Guillermo del Toro Touts The Strain's Extreme Scares: 'You Need to Show the Audience You're Not Kidding'

The Strain PreviewFX’s outdoor campaign for The Strain recently came under fire (and got toned down, some) for its eye-popping image of a parasitic something-or-another shimmying into someone’s peeper.

If only that were the most frightful of the horror drama’s on-screen visuals.

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Adapted from the same-named series of novels by filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) and Chuck Hogan, The Strain (premiering Sunday at 10/9c) follows Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (House of CardsCorey Stoll) as his New York City-based CDC team investigates a mysterious outbreak that, little do they know, has roots in an ancient strain of vampirism.

Former Lost boss Carlton Cuse serves as showrunner, exec-producing alongside del Toro/Hogan and Gary Ungar. The cast also includes David Bradley (Harry Potter), Mia Maestro (Alias), Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings) and Kevin Durand (Lost).

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But back to the eyeball. That ocular invasion is but one way in which the titular strain, spawned from a towering, ghastly figure dubbed The Master, evidences itself. More directly, as those familiar with the novels know, a host “feeds” by jutting forth an Alien-like proboscis from beneath its tongue — a more brutal, visually arresting interaction that ye olde fang bite. A harrowing, jump-out-of-your-seat moment in Episode 2 drives that point home, raising the question: Has FX, even as a cable outlet, had to step in yet and ask that things get dialed down juuuust a notch?

“Obviously not yet!” del Toro tells TVLine, with a hearty, proud laugh. Cuse in turn touts “the full support of FX, to make the show the way we want to…. Whatever aesthetic limitations exist are ones that Guillermo and I came up with ourselves.”

“Yeah, sure, we can’t drop F-bombs, but that’s about it,” Cuse says. “We really were able to put our unadulterated version of the story on the screen… It’s got some pretty extreme moments, but that also is what gives the show its octane.”

In fact, part of what drew CuseSTRAIN_1320 to this partnership with del Toro was the opportunity to “upend the vampire genre,” which, he grumbles, “has sort of been overrun by romance” on screens big and small. “We’d had our fill of vampire we were feeling sorry for, so it was time to go back to the conception of vampires as really scary, dangerous creatures.”

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It is in the spirit of depicting that undying danger element that fuels the show’s frights, lest The Strain for even a half-second be confused with the romanticized bloodsuckers of recent lore.

As del Toro explains, “The genre requires you to at some point, almost like a hostage situation, show an audience that you’re not kidding. You have to show them that either by atmospheric, creepy moments or by visceral punches — hopefully both — you’re going to be able to deliver the goods, the things that will make you feel queasy, will make you feel unsafe, that will give you this almost delightful shiver.”

But will those who’ve sampled the del Toro/Hogan novels still get their share of shivers and surprises? Cuse says that Season 1 of The Strain will follow the books’ initial installment, and that all told, “The plan is that the show will run somewhere between three and five seasons.”

Just as Lost ultimately did, “We’re writing to an endpoint, following the path as established in the novels, but obviously there’s a lot that is going to be added,” Cuse makes clear. “The television show is its own experience. The show and the book can each be separately enjoyed.”


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