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Why "The Strain" is the Best Thing to Happen to Vampires on Television

I think it’s fair to say that our culture nowadays is saturated with vampires. They populate our movies, our books and our television shows, often possessing otherworldly characteristics that make them dangerous yet alluring. Despite their blood lust and superhuman traits, contemporary vampires have become romantic figures and misunderstood antiheroes. They’re involved in love triangles. They fight to save the world. Their existence is personified by angst and brooding. However, there is one thing that these contemporary vampires fail to do: be undeniably and spine-chillingly scary.

Make no mistake: I’m a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and admit to indulging in Twilight and The Vampire Diaries. I’ve spent countless hours rooting for the vampires on Angel and lusting after the vampires on True Blood. Nevertheless, I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that today’s vampires are lacking an essential scariness that made them the creatures of nightmares and folklore.

But then along came The Strain. When I first heard that Guillermo Del Toro was going to be creating a vampire series for television, I was intrigued. I believed that he would be able to bring strangeness back to vampires in a way that other shows haven’t. I wasn’t disappointed. The first season of the show was punctuated by gruesomeness and gore. Del Toro’s vampires were grotesque, horrifying and bloodthirsty, reminding me, in many ways, of the vampires who descended on Barrow, Alaska in 30 Days of Night. They hunted without remorse and killed without mercy. They were the kind of undead threat that made me fear for the show’s human protagonists, and I couldn’t be happier.

As the show entered its second season, this tradition of terrifying, ghoulish vampires held steady. The season two premiere served as a perfect example of everything I love about the show, especially its first five minutes. In the episode’s opening flashback, a grandmother regales her grandson with the macabre tale of Josef Yardu, who would become the show’s primary villain, The Master. On a hunting expedition with his brother and two companions, Josef encounters a predator unlike anything he’s ever seen before. Its skin hangs off of it like melted grey wax, and its blood-stained mouth is twisted into a vicious grin. It advances on Josef with the sort of jerky gracefulness reminiscent of Del Toro’s faun in Pan’s Labyrinth. It openly mocks Josef’s attempts to fight back and subdues him with ease. And then, this hideous creature decides to bestow Josef with a gift so grisly (vomit and worms are involved) that it makes every person in my living room cover their heads.

Needless to say that while others cowered, I loved every second of it. He left such a lasting impression on me that I was sad to see him go. Luckily, several more soon rose to take his place. After this episode, there is no doubt that I’m utterly enamored with this show’s vampires. They are unsympathetic and inhuman, cruel and savage, decayed and contorted; in other words, they have managed to do something that I had nearly given up hope of ever happening: putting the terror back in vampires.

The next episode of “The Strain” airs Sunday, July 19, at 10:00 pm on FX

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