'The Strain' Has Vampires, But They're Thankfully Bloodsuckers Of a Different Breed


Vampires may be immortal, but their lifespan on television certainly isn't. The airwaves are currently saturated with the fanged monsters: True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, The Originals, Being Human — and Dracula's failure to launch on NBC seemed like it finally signaled the end of an era. Does television really need yet another vampire show? Traditional wisdom says no. But, in the hands of the twistedly creative Guillermo Del Toro, the answer is a resounding yes. And so FX is bringing us an adaptation of The Strain , the Mexican filmmaker's trilogy of horror novels in which bloodsuckers invade the streets of New York City.

Del Toro, the man behind such delightfully odd movies as Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy, and Pacific Rim , is the perfect person to resurrect the dying genre. Fans of The Strain novels know that he has crafted an utterly unique take on the overdone mythology that should be a refreshing blast of cool air in this television landscape overcrowded with vamps. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who’s even passingly familiar with Del Toro’s oeuvre that his bloodsuckers are terrifying creatures who don’t conform to our traditional expectations of cloaked counts or pale teenagers. Gone is the sparkly skin and the brooding, soulful eyes. Gone are any notions of vampires as tortured but romantic souls. In their stead, Del Toro has provided us with plenty of nightmare fodder.

Here’s a short list of the reasons why The Strain isn’t Just Another Vampire Show:

The monsters are actually, well, monsters.

Forget everything you think you know about vampires. Del Toro’s creatures are less Edward Cullen and more Walking Dead. When a human is “stung” by a vampire (yes, stung — not bitten), they’re infected by little white worms that carry the vamp disease. Within hours, the victim starts exhibiting symptoms. The first and most noticeable is the repurposing of the lungs and throat into the creation of a six-foot-long retractable proboscis. It’s this “stinger” with which they feed on their prey and pass along the infection. The jaw hinge also lowers significantly, allowing the vampire to open its mouth wide like a snake.

Other changes include the simplification of the internal organs into one efficient digestive system; the raising of body temperature; the loss of all hair and fingernails; the elongation of the middle finger; the reddening of the eyes; and the atrophying of ears, nose, and sexual organs.

Young vampires are mindless feeding machines, which makes parts of The Strain feel similar to AMC’s popular zombie show. But unlike reanimated corpses, vampires do mature as they age, transitioning from confused, clumsy newborns to intelligent, malicious adults. Each vampire remains forever linked to its creator by a hive mind. Though they’re unable to speak, mature vamps are able to communicate between each other and with humans via telepathy.

Like traditional vampires, Del Toro’s creations are immortal. They can only be killed by sunlight, decapitation, or a sword through the heart. But the consciousness of the slain monster can still live on: the worms in its blood will wriggle out and seek a new host through any open wound or orifice — so even a dead vamp is still a dangerous vamp.

They don’t fall in love.

Ever since Bram Stoker wrote about a Transylvanian count, vampires and their bites have been an allegory for forbidden lust and sexual awakening. Del Toro dispenses with all of that lovey dovey hodgepodge, returning the creatures to their monstrous roots. His vampires have no use for such petty human emotions as desire and romance, instead existing on a very animalistic level.

That being said, love does play an important role in The Strain’s vampire mythology, even if it doesn’t involve falling into it. Newborn vamps still maintain a shred of their recent humanity, which consistently compels them to return to their homes shortly after infection. As a consequence, the first victims of these baby vampires are often the ones they loved the most.

The world isn’t supernatural.

Since these vampires are actually parasites that are passed from a host in order to invade the body of a victim, the story is surprisingly light on the supernatural. Almost everything has a pseudo-scientific explanation for it, which means The Strain takes place firmly in a world that looks much like our own. This lack of typical fantasy trappings means we’ll never meet any other mythical creatures. That’s right — no werewolves, no ghosts, no witches, no shapeshifters, no maenads, no werepanthers, no ifrits. (Thank goodness.)

It’s actually scary.

Thanks to Twilight and the romanticization of the genre, we’ve all but forgotten that vampires are supposed to be frightening. The scariest thing that’s happened on True Blood this season is the hideous neon green dress that Arlene is wearing. Del Toro wants to fix that. The Strain is a gory, bloody, terrifying horror show that’s sure to keep you up at night. (You’ll definitely never look at a pile of rags the same way again.)

It’s on FX.

If anything gives you confidence in this new show, it should be the fact that this network has been killing it lately (pun absolutely intended). With shows like American Horror Story, Fargo, The Americans, Justified, and Sons Of Anarchy, FX isn’t afraid to embrace outside-the-box genre shows, grit and violence and all. The Strain fits right in line with the rest of the network’s offerings and should make for must-watch viewing for the next thirteen weeks. We can't wait to get sucked in.

Images: FX (7)