If you’re unfamiliar with the novels that serve as the source material for “The Strain,” then you might be confused/completely grossed out by the show’s ad campaign. You know, the nightmare-inducing one that has a worm burrowing into a woman’s eye? Yeah, that’s the one.
But sometimes, knowing next to nothing about a particular work of art (other than the fact that it involves vampires) and choosing to walk into the whole thing blind is the best possible way, which was 100 percent my experience with “The Strain.” Of course, knowing that Guillermo Del Toro — the so-called “Master of Horror” behind creature films like “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Mama” and “Hellboy” — was helming the project helped, as did the presence of executive producer Carlton Cuse of “Lost” fame, but that was all I knew about FX’s latest horror venture before digging in to two of the four episodes the network sent out last night. (I would have kept going, but sometimes, bed happens.)
So, what did I learn? Well, besides the fact that the show expertly balances an engrossing, well-paced “CSI”-style mystery with creature horror, shows instead of tells, and makes you wish it was already on Netflix so you could binge the whole thing, this:
It Effectively Uses Body Horror
At this point, we’re used to seeing gore on television. Throats are slit left and right on “Game of Thrones.” Kids kill their own mothers post C-section over on “The Walking Dead.” In short, it’s rough out there.
But so much of “The Strain” ‘s very effective and very visual horror comes from watching the mysterious and rapid deterioration of the human body, and it does this better than any other show (or movie?) currently on the market. The worm going into the eyeball (why, we will not tell you) is just the beginning. From teeth and hair slowly falling out to severe tinnitus and worse, “The Strain” really captures the terror that is completely losing control of your physical being and having absolutely no idea why, or how to stop it. Basically, do not eat while watching.
It Has A Mystery You Actually Want To Solve
Which brings us to the why. Why is this happening? We can’t tell you everything (mostly because we don’t know), but the series’ opening moments are impossibly creepy, and set up its central mystery in a tight little box that you really, really want to open.
As you’ve probably seen in the previews, it all starts with a plane. (Now we know why you signed on to the project, Carlton Cuse.) A doomed 777 lands in JFK with its lights off and doors sealed, and epidemiologist Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll, who stole season one of “House of Cards”) heads on in to investigate — and what he finds, of course, is baffling. Two hundred corpses with no evident injuries or cause of death, and four very confused survivors. Things get even more confusing afterwards, when bodies start to disappear from the morgue and strange symptoms befall the survivors.
What’s the difference between the actual dead and the increasingly vampiric survivors, and why were the four “chosen” over the 200 others in the plane? What sort of horrible fate might they eventually meet at the hands of the show’s villain, or its central virus? Why did the villain choose to unleash this virus upon the good people of New York City? We don’t really know, but the final scene of the pilot makes it clear that we’re going to find out very soon.
It Makes Vampires Scary Again
Whatever is happening to these people has something to do with a “strain” of parasitic vampirism, but the incident is definitely not some sort of horrible, biological anomaly. This was all planned by someone they call The Master, though the hows and whys are yet to be revealed. Still, we can 100 percent confirm that The Master ain’t your modern vampire — there’s no sparkle, no impeccable hairstyle, no human that he becomes unreasonably attached to. This monster is a straight-up Del Toro creation that is exactly that — a monster. A horrifying, unstoppable dude that you would never, ever want to meet in an abandoned alley or any other location, really.
What’s more, the show elevates the terror by blending mover-and-shaker vampires who drive the story (like The Master) with mindless, blood-hungry drones who do nothing but feed. A lot. It’s honestly kind of hard to determine which type is worse.
It Has The ‘Game Of Thrones’ Music Guy
Good music can make or break a scene, especially when it comes to horror, so we’re very glad that they enlisted Ramin Djawadi of “Game of Thrones” theme fame to score “The Strain.” The music is haunting, and makes the final scene of episode one — the scene that will inevitably get you hooked — even more memorable.
It Has ‘Game Of Thrones”s Most In-Demand Wedding Planner
Every vampire needs his Van Helsing, and The Master gets his in the form of David Bradley, who you probably remember as Walder Frey, AKA the guy responsible for the freaking Red Wedding. But don’t worry, you’re really going to like him, here — and he left all of his creepy children at home.
BONUS: Did We Mention That It Ends With A Bang?
Okay, so I might have mentioned that scene a few times at this point, but it’s worth repeating. The final moments of episode one are so viscerally terrifying and visually haunting that you won’t be able to forget them, even if you really, really want to.
“The Strain” premieres on FX on July 13.