The Strain is the first in a series of three reviews…
The Strain had come highly recommended to me by several of my more trusted horror friends and I finally got around to reading it. Sometimes I hamstring myself with laziness. The Strain is book one in a trilogy by visionary filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and award-winning novelist Chuck Hogan, and it is a vampiric game changer.
As many of you probably know, del Toro makes some of the most striking, engaging, and visually spectacular films in our modern times. With eye candy gems like Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Blade II under his directorial belt, he also has put his pen to The Devil’s Backbone, Cronos, and the upcoming Hobbit films. Not to mention lending his creative juices as producer to such films as Splice and The Orphanage. To say del Toro is talented is to say the Grand Canyon is a ditch with a stream in it.
Chuck Hogan is no slouch himself with several best sellers, the novel inspiration for the critically acclaimed film The Town, a Hammett Prize, and accolades from the most successful modern horror writer Stephen King. These two creative masterminds together managed to churn out probably the most disturbing vampire novel I have ever read. Ever.
It’s not the gore, it’s not the action, it’s not the violence. It’s the principle of the fucking thing. As is popular in our medically advanced civilization, it is often broached that vampirism is a disease or illness of some kind. The Strain is an excellent example of this trend, with a wretchedly gross twist. Opening on a possible terrorist incident at New York’s JFK Airport, CDC rapid response team lead Dr. Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather becomes our main protagonist. He is tasked with discovering what is going on with an airplane full of dead people (cliché, I know, but honestly it’s small potatoes with the greater story). The airport incident is the catalyst to an opening of a really big can of worms that escalates through the novel. With forays into biology, parasitology, and virology, this series is heavy on the scientific jargon, but doesn’t cut its corners on good ole fashion horror. There is blood, violence, Nazis, evil corporations, gangsters, sciencey things, and one badass rat exterminator. But most importantly, seriously skin crawling vampire scenes.
Del Toro/Hogan vampires are not sexy. You will not be attracted to them. They are not seductive, or even relatable. They are vile, monsters in the truest order. And I can clearly see THIS is what del Toro wanted for Blade II if that pesky, established back story hadn’t gotten in the way. These vampires are unapologetic about their nature. Mostly because they don’t give a shit about ANYTHING but feeding. Don’t even worry about a loss of a cutesy soul leaving a beautiful, but hollow body. This is a loss of everything that makes you human and the resulting creature will make your skin roll.
The first in the series, The Strain focuses very little on character development at this stage. You’re introduced to your main players, but not what makes them tick. The cast is ensemble with little side stories that soon meet in the grand scheme of a plot. This book is all about setting the stage for a greater story and is written for a cinematic-like read. This trilogy was designed to be read from book one through book three and as stand alone novels they’ll leave something to be desired. Read in conjunction they present a truly fucked up story. I can handle my monster gore. I can handle blood and guts, and violence. But del Toro and Hogan brought something truly… icky to the table. I’m trying really really hard not to give any of the secrets away. I’ll probably write a spoiler laden breakdown one day, but until then… I highly recommend The Strain if you’re looking for something new in written horror. Prepare to be sicked out.