Culture & Criticism Since 2003
We’ve had all kinds of vampires in recent years. We’ve had sexy and tragic vampires, we’ve had vampire twinks who glitter and profess undying love for throbbing high school girls. We’ve even had insensate shambling hulks that were little more than zombies with a thirst.
The whole vampire genre, I thought, had been done to death, that it was time to drive a wooden stake through its heart, wrap it in silver, leave it out in the sun, and declare it disco dead.
But not so fast. The Strain features Guillermo del Toro (Chronos; Mimic; Pan’s Labyrinth). The man reigns as an absolute master of the spooky and the creepy – a blend of HP Lovecraft and Alfred Hitchcock. And he had full creative control of this production, having written and produced the entire series from the source book on up (along with Chuck Hogan). So I watched.
The capsule description of the plot sounds humdrum, completely formulaic: Plane lands at JFK, and the tower loses communication. The maritally-challenged local head of the CDC arrives and convinces the cops it may be a plague; he and his perky-girl assistant then climb into isolation suits and enter the spooky, dark plane. And what they find next will astonish you!
Except that this is del Toro. He doesn’t miss a note building the suspense, and when the inevitable supernatural events start coming down, the scenes are genuinely unhinging. By vampire standards this is quite bloodless, but nonetheless still extraordinarily graphic.
As you might guess, there is a fairly inevitable scene where the assistant coroner, feckless and rotund, is examining the bodies from the plane in the morgue. The background music for the passage, weirdly enough, is Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” and by the time the scene ends, your perception of the song will change forever (much the way it did with “Blue Velvet” in the Dennis Hopper movie of the same name).
del Toro directed the first episode, “Night Zero” and he isn’t listed as directing any of the subsequent dozen, but that may not matter. It’s still his baby. These vampires are cold, intelligent creatures of graveyard filth and decay, malevolent and inhuman, intent on making Manhattan their feeding ground.
And this being del Toro, there’s no guarantee they won’t succeed.
Zepp Jamieson was born in Ottawa, Ontario, and spent his formative years living in various parts of Canada, the UK, South Africa and Australia before finally moving to the United States, where he has lived for over 40 years. Aside from writing, his interests include hiking, raising dogs and cats, and making computers jump through hoops. His wife of 25 years edits his copy, and bravely attempts to make him sound coherent. Reach him through The Electric Review.