‘The Strain’: Guillermo del Toro brings gore and vampires to TV

THE STRAIN — Pictured: Cory Stoll as Ephraim Goodweather. CR. Michael Gibson/FX.

One of FX’s hallmark shows is “American Horror Story,” it’s genre-breaking foray into horror. But the network has brought on the next phase of dark drama in its new series “The Strain,” focusing on modern vampires. Guillermo del Toro and Carlton Cuse have taken on the challenge of bringing Chuck Hogan and del Toro’s novels to television, and the pair sat down in a media conference call to talk about the upcoming series, and express a lot of love to FX networks for giving them such freedom on the show.

“I will say that this show really represents my and Guillermo’s version of the story,” Cuse said. “It’s really unadulterated. I mean, yes, sure, we can’t drop F-bombs, but that’s about it.”

He also noted that the show will not run indefinitely, and even from the beginning, they pitched the series to run a set number of seasons, so it can have a definitive ending and story arc.

“The plan is that the show will run somewhere between three and five seasons, and as we work out the mythology and the storytelling for Season 2, we’ll have a better idea of exactly how long our journey is going to be,” said Cuse. “But it won’t be more than five seasons. We’re definitely writing to an endpoint, and we’re following the path as established in Guillermo and Chuck’s novels. But obviously there’s a lot that’s also going to be added…

“And I think that the goal is not to literally translate the book into a television show. You want to take the book as a source of inspiration and then make the best possible television show that you can make.”

Now if you think that creating a television series means the show won’t be scary enough or will go light on the violence and gore elements, think again. Del Toro likened drawing the line in the sand between not enough and too much to holding his audience captive in the literal sense.

It’s almost like a hostage situation, where you need to show an audience that you’re not kidding, you know?” he said. “You have to show you are going to deliver either by atmospheric, creepy moments, or by visceral punch, 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, will bring this delightful shiver that is required with the genre.

Despite the large number of horror and true crime shows on TV, it seems the public always craves more and can’t get enough of monsters, horror and death in media. Del Toro thinks that drive harkens back to primitive urges.

“From my end, what I think is very apparent is that we’ve come to the point where socially, as we are mammalian creatures, we are territorial, we are built to fight and fend off territorial challenges, reproduce, and sit a sedentary life, you know, ultimately that’s the way we’re socially and animalistically geared,” said del Toro. “And yet we live in a society that the more it isolates itself from its natural instincts, the more it seeks them in entertainment. And I think there is a vicarious thrill your brain needs, the way your body needs the exercise in a way, your brain needs to be exposed to flight and fight instincts, and you seek it through a roller coaster, or some people seek it through extreme sports, or you can seek it in genres like noir crime, horror, adventure, etc. It’s literally a biochemical mammalian biofeedback with how we are constructed to organize the storytelling in our lives, I think.”

“I completely agree with everything that Guillermo said,” added Cuse, “Although I don’t discount that some reptiles will also like the show.”

“The Strain” airs Sunday nights on FX at 10 p.m. ET.

‘The Strain’ first trailer

FX has released several super short teasers for their upcoming horror series, “The Strain,” but we finally got a full 30 second trailers showing some clips of the show itself.

“The Strain” is a 13-episode series from Academy Award nominated filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, author Chuck Hogan and writer/producer Carlton Cuse, which is based on the best-selling vampire novel trilogy of the same title written by del Toro and Hogan. The teasers and this trailer look pretty creepy already, but with the resume of creative talent on this one, plus the groundbreaking reputation of FX for great, edgy TV, this is bound to be a winner. Both Cuse and del Toro had plenty of good things to say so far about their collaboration with the network.

“‘The Strain’ books are near and dear to my heart and now, Chuck and I have the blessing of a partnership with Carlton and FX that holds great promise,” said del Toro. “Working with FX has yielded an amazing experience with total creative freedom and support.”

“Working with visionary filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and the team at FX has been a dream come true for me,” said Cuse. “Guillermo’s epic, cinematic pilot for ‘The Strain’ starts a chilling and compelling story that will upend everything you thought you knew about vampires.”

The series  is a high concept thriller that tells the story of Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll), the head of the Center for Disease Control Canary Team in New York City. He and his team are called upon to investigate a mysterious viral outbreak with hallmarks of an ancient and evil strain of vampirism. As the strain spreads, Eph, his team, and an assembly of everyday New Yorkers, wage war for the fate of humanity itself.

Rounding out the cast are Mia Maestro, Sean Astin, Kevin Durand, Natalie Brown, Jonathan Hyde, Richard Sammel, Robert Maillet, Jack Kesy, Ben Hyland, and Miguel Gomez.

Emmy Award winning Writer and Producer Cuse (“Lost,” “Bates Motel”) will serve as Executive Producer/showrunner and writer. Gary Ungar will also serve as Executive Producer. The series premieres July 13, but stay tuned here for more news and trailers as the network releases them.

Tonight on TV: ‘American Horror Story’ lights a match

Brace yourself for an action-packed episode of “American Horror Story” tonight on FX. When we left off last week, Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) was blinded by acid thrown in her face by that evil Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett), who also conjured up the whole yard full of zombies to come after the girls at the charm school for witches.

Which is to say… it’s on between Fiona and Marie. (Sorta sounds like a Vegas lounge act doesn’t it?)

Of course, there ain’t a whole lot of kindness and gentleness on the other side of the fence in Fiona’s camp either. Let’s not forget that Fiona (Jessica Lange) just killed off poor little mean girl Madison (Emma Roberts) because she was afraid she was going to be the new Supreme: A theory dispelled by Cordelia, as the Supreme is supposed to be of good health, and Cordelia revealed that Madison had major health issues she hid from everyone.

