Vampires and vampire culture have been a staple of the Western horror genre for centuries, though it has significantly evolved throughout the years. Vampires have gone from bestial creatures that stalked the night like animals to an ideal of romance and sophistication, catering to young adult fantasies. This is part of the reason why Guillermo del Toro's The Strain is so unique in an otherwise flooded market of the same themes and stories.
The hit television series, though always intended for the small screen, started its life as a trilogy of books written by producers Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro. In many ways, the show is a master class in how to adapt a book to television, making changes to the novels that fit the visual style and the pacing of a season in TV.
These changes include the novels focusing heavily on the protagonists, leaving many of the machinations of the strigoi, specifically series big bad Eldritch Palmer, in the background. The show instead uses Palmer's plans as an anchor for the rest of the series and as a way of building tension. Further, Eichorst doesn't even appear in the first book but plays a prominent role in the first season of the show, providing an excellent counterpoint to his nemesis Abraham Setrakian and multiple opportunities to see their dynamic in flashbacks.
One other smaller differences is that the strigoi in the show can talk despite not having the physical capability of doing so in the books where they communicate telepathically and just move their lips accordingly. The character of Mr. Fitzwilliam is far more prominent in the show, acting as Palmer's bodyguard, and Dutch is entirely made up for the show in order to use hacking as a way of moving the plot forward more quickly than the books can.
It's difficult to choose which one is a better story, largely because they each choose where their focus is. Unlike a comparison of Clive Barker's The Hellbound Heart to the film adaptation Hellraiser, where a larger amount of time is granted to worldbuilding and explaining unclear motivations to make the book better, The Strain gives us as much in both book and show, but it ultimately gives us different aspects. In the show, we’re able to experience a series of flashbacks throughout the episodes to better understand the strigoi’s origins and Setrakian’s involvement with them in the past. Although we also get some of that in the novels, the larger focus is on the present.
Critics, by and large, have enjoyed it according to the 82% on Rotten Tomatoes, with many feeling that the adaptation from the novels is anything from passable to masterful. While the second season took a larger departure from the source material, it still remained plenty loyal to the books.
In both cases, del Toro’s take on vampires is fairly original, which is to say it draws more from the folklore that Bram Stoker used to inform his novel rather than the resulting book. Rarely are vampires portrayed with the animalistic fury of the show, especially now in paranormal romance novels. In fact, The Strain’s departure from the vampire-as-sex-symbol trope is so great that the strigoi have no human sex organs or drive at all.
Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan have done an amazing job of reclaiming the vampire as a terrifying threat rather than a representation of unsuppressed libido. The strigoi are monsters plain and simple, but that combined with an excellently adapted novel plot and some fascinating ideas makes The Strain worth the watch. Catch up with the show on FX through DTV or streamed on Hulu to prepare for the third season, which will generally cover the events of the second half of The Fall. You won’t want to miss this newest take on the popular blood-sucking creatures.
Spencer Blohm is a freelance entertainment, culture, and lifestyle blogger. He lives and works in Chicago. When not working he can be found camped out in his apartment watching the latest films and newest television shows.