The Strain Rushes To Its Conclusion

The Strain, the FX TV show based on the books by Guillermo Del Torro and Chuck Hogan, concluded its run. On the whole, the series was often enjoyable and creepy while its fourth and final season was a satisfying conclusion to the vampire/apocalyptic saga of Dr. Eph Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and his ragtag band of vampire fighters. That doesn’t mean that the final season was perfect, but at least the show got to finish telling its story.

The fourth season takes place months after Goodweather’s young son Zack (Max Charles) detonated a nuke near Manhattan. The brat had fallen in with the vampires or strigoi trying to take over the world and he was enraged at Eph for killing his strigoi mother. This stupid, impulsive act caused an off-screen nuclear war and the nuclear winter that followed allowed the vampires to live in a world of constant twilight. From there, it was easy for the vampires to openly rule the world by entering into a false “Partnership” with the surviving humans where human collaborators supply fresh blood in exchange for security. Yes, this does not make much sense, a nuclear exchange severe enough to cause nuclear winter would leave very few people alive and survivors would have some form of radiation poisoning. Not exactly a viable food source for the strigoi. Also the depiction of life after a nuclear war with largely intact cities and environments and where no one seems to be suffering from fallout stretches credibility. But it’s one of those plot devices that viewers have to accept and move on.

As the final episodes of The Strain aired, many dangling plot lines and character threads were wrapped up, sometimes a bit too quickly. This was another problem for the fourth season of The Strain, though the people BTS did the best they could with the short ten-episode season. For the previous seasons, The Strain smoothly flowed in its narrative as people struggled to maintain civilization by confronting the growing vampire threat that spread through worm-like creatures secreted by the vampires into their victims. When the fourth season began there was a large time jump that showed the aftermath of the strigoi takeover as they began implementing their version of the perfect solution; meaning turning humanity into cattle. The fourth season’s premise was mesmerizing, but sadly felt rushed and did not flow organically. Previous seasons allowed themes to play out, but in the final episodes, many promising storylines were glossed over as new characters came and went and plots were concluded quickly.

setrakian kills eichorst

However, the fourth season had its fair share of awesome and disturbing moments. Probably the best one was the inevitable final confrontation between the vampire Eichorst (Richard Sammel), a former Nazi, and the aged vampire hunter Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley). Their conflict took place a couple of episodes before the finale and it was short, brutal and epic. Due to his advanced years and hardship in the season, Setrakian was wasting away, on his last legs. Meanwhile the near-immortal Eichorst was as supernaturally spry as ever. It seemed hopeless for Setrakian after he was infected by Eichorst, who started drinking his blood. But the stubborn vampire hunter was not a quitter; he had overdosed previously on pills that acted as poison for Eichorst. This gave Setrakian the chance to deliver the killing blow, and his cathartic rant as he beheaded Eichorst was truly epic. While those final moments were great, the loss of these two characters before the show concluded was noticeable. The strigoi by now were faceless grunts to be mowed down by Eph, and his partners Fet the exterminator (Kevin Durand) and the half-vampire Quinlan (Rupert Penry-Jones), Fet’s love interest Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas), and former gang leader Gus (Miguel Gomez). What kept the show watchable was the solid acting by the remaining cast and the fact that the storyline was ramping up to its conclusion. The show’s heroes had smuggled a nuke into New York City, the headquarters of the vampires’ leader, the Master (Jonathan Hyde), in an attempt to cut off the head of the snake. Without the slimy and well-spoken Eichorst, it was up to the Master and Zack to carry on the villainy and the results were mixed.

Given the rushed nature of the fourth season of The Strain, it was a small miracle that the final episode was largely satisfying as some characters were unexpectedly killed. It perfectly played up the theme of sacrifice for the greater good and sold the point that victory does come at a cost. Still, it is rankling that the BTS people were not given an extra episode or two to properly tell their story. OTOH, at least the cable network gave them the opportunity to conclude the story, which is something that many series do not have.

The Strain was never as popular as The Walking Dead or hip as American Horror Story, but unlike The Walking Dead we got to see how the apocalypse came about. It was disturbing to see humanity and civilization falling bit by bit throughout the seasons with the macabre fate being that humans wind up as a food source. Also, The Strain had a linear story to tell with a beginning, middle and conclusion, which is something that The Walking Dead lacks. It is too early to tell how The Strain will resonate in the future, but hopefully those that haven’t had the chance to see it duirng its first run will get another one later on.

 

Waldermann Rivera 

 

 

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The Strain Finishes Its Third Season With A Literal Bang

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Forget about The Walking Dead, the horror TV show that is on my must-watch list is on FX. No, not American Horror Story, though that show is great. I’m talking about The Strain. Based on Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s novels, The Strain is about a vampire virus that devastates the world today, specifically New York City. Its third season just finished and wow it ended with a literal bang!

