‘The Strain’ makes vampires scary again

The Strain

• 9 p.m. Sunday

• FX 

Posted 7:10am on Saturday, Jul. 12, 2014

Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan say it’s time to put the teeth back into vampires.

Thanks to teenage girls and their insatiable appetite for paranormal romance, be it in books, in movies or on TV, these once-terrifying night creatures have morphed into something almost warm-blooded and downright lovable.

But del Toro and Hogan, co-creators and executive producers of FX’s The Strain, are taking vampires back and making them scary again.

“Vampires are very brutal, very primal and very nasty,” Hogan says. “They’re monsters. They’re not somebody you want to hang out with or get a latte with.”

That’s why the blood suckers in The Strain, which premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday, are the creepiest things you’ll see on TV this summer.

The series is based on del Toro and Hogan’s trilogy of bestselling novels, in which scientists investigate a mysterious viral outbreak aboard a lifeless airliner, only to encounter something far more sinister: an ancient and evil strain of vampirism that has found its way to America.

As the strain spreads throughout New York City, Dr. Ephraim Goodweather of the Centers for Disease Control embarks on a mission to save the city, and perhaps the entire world, from annihilation.

The presence of a CDC epidemiologist is the first clue that The Strain will put a new spin on the classic vampire tale.

“One of the most fun parts of creating this story was finding new, current medical-scientific reasons that could explain the mythological components of the vampire,” Hogan says. “By addressing vampirism as a virus, we’ve taken the myth and brought it up to modern day.”

There are a number of ways that people die in The Strain, from big threats (such as the unholy vampire Master, who can drain his victims dry in seconds) and from small ones (hundreds of parasitic worms that burrow underneath the host’s skin).

All are gruesome ways to go, especially in the hands of someone like del Toro, who is more widely known as a filmmaker with a fondness for horror stories and garish imagery. The director of Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim and Hellboy went behind the camera to shoot the 99-minute pilot.

Going big on the small screen

Del Toro had the idea of making The Strain as a TV series years ago. But when he couldn’t find a network willing to commit, he teamed up with Hogan, a bestselling novelist, to put the story in print. The first book, The Strain, was published in 2009, followed by The Fall (2010) and The Night Eternal (2011).

“When the TV networks didn’t get the concept initially, Guillermo could have made it as a movie instead, but he didn’t want that,” Hogan says. “He wanted to have an open narrative and to really get into the characters, to have them be able to move in and out of the story, which is something you can do within the framework of several books or a TV series but not within the confines of a two-hour movie.”

Goodweather (played by Corey Stoll, a Golden Globe nominee from the acclaimed Netflix drama House of Cards) is assisted by an unlikely group of experts, who include a Holocaust survivor-turned-pawnshop owner and an exterminator with an extreme dislike for rats.

Over the course of 13 first-season episodes, these supporting characters are fully fleshed out, something Hogan says wouldn’t have been possible in a movie.

Embodying the characters

Hogan knows a thing or two about these things. One of his novels was turned into a movie, Ben Affleck’s The Town, in 2010. But it’s still a surreal experience for him to see the cast of The Strain breathing life into words he wrote years earlier.

“I’ve also been doing a lot of writing on the TV show [five of the first 13 scripts],” he says. “It’s amazing to write something on a Tuesday and then, on Thursday, they’re doing it in front of the camera and, the next week, we’re seeing it in editing.”

Which actor most closely embodies the character as del Toro and Hogan originally conceived him?

“That’s a tough question, because they’re all good and Guillermo had some really specific ideas about casting,” Hogan says. “But I’d have to say it’s David Bradley as Abraham Setrakian,” referring to the 80-something-year-old who first encountered the Master in a Nazi concentration camp — and has been waiting and preparing ever since for the next confrontation.

“David looks like, sounds like, moves like and really is the character on the page,” Hogan continues. “I get very excited every time I see him on set walking around wearing his hat and his overcoat and carrying his silver cane. Not to take away from anyone else, but he really brings the role to life.”

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