In the US: Sundays, 10pm, FX
In the UK: Acquired by Watch to air this autumn
Vampires are one of the enduring horror icons of the past two centuries. Based originally in folktales, they first truly rose to prominence thanks to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. However, initially playing on the dual horrors of death and sex, they’ve gone on to be metaphors for pretty much everything from women’s sexual liberation to drug addiction.
Along the way, though, they’ve lost a lot of their potency, in part because of the general decline in Christianity but also because of the even greater decline in belief in scary beast monsters that skulk in the dark. More sophisticated demands from audience in terms of characterisation and the acknowledgement that stereotyping is generally a Bad Thing have meant that the question of whether a race of creatures, even non-human ones, can be all bad has also added to people’s reluctance to take vampires en masse as scary evil bastards.
Indeed, it would be relatively easy to list at least some of the media that have ‘defanged’ vampires and made them almost objects of ridicule: The Twilight Saga, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Blade, True Blood, Being Human (US), Being Human (UK), Dracula, From Dusk Till Dawn, 666 Park Avenue, The Gates, The Vampire Diaries, Moonlight, Penny Dreadful… As you can see, the list does indeed go on and on and on and on - poor old vampires. Makes you almost feel sorry for them.
So you have to at least admire shows that try to make vampires scary again. The much revered and generally wonderful Channel 4 mini-series Ultraviolet is perhaps the best example of how to do this properly, treating them completely seriously, adding science to the mix, giving us all that nuance about whether vampires are truly evil or not, and then basically saying, “Yes, they are and they want to kill us all and stick us in battery farms after creating a nuclear winter to block out the sun.”
Guillermo del Toro’s calling card to the world, Cronos, was also another sterling attempt to make vampires scary, giving us a vampirism passed on by a piece of beetle jewellery, although the film suffered more than a little from del Toro's love of grand guignol.
Now, del Toro is having another go at making vampires scary with The Strain, an adaptation of his own books in conjunction with Lost/Bates Motel’s exec producer Carlton Cuse. This essentially takes that original story of Dracula and asks the question: “What would happen if Dracula hadn't turned up in the 19th century at a boat in Whitby but instead arrived on a 747 in 21st century New York? He’s super fast, super strong and kills in horrible nasty ways, before bringing others back to life as vampires, too. How would the authorities react? What would science make of him?”
So far, so good.
Unfortunately, taking a leaf from his own book, del Toro's also asked, “What if Dracula’s vampirism was actually caused by an infestation of worms? And there were actually a lot of evil vampires, all intent on taking over the world in a secret gothic conspiracy where they all dress in black?”
Equally unfortunately, the result is something not so much scary as a bit unpleasant yet laughably bad.
Here’s a trailer.
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