One thing I like about the show is that it takes a pseudo-scientific approach to vampires or strigoi as they are called in the show. One of the heroes, Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) is a former CDC scientist desperately trying to find a cure or a way to stop the vampire plague while battling the bottle. At the same time, the show dwells a lot into the history of the vampires and that is best shown with the other hero, the elderly vampire hunter but total badass Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) and the main villain, former Nazi and current vampire Thomas Eichorst (Richard Sammel). The two are great foils for each other and the actors greatly convey their mutual hatred. That’s just a mere sampling of the show’s many interesting and unconventional characters.

the-strian-villains-meet

I have to admit, The Strain is unabashedly grade B fare, but it’s rarely dull, and moves along at a fast pace. By the time the third season ended, humanity is on the verge of becoming cattle for the spreading vampires. Goodweather’s idiotic son Zack (Max Charles) nuked the Statue of Liberty in retaliation for Goodweather killing his vampire mom (Natalie Brown). Never mind that a few minutes earlier the mom was eyeing the kid for her next snack. That kid is so annoying, I can’t wait until he gets his, not for being a moron but for killing thousands of New Yorkers. What he did was carry out the vampires’ master plan of detonating a nuke to create a nuclear winter and plunge the city into eternal darkness. Of course, this means the vampires can now roam all over the place without fearing the sun and that is where the show ended.

quinlan

Loosely following the storyline in the novels, The Strain will come to an end next year. Unlike some shows, it knew not to overstay its welcome and have a beginning, middle and end. Unlike the meandering zombie show that basically repeats itself, The Strain is often always fun to watch and sometimes creepy and gross. Looking forward to seeing the slurping vampires one more time next year.

T. Rod Jones

The Vampires Of The Strain

eichorst ready to eatVampires have been defanged lately. At least on TV and film. Both medium have been filled with overly romantic or brooding, misunderstood loners that filled the roles of the infamous night creatures. In reality, the vampires in Twilight and True Blood among other presentations were really just metaphors for social and emotional themes like teenage alienation, bigotry and even the gay rights movement. As good (or bad) as these presentations were, it was clear that the vampire mystique was diluted and strayed far from the creatures’ legendary horror roots.

Fortunately, The Strain corrects that problem by presenting the vampires in the TV show as the horrific and repulsive monsters they’re supposed to be.

Based on the book of the same name by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan (both of whom executive produce the show as well), The Strain is starts off as a medical mystery but by the end of its first season is a straight up horror tale as a deadly infestationplague ravages modern-day New York City. In just a matter of days, many of the city’s inhabitants are turned into vampires by means of a quick-acting virus spread by aggressive parasitic worms. These tiny creatures are found in vampires and burrow into humans whenever a vampire bites them or simply by coming into physical contact with a vampires’ body fluids.

When infected by these disgusting worms that quickly multiply in the body, a person feels like he or she is suffering from a bad cold. In reality a horrid metamorphosis occurs where sexual organs atrophy and fall off, skin turns deathly pale and gray,  and a craving for blood ensues. By this time, the infected’s personality is largely gone, and are driven by a desire to ingest blood and pass on the virus. Infecting and draining someone else is done through a hideous, long tendril that shoots out of their mouths with grabbers and teeth at the end. Seeing this happen in each episode never loses its shock value and it’s very disturbing.

tongue attack

It’s a unique twist on the way vampires attack their victims and makes logical, pseudo-scientific sense. This method is somewhat reminiscent of the xenomorph creature in the Alien films with its elongated tongue that sports its own tiny, fanged mouth only the vampire’s tongue is much longer and faster. The way the vampires attack their victims takes away any notion of twisted romantic eroticism. The vampires in The Strain don’t try to seduce humans. They have no sexual interest in them and reproduce asexually by transmitting the worms. The end result is that the supernatural aspect of these bloodsuckers are downplayed and instead scientific explanations are given as to how they exist and operate.

Most vampires shown are nearly mindless the mastercreatures driven by instinct. At best, the common vampires display a sort of hive intelligence and carry out psychic commands from the Master, the vampire leader. Meanwhile, a select few retain the personalities of their former lives and possess intelligence and the ability to talk. These special vampires are able to pass themselves off as human through elaborate makeup. That is because a fully fledged vampire has deathly grey skin, no hair, or nose and are bald with pointed ears. They’re also incredibly strong, quick and fast healing.

But Del Toro and Hogan didn’t just toss out all the old traditions with their takes on vampires. They do share a trait with the traditional vampires in that they lull many victims to let down their guards. This happens when a recently transformed vampire is drawn to a former loved one. The intended victim will see that the shuffling creature is acting odd and barely speaking. The vampire will swiftly attack and noisily drain the suckervictim’s blood using its tongue as a fleshy straw and leave the now-infected person in a death-like state. Shortly thereafter, the victim’s DNA is rewritten and the person is now a vampire. Also, the vampires on The Strain  have many of the traditional vampire weaknesses such as being vulnerable to silver and direct sunlight. The show’s heroes use the same tried and true methods of fighting vampires like sunlight exposure, blades for beheadings or silver. But innovative twists are used like UV lamps in the absence of sunlight and nail guns that fire silver nails.

