Television is going through a bit of a horror renaissance at the moment (a ‘horror-sance’ perhaps, can we make that a thing?) with shows like The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, Hannibal, Sleepy Hollow, and Penny Dreadful all having successful runs. We won’t mention Hemlock Grove and lets all just take a moment to celebrate the fact that True Blood is finally dead!! YAY! But out of all these shows, the one I’m enjoying the most is The Strain and I know very few people who are watching with me despite it already being renewed for a second season. Admittedly, The Strain is a bit of a tough sell because as soon as you tell someone it’s a vampire show, they inevitably sigh and say, “I’m so tired of vampires, Twilight killed em for me”. While I understand that way of thinking, I’m here to tell you why The Strain brings new life into the vampire genre and why it wipes the floor with several of the above mentioned shows. Here are five reasons to watch:
5. Guillermo Del Toro knows atmosphere.
The show is co-created by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, based on a trilogy of novels that they wrote together. This is a good thing right away because it means the show already has an endgame, unlike another popular show based on a series of books. Love or hate Del Toro, it must be acknowledged that the man knows how to build a sense of dread and create a tense, creepy atmosphere. He directed the pilot of The Strain and every other director has followed his model perfectly. The show uses harsh blue and yellow colors to give off a distinct comic book feel but shadows are what it does best. There’s almost always something slimy and evil lurking in them and Del Toro and his team of directors know how to build tension so that we’re scared when it finally steps into the light even if we know what’s coming.
4. Six-foot long vampire tongues.
You’re tired of vampires. I get it. So am I. But these are not your usual sparkling, sex driven fantasies that vampires have inexplicably morphed into in the last few years. These creatures are what vampires were always meant to be: MONSTERS. They owe more to zombies than the Cullen family. But unlike zombies, some of them have distinct personalities (more on that in a bit) and ALL of them have six-foot long three pronged tongues that shoot out of their mouths and latch onto the nearest victim. These tongues are a work of art by themselves. In an early episode, the three main characters dissect a dead vampire and their discovery of the tongue is one of the creepiest, most disgusting scenes of the year. It’s like the vampires from Del Toro’s Blade II evolved and became even more deadly. Del Toro has a bit of an obsession with creatures that want to bite you and wouldn’t be able to let go even if they wanted to. Also, these tongues raise the stakes (sorry) because if they so much as knick you, you’re done for. The most you can hope for afterwards is a swift decapitation. Speaking of that…
3. Walder Frey/Filch decapitating vampires with a silver wolf cane/sword.
David Bradley has become one of our most reliable supporting actors over the last ten years or so. He was despicably evil in Game of Thrones as Walder Frey and who can forget Filch and his beloved cat? But it’s here that he’s found his best role yet. He plays Professor Abraham Setrakian, a pawnshop owner and victim of the holocaust. He first encountered the vampires in a concentration camp (because of course he did) and has spent his life hunting them down. His role consists of three things so far: (1). Calling the other characters idiots for not listening to him when he is always right. (2). Having philosophical arguments with the show’s creepiest villain and most importantly (3). Incapacitating vampires with a modified nail gun before swiftly chopping their heads off with a silver wolf cane/sword that he stole from a Nazi Vampire. Need I say more? Actually yes I do; he also keeps a beating vampire heart in a jar in his basement because of course he does.
2. Hans Landa as a powerful, nose less, wise cracking vampire.
The show’s main villain is a Dracula-like figure called The Master who will presumably be revealed in the finale. Until then though, we have Eichorst played by Richard Sammel. Eichorst was a brutal Nazi commandant before he was transformed into a creature of the night. Like Christophz Waltz’s Hans Landa, you get the sense that he’s an evil man who was using the Nazis as a means to an end. When that end failed, he jumped aboard the vampire bandwagon. He’s ancient, hideous, fast, and loves to laugh at the evil things he does. A great scene early on shows him in his true form (no nose, gaping holes in his neck, green skin) and then applying make-up to create his human facade. He’s also fond of chaining his victims to a rock in a secret chamber and then dragging them over with a pulley system so he can feed. The sixty-year feud between him and David Bradley is fascinating and he’s one of those villains who is so evil and creepy that you don’t want him to die. The show would be far less interesting without him.
1. It’s an 80’s B horror movie disguised as a modern television show.
The best thing about The Strain is the way it fully embraces all of the conventions of the genre. Other horror shows are afraid to do that: The Walking Dead is a drama that zombies happen to be in, American Horror Story is often little more than a display of Ryan Murphy’s fetishes, Hannibal transcends the genre entirely, Sleepy Hollow would rather be goofy and Penny Dreadful would rather be a period drama. The Strain loves the horror genre and wants to embrace every element of it. Most episodes feel like a 45 minute horror flick from the eighties with the latest episode being a mix of a John Carpenter flick and a George Romero flick as our heroes find themselves locked in a gas station with a horde of angry vampires trying to get inside. The show is not interested in making grand statements about the human condition or bogging itself down in soap opera clichés. It’s interested in scaring you, providing intense action sequences, gross out moments, heroes we root for and villains we despise. In an era where so many new TV shows are pretentious and heavy handed (hello The Leftovers), The Strain is a refreshing bit of genre fun. It doesn’t talk down to you, it’s smart enough that it doesn’t get lumped into the ‘check your brain at the door’ category, and it is a pure blast of horror adrenaline. Check it out. And watch out for those tongues.