Rat Queen

In the second episode, grossly entitled "Graveyard Rats," a down-on-his-luck grave robber (David Hewlett) can't seem to hold onto any trinkets that he unearths because an ungodly swarm of rats snatches the treasures away the moment he finds them. Apparently never great at taking hints, the grave robber ignores this clearly paranormal hiccup and stumbles across what the artistic team gently referred to as the Rat Queen. Now, the term "queen" tends to come in conjunction with an aura of grace, or at least unearned authority, but the Rat Queen carries neither of these airs. If that creature could speak, we'd probably follow its every command because we're not really trying to be rat feed over here. 

She's a monstrous beast of an animatronic puppet with bulbous opaline eyes and wispy fur that hardly covers the mottled musculature. Next to Hewlett, the Rat Queen puppet is more than human-sized; it's basically a whole horse. Vincenzo Natali, who directed the episode, told Newsweek that Rat Queen was something of a miracle, even if it looked like a nightmare. "It is the first puppet that I've worked with that actually works 100 percent," said Natali. "It was really quite something to behold." Based on his descriptions, it sounds like Natali was unnaturally happy to put Hewlett through the wringer.

A disturbing win for practical effects

Vincenzo Natali went on to describe all the benefits of sticking with practical effects. In that same interview with Newsweek, Natali said, "The queen rat was so shocking, and they had it right in David's face. I think it was better than if he was acting to a tennis ball on a grip stand, and it's thrilling. There's something about watching that on a monitor, when everything's actually in the frame and it's happening in real time, that is exhilarating for everybody. Then you get a subtlety in terms of how that creature interacts with the light and even little things like the way its whiskers move and so on, that would be very difficult to do digitally ... it could articulate really, really well." 

Translation? The team over at Spectral Motion (the company that created the Rat Queen puppet) needs to be stopped post haste before society progresses any further with AI technology. For now, at least, the creature requires a helping human hand. "The puppeteers were fantastic and we had a great time. I had a great time directing the puppet — like the puppet is a character, it is an actor on that set," said Natali. "It's kind of thrilling for me as a director to interact with a creature like that." Well, at least HE's having a good time with it.