The vampires in The Strain are innovative while being a throwback to their original portrayal across centuries. They’re hideous, disgusting and there isn’t anything romantic about them. They have more in common with the shuffling, mindless and disfigured zombies seen in TV shows and films these days. The end result is that the vampires have become something to be feared again.

José Soto

2012 Doomsday Scenarios: Month Ten

Among the many well-known apocalyptic worries, the idea of supernatural creatures rising up and destroying our world, while hardly unlikely, captivates many people.

Doomsday Scenario No. 3: Vampires, Zombies & Monsters, Oh My!

Supernatural monsters have been a mainstay in many cultures going back centuries. They were convenient scapegoats for things that went wrong and filled in the dark void of the shadows. These monsters either won so that a moral could be learned or were vanquished by the forces of good. Lately, stories have appeared where the monsters have triumphed and defeated humanity en masse. Certain monsters are more popular than others and fit into a doomsday scenario more easily than others. Of course, these supernatural monsters are impossible, right? Well science fiction has found ways to make them plausible.

Vampires In The Blood

The stylish and grotesque vampires have populated many blood curdling tales for centuries. As true creatures of the night, vampires arose from their coffins after sunset to prey on the living. The way to become a vampire isn’t to just die but to be bitten by one. That suggests that these creatures probably transmit a virus that transforms a living person into a vampire.

Richard Matheson’s classic novel I Am Legend has a vampiric virus decimating humanity and resurrecting them as vampires and taking over the world. The book and the films based on it (The Last Man On Earth, The Omega Man and most recently I Am Legend) presented us with an empty, decimated world with a sole human survivor and his desperate fight not just against countless vampires but to develop a cure.  There are other works about viruses that turns people into vampires and imperils the world. Two books that come to mind are The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan and The Passage by Justin Cronin. The Passage is set in the near future where a virus quickly transforms most of humanity into vampire-like creatures who take over the world. The anthology novel Under The Fang features several short stories about humanity conquered by vampires.

As for films about vampires ruling the world, in addition to I Am Legend, there was Daybreakers, which took place a few years after a virus turned most of humanity into bloodsucking creatures. Daybreakers showed a world literally turned upside down as the vampire denizens populated major cities, but lived underground away from the sun and basically carried on with their lives. They just needed to farm the few remaining humans for nourishment. A variant of the vampire virus is the sci-fi film Lifeforce, which was based on the book The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson. This time vampire-like aliens were brought back to Earth by astronauts and it wasn’t blood that the aliens fed on. It was the titular lifeforce of people. As an added bonus, many of their victims also became vampiric and hunted humans for their lifeforce.

Zombie Apocalypse

The undead flesh eaters are undeniably the most popular monsters to use for post-apocalyptic tales. Look no further than the hit AMC series The Walking Dead. It wasn’t always so, until the late 1960s zombies were relegated to stale horror yarns usually dealing with voodoo. Then George Romero came along and changed the sub-genre forever. His classic film Night Of The Living Dead gave us a world on the brink of a societal breakdown as undead corpses roamed the countryside and feasted on the living.

Romero directed sequels that were very popular but the zombie apocalypse genre didn’t reach maturation until around the millennium, which coincided nicely with all the jitters about the coming apocalypse. Video games like Resident Evil, comic books like The Walking Dead, books like World War Z and films like 28 Days Later (not technically about zombies but it follows the same route) reinvigorated and amped up the zombie genre. The zombie apocalypse is so prevalent in pop culture that even the CDC put out  a comic book detailing how they would deal with such an event. Zombies are perfect metaphors for the chaos and decay that will follow the fall of civilization as humans are displaced as the apex predators. Also these stories are useful for illustrating how we would behave during the downfall of society. Will we return to our savage ways? Will we use our pluck and ingenuity to survive? How much stress can we withstand before we break down completely? And how will we find that perfect Twinkie? (Note: see Zombieland for more on that last question.)

Monsters, Etc.

Humanity has always feared monsters as seen in various mythologies. This morbid fascination continued well into modern times with countless books, stories and movies about monsters both large and small terrorizing the world. An often used motif is that of an ancient, slumbering giant that is awoken by modern humans and then wrecks destruction across the world. Godzilla is an excellent example and best personifies the Japanese kaiju films. But Godzilla had predecessors that need to be mentioned. One of the earliest modern imprisoned monsters is the famous Cthulhu first written about in H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Call Of The Cthulhu”.  An ancient entity described as part human, part dragon and part octopus, the Cthulhu had a cult that wanted to unleash the giant monster onto our world. This entity has been alluded to in other works by Lovecraft.

