As much as I enjoy Blade and appreciate it for kickstarting the comic book movie adaptation glut (sorry, X-Men, but it’s true), I’ve always held its sequel in much higher esteem, thanks to just how creatively insane and unexpected some of its ideas were. And most of that (pun intended) batshit crazy vampire action was the result of Guillermo Del Toro, the acclaimed Mexican director with the unbound visual imagination, and the almost perverse love of the macabre. It was a match made in heaven. The twisted, gothic heaven though, covered in roping tendrils of guts, blood and fanboyish levels of cool.
And that match was remade when FX announced the adaptation of The Strain, Del Toro and co-writer Chuck Hogan’s novel trilogy that takes the standard vampire mythos and, just like Del Toro did with Blade II, turns it on its head. And then promptly smashes that head like a pumpkin.
To those unfamiliar with the source material, The Strain kicks off like a typical tense contagion thriller as a CDC rapid response team led by Dr. Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather (the always great Corey Stoll) are brought in to investigate a Boeing 747 that has gone completely silent since landing at JFK airport. What they find is a plane filled with corpses, all dead through mysterious circumstances. All except for 4 survivors who have no memory of what transpired on the plane, but seemed to have just been lucky enough to somehow survive some sort of new and extremely deadly viral outbreak. Cue the now clichéd political wrangling and public relations nightmare dodging and nobody listening to our hero’s warnings about how serious things are.
But although everything looks to be just another case of a good ol’ epidemic possibly running rampant because of bureaucracy story, things take a decidedly supernatural tone when a massive, ornately carved coffin is discovered in the plane’s cargo, even though it’s not on the manifest. What’s more worrying, is when something monstrous and impossible sneaks out of that coffin and then decides to use somebody as a juice box, complete with violently – and I mean VIOLENTLY – crumpling the victim up when it’s done drinking.
And so starts off a horrific tale that’s filled with suspense and severed heads, and keeps you guessing as you try to figure out just what these monsters are (saying “vampire” seems far too simple) and what their goal is. Del Toro and co-producer Carlton Cuse (Lost) builds up this world to more than just your typical Nosferatu story, constantly expanding the mythos in surprising and intriguing ways. These creatures – boasting Del Toro’s now trademark twisted and crazy creature design – are not just here because they vunt ta dreenk ya bhlud! – although they really, really do – but there is a global plan in play that somehow involves Jonathan Hyde’s sickly billionaire Eldritch Palmer and his machinations to cripple modern, technologically bound society. Throw in screen veteran David Bradley as a sword swinging Holocaust survivor named Abraham Zatrakian who has seemingly battled this monstrous plague before, Richard Sammel just chewing the scenery as Nazi commander turned immortal ghoul Thomas Eichhorst – think Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds by way of Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula – and Kevin Durand as Vasily Fet, a rat catcher that appears to be on the trail of more than just rodents, among others, and you have quite the cast of characters.
And throughout the show’s thus far 8 episodes (season 1 is slated for 13 episodes, with a second season already greenlit) that cast of characters has increased, but also very suddenly – usually with plenty blood and gore – diminished. This is definitely not a show that shirks away from shocking deaths. Also, creepy little girls. Always with the creepy little girls.
But although The Strain embraces this horrific side of things, it doesn’t get rid of its medical procedural approach either, as Eph and his Scooby gang try to combat, and explain these events through plausible science. It’s this aspect, more than any other, that makes the show different to most monster shows out there, as it treats its subject matter as both realistic and mythological at the same time.
Those that have read Del Toro and Hogan’s original books know that this actually spins out into a much, much bigger tale, and what we’re seeing now is merely the pre-apocalyptic tip of the iceberg. There have thus been a few pacing issues as all the various players are being shuffled around into their appropriate places, but things get out of control (in a good way) very quickly, with bigger and craftier story elements being added all the time. Just when you think you have a handle on what’s going on, they introduce some new element that completely flips the script, and often in the most shocking manner possible.
What Del Toro and co have created in The Strain is a show that’s the evolution of the vampire story. It’s creepy, it’s gory, it’s exciting, it’s fresh and it keeps you on your toes. This is big-idea world building – or world-destroying if the hints in the narrative are to be believed – and I highly recommend it.
Bonus fact: Del Toro wanted to make this TV series back in 2006, and pitched it to several networks, however he couldn’t get it past the negotiations table, since the networks he approached all wanted him to make it a bit more four-quadrant friendly (Fox wanted him to make it a comedy). So he turned to Hogan for help and the pair turned his idea into a trilogy of novels, with the first novel being received so well, that networks started making him offers for film and TV adaptations. Del Toro held off though, making sure to finish writing all three books – so as to not be influenced by the ideas from some studio – before then talking to studios again, and eventually settling on FX due to their commitment to staying true to the novels, as well as only wanting 3-5 season closed-ended show.
Last Updated: September 16, 2014