Look, you either like vampire horror or you don’t, and I can sympathize with both points of view on this. But it’s nearly Halloween. So after reading The Strain, I’m inclined to give the genre the benefit of the doubt again — as long as the vampires remain monstrous and not the objects of ludicrous teen romance.
There are only two real vampire novels, of course: Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. The first is full-on supernatural; the second posits a scientific explanation for undead-ism — a vampire virus, if you will. The Strain takes the Matheson route, but throws in enough tropes from Stoker’s book to be kind of gothic, too. There’s a sinister black coffin, for example, this time arriving at JFK in the cargo hold of a Boeing 777. There’s a Van Helsing figure, too, the wise old dude who galvanizes efforts to stop the Master.
I normally avoid the horror aisles in bookstores, but I became interested in this after hearing Guillermo del Toro talk about it on NPR. The interview made it sound like he and Chuck Hogan have developed a unique view of vampirism, a view so compelling that it takes three books to round it out.
Well, not really. After finishing The Strain, my first reaction was how conventional it seemed. I’m not really dying to read the next two. Yes, vampires are scary again, but there are only so many ways you can describe a clueless minor character going to investigate strange noises in the attic or the basement. And when you posit a biological explanation for vampirism, it kind of erodes the whole good vs. evil context that Stoker evoked so well. Yes, these vampires will just as soon kill you as look at you, but they can’t help it. Most of them are barely sentient. The Strain tends to blur the distinction between vampires and zombies, and in the process makes them less frightening.
On the plus side, we do get epic scale and a computer-age setting. And some pretty cool anti-vampire weaponry. Who hasn’t dreamed of ventilating the undead with a nail gun, or knocking them out en masse with a light bomb?
If, like me, you like a bit of horror around Halloween, check out The Strain. It’s not perfect, or particularly original, but I guess it’s a worthy extension of this hoary old genre. Feel free to let me know if I’ve been too hard on it.