David Prior Borrowed From An Exorcist Scene For Guillermo Del Toro's Cabinet Of Curiosities

Guillermo del Toro's "Cabinet of Curiosities" is a collection of many wonders. The new spooky anthology presented by the famed filmmaker has a little bit of everything, from eldritch terrors to giant rats to malevolent moisturizers. It also has a clear standout story in David Prior's "The Autopsy," which is by far the most viscerally scary entry in the show's eight-episode first season.

If you haven't yet caught up on "Cabinet of Curiosities," which is wrapping up its four-night run on Netflix, be warned that we're about to get into the gory details of "The Autopsy" here. The episode starts off as more of a slow burn than most, with a forensic pathologist named Dr. Winters (F. Murray Abraham) consulting on a strange case with his old friend, Sheriff Craven (Glynn Turman). The pair are investigating missing person cases that lead them to Elliott (Luke Roberts), who Dr. Winters discovers — almost too late — is actually the host for a parasitic alien.

You'd think an alien horror story would focus on otherworldly scares, but "The Autopsy" is extra-effective because it grounds its story in the human body, a potential host site for the alien species. When "The Autopsy" shifts into sickening gear, it's all body horror: gouged eyes, split sternums, and a corpse that won't stop talking even as rigor mortis sets in. And if that wasn't enough, there's also an "Exorcist" influence. 

The 'really dirty split comp' that inspired Prior

In an interview with IndieWire, Prior explained the "trickery" that went into one of the episode's most jarring shots, angled upside-down, in which Elliott's possessed corpse explains its plans through a stiff set of lips. The filmmaker says that several small effects went into creating the off-putting visual, including one trick straight out of "The Exorcist" rulebook. "There's a throwaway double exposure in 'The Exorcist' that always creeped the hell out of me," Prior told the outlet. "It's a combination of Linda Blair and Eileen Dietz, who was the makeup stand-in/Pazuzu face."

The shot he's describing are among the most memorable in the traumatizing 1973 film, despite only appearing for a split second. In it, the white, haunting face of Pazuzu appears in a quick flash during a scene in which Regan's being exorcised. "They did this really dirty split comp of those two faces together," Prior describes. "Somewhere that was probably in the back of my mind that if we froze part of Luke's face and let the other part keep talking, you would get some uncanny oddness to it." The filmmaker says the team achieved the freaky look by making Elliott's eyes appear unblinking. "There were a couple of times where I froze his eyes," he shared, "And it just created a kind of weird, unnerving feel."

The results are gloriously off-putting

The filmmaker also says that he was inspired to film the actor's mouth upside down, not because of a horror movie, but a ventriloquist. "I liked the idea that it almost has a Señor Wences feeling when you're looking at him upside down like that," he told IndieWire, referencing the ventriloquist who famously made appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show," along with puppets that were typically designed around his own hand. Most importantly, though, Prior says, "it just felt like it needed to be something off-putting, so that the visuals are in tune with what he's talking about."

The result is certainly off-putting. In fact, once pointed out, the connection between Elliott and "The Exorcist" demon makes total sense. Roberts' performance is utterly disturbing, as are the effects and camerawork that highlight the existential dread that would no doubt accompany an encounter with a parasitic alien-turned-reanimated-corpse. "The Autopsy" is full of images we won't soon forget – even if we want to.