David G. Hartwell’s classic anthology The Dark Descent is a massive textual chest brimming with terrifying treasures, but none more captivating than Michael Shea‘s 1980 novella “The Autopsy.” Shea’s unique blend of medical inquiry, body horror, and cosmic horror forms one of the most truly unnerving tales I’ve ever read. From my very first encounter with the narrative, I thought it would make for an incredible short film. Decades later, that adaptation (by director David Prior, from a teleplay by David S. Goyer) has finally occurred, with “The Autopsy” serving as the third episode of the new Netflix series Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities.
The hour-long episode proves quite faithful in its translation of Shea’s into the televisual, capturing all of the creeping dread and visceral gruesomeness of the original narrative. Actually seeing the various autopsies performed might be even more affecting than reading about them (I’ll admit that at times the depth of medical information in Shea’s text has overwhelmed me). The postmortems–mostly conducted by forensic pathologist Dr. Carl Winters (F. Murray Abraham)–depicted onscreen here (via stunning fx) make The Autopsy of Jane Doe seem like a fun game of Operation. Fans of Lovecraftian horror will not want to miss this sublimely chilling effort.