In film, the very first giant monster to be unleashed was the fictional rhedosaurus in The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. Loosely based on Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Fog Horn”, the rhedosaurus was a dinosaur woken up by a nuclear blast and thus threatened the world not just with its destructive path but by its radioactive emissions. Destructive monsters have since plagued the silver screen with the Japanese kaiju films and American works like Q, Gremlins, John Carpenter’s In The Mouth Of Madness, Reign Of Fire, Cloverfield, The Cabin In the Woods and the upcoming Pacific Rim. In these films, the giants were mysterious and awakened inadvertently by humanity. Once unleashed they outmatched our military might and upended civilization as they destroyed cities and killed many people. Often entire cities and famous landscapes are decimated as seen in Cloverfield. And sometimes it was shown that the monsters won as the misshapen horrors from In The Mouth Of Madness  or the dragons in Reign Of Fire overran the world.

Humanity Vs. Vampires: Our Advantages, Their Weaknesses

In many forms of media, vampires have been feared by humans and for good reasons. But one frightening element about them is their physical superiority to mere humans. Vampires in most stories possess superhuman strength, speed and reflexes. They’re also semi-telepathic and can fly, not to mention are nearly immortal. Recent tales have vampires living in complex secret societies and only tolerate humans who they consider to be glorified cattle.

So if it came down to it, how would humanity fare if vampires decided to take over? Well it wouldn’t be an automatic victory for vampires.

Think about it, sure vampires have all these fantastic powers but they have a severe weakness­­ ­— they’re vulnerable to sunlight. At best, as in the original Dracula novel, vampires while able to survive in the daytime are very weak. At worst, see an episode of True Blood or Being Human were vampires literally burst into flame when exposed to sunlight. If they were to actually exist that could be why they haven’t come out and conquered us. If there were an open war between humans and vampires, humans only need to wait until dawn to open coffins containing the vampires and expose them to direct sunlight. One thing that sunlight contains is ultraviolet radiation. Perhaps that radiation can be weaponized for night battles.

They have other weaknesses as well. Traditionally, they’re sensitive to garlic, holy water and religious symbols like crosses. Modern vampire tales like those written by Anne Rice have it that those so-called weapons are useless and have no effect on vampires. In Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, it’s stated that for a cross to work, the human bearing it must have religious faith. However, vampires in modern tales are still vulnerable to wooden stakes and sometimes silver (as seen in True Blood where the metal is used to incapacitate the night creatures).

Aside from sunlight and wooden stakes, a good beheading is a guaranteed way to kill vampires. Just ask the Winchester Brothers in Supernatural. In that TV show, beheadings are the only way to kill vampires, which early in the show’s run were considered an endangered species.

Movies like Blade and The Lost Boys feature heroes who come up with unique and clever adaptations of vampire weaknesses. For instance, the young heroes in The Lost Boys filled up ordinary water guns with holy water. Let’s not get into how formidable Blade was with his weapons. He was a bonafide one-man army against the undead with all the stabbing weapons and guns. In True Blood and the books the show is based on (known as The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris) vampires openly exist alongside humans, so police and militia groups routinely use wooden bullets against vampires along with silver. In one of the recent episodes when the Vampire Authority began to run amok, a human general threatened them. He revealed that humanity’s armies had already devised weapons to be used in the event of a war with the undead. Viewers got a taste of what a war would look like in second season episodes of True Blood where a radical, armed religious group threatened to wipe out vampires.

So if a state of war were to occur, humanity though physically outmatched has many aces up its collective sleeves. It’s been implied in many modern stories that humans far outnumber vampires which is one reason why they haven’t tried to conquer the planet. In the case of war, the huge numbers of humans will be a decided advantage and don’t forget that time and time again, we have shown an ability to adapt and refine battle tactics.

Probably the only way that vampires can counter humanity is in the form of a fast spreading virus. There are many page-turning books about a world overrun by vampires. The most famous one is Richard Mathesen’s I Am Legend, which was adapted three times into film. In I Am Legend, a pandemic is responsible for turning Earth’s population into vampire-like creatures. Other recent books that explore this theme of a virus transforming people into vampires are Justin Cronin’s The Passage and The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan.

The recent film Daybreakers is also about a world where a virus transforms humans into vampires. The outbreak was so severe that in the space of a few years, vampires had overrun human civilization, reducing the few humans left into cattle.

But unless a virus  quickly devastates humanity in the same way as shown in I Am Legend, don’t be so sure to count out humanity if war broke out against vampires. Sure one on one, a human probably cannot beat a vampire but it’s being demonstrated in these tales that a vampire can lose.

Waldermann Rivera