FX's 'The Strain' Dismantles Notion of Sexy Vampires

"They are not dudes with romantic problems. These are scary, dangerous, abhorrent creatures," showrunner Carlton Cuse tells THR of his new FX horror thriller.
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Cast and creators of "The Strain"

With vampire tales comes steamy romance — but it shouldn't, The Strain showrunner Carlton Cuse says.

"The genre had gotten soft and romantic," Cuse tells The Hollywood Reporter, referring to the swarm of modern romantic fang-filled films and TV series, such as The Twilight Saga, HBO's True Blood and The CW's The Vampire Diaries.

But the bloodsuckers of Cuse and Guillermo del Toro's new FX series — equal parts sci-fi, horror and thriller — aren't the kind that will send teen girls into a lovesick mania. "They are not dudes with romantic problems. These are scary, dangerous, abhorrent creatures," he explains.

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The hourlong series follows the head of the CDC Canary Team in New York City. Dr. Ephraim "Eph" Goodweather (House of Cards' Corey Stoll) leads the fight against the bloodthirsty pack after they infect an airplane full of people and disperse to victimize the rest of the world.

From its conception as a three-part novel written by del Toro and Chuck Hogan, The Strain set out to reclaim the raw viciousness and terror of the ancient creatures, taking its cues from Eastern European folklore.

During the television adaptation process, which involved first developing accompanying comic books, the creators added a few new characters and additional scenes not found in the original books (though the principal intent to "do vampires in a different fashion," Cuse says, remains the same.)

"Every draining in the show is not a pleasurable, gothic romance moment. It's a brutal, swift, medical strain," executive producer del Toro says of the graphic process that ensues when vampires suck the blood out of their host. "They are merciless."

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Unlike the immediate transformation that pervades popular culture, the postbite changes are layered and complex. "It's not just that you're a person and then you're bitten and then you're a vampire. They are this virus, this contagion, that is constantly evolving," notes Stoll, who was sold on the role after del Toro wrote him a handwritten note telling him that Eph would offer him the most robust arc he'd find in any medium.

At first, Eph and his CDC co-workers, Dr. Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro) and Jim Kent (Sean Astin), approach the outbreak as an infectious disease, but they soon learn that the victims become zombielike and eventually turn into mythological creatures that can even retain some of their personalities. Stoll adds: "They're not like any vampires you've seen before."

It's a tale that promises few cliches and much specificity, including a more clinical approach to the predators that uses autopsies to uncover what's happening to the victims at a physiological, cellular level.

And it can be funny, too. "The show knows very well that there is, in every horror premise, a need for a sort of dark humor," says del Toro, whose favorite scene is a particularly violent one that takes place in the pilot with "Sweet Caroline" playing in the background.

He adds: "Horror series when I was a kid were fun, first and foremost. They were creepy, they were daunting, but they were fun. The Strain hopes to recapture that sense of the joy of the brutally and the horror."

The Strain premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on FX.