And speaking of theories about who the real upcoming Supreme is, here’s mine.

Judging from previews for this week, Miss Fiona is far from done racking up the death toll. The previews show her and her band of teenage witches — dressed entirely in black, of course — toasting up somebody with a little bonfire, and rockin’ it old school Salem style.

Who do you think they’re torching in that preview? How do you think the girls will escape the zombies? Andt perhaps the most important — and disturbing — question of all is how long will the dead Madison be the life size tea party doll for Spalding (Denis O’Hare?)

There’s good creepy, and there’s bad creepy, and that last one is of the latter variety. Ew.

American Horror Story” airs Wednesday nights on FX.

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‘Face Off’ recap: You can’t polish a turd


Miranda’s makeup (left) and Adolpho’s (right.)

On this week’s “Face Off,” the remaining makeup artists  jumped right into the main event, creating subterranean creatures inspired by different “sets” in tunnels. Before the hour was over, one of the veterans found himself in the bottom three due to a technical error, causing fans great dismay that one of their favorites might go home. And a controversial front-runner seemed to be emerging, although it prompted much debate among viewers. Which shouldn’t be so surprising with so many great makeups coming out of the workroom each week.

Concept artist and sculptor Jordu Schell (“Avatar,” “Hellboy”) guest judged this week, and this was the first individual challenge for the artists, so for better or worse, the newbies had to stand on their own. But it was a veteran who found himself in big trouble.

Roy had been taken to task many times when he was on the show before for trying to go too big for the time allowed and his elaborate fabrications.  The first three episodes in this season, he focused on makeup, turning in some great looks.

Well, he got a little itchy again this week, it seems. He decided he was going to do an octopus-like creature, and create a mold to anchor the tentacles… for the whole length of the torso. In one massive 500 pound mold.

As judge Ve Neill would say, “Oh, honey….”

Well, if you think that’s crazy, this is even crazier: His mold worked. And then he filled it with poly-foam. Or, as he discovered too late, rigid foam.

For the average armchair makeup artist, that doesn’t mean anything. But for professional special effects makeup artists and fans who have already seen the show, that’s a collective “Oh, shit!” you just heard. The rigid foam hardened almost immediately and couldn’t be removed, rendering the mold useless.

Roy still had a face piece, but scrambled to put something else together. Something besides “a head on a robe” as he put it. Although a head on a robe might have been better. It was downright painful to watch him go through judging, knowing how substandard his final look was. And while the judges understood what happened, as Glenn Hetrick pointed out, they had to judge him on what was put in front of them. His only hope for salvation was if someone messed things up worse.

Someone up above was looking out for Roy it seems, or someone down below must have been out to get poor Adolpho. The first thing I thought when I saw his orange head was “Halloween mask,” which is exactly what the judges called it. When us amateurs can even see it, things aren’t going well for you.

Likewise, when elements of your makeup are likened to Fruity Pebbles cereal… you’re not having a good day. Scott’s makeup earned him the third bottom spot of the night.

Roy seemed to get the harshest criticisms, perhaps because he was the only veteran  in the bottom, and the judges have such high expectations from him, possibly even more than some other veterans. Having said that, it goes a long way with judges when you know how bad it is, and taking yourself to task certainly doesn’t hurt. When Glenn told Roy he was not pleased with his work this week despite the understandable explanation with the mold disaster, Roy didn’t just accept the criticism, but joined in.

It’s hard to polish a turd. It really is.

“You said it,” said judge Neville Page, as Ve giggled. But watching Roy’s suffering was anything but funny, even on a second watch, knowing the outcome. It’s hard to watch someone have to present work they know isn’t remotely up to their standards, when you know how much pride they take in doing good work and how damn talented they are.

But the judges saved him for another day, and Adolpho went home.


Tate’s makeup (left) and Frank’s (right) for this week. Do you think one of these should have won instead?

For the top looks, Miranda scored her third challenge win out of four weeks for her mole creature. The makeup was great with a nice subtle paint job, but many fans felt Frank’s toothy monster was better, sparking some cries of favoritism on the Facebook site. Still others wanted to know why Tate had been overlooked again with his amazing and complex sea kelp, crustacean monster (one of the sets had an underwater theme.)

Call me crazy, but the fact that Tate didn’t even make top looks and seems to be getting overlooked smells a bit like the show trying to make him an underdog to keep some suspense going, when he is clearly one of — if not the — frontrunner as far as consistently knocking it out of the park. He always comes up with great designs and never bites off more than he can chew. And he makes it look effortless every week, or at least the editing does.

If you don’t think they practice some deception like this, just note how they always try to fool is in the cuts to commercials by making it look like the people who end up in the bottom are being complimented and vice versa. When I saw the episode promo where it looked like they were praising Eric, I knew he was going home that week, and he did. I am so on to you, Syfy.

So, anyway, if you are considering a betting pool at this point, I would hands down put Tate in the final three, with two of the following rounding it out: Miranda, Laura or Roy. Frank possibly if he starts doing work like this every week, but consistency is key also. And not putting rigid foam in your molds.



The work of newcomers Laney (left) and Lyma (right.)

Some newcomers to watch though include Laney. It’s been apparent in the first group challenges she has the eye for interesting design and a great aesthetic, but with veterans backing her up previously, her technical abilities were still questionable. Her creepy look this week was pretty strong and it looks like she can execute. So far, anyway. And another interesting newcomer makeup was Lyma, who has taken her harsh airbrushing lesson to heart and toned it down to much better effect. Well done.

Check out some behind-the-scenes stills from this week in the gallery below. “Face Off” airs Tuesday nights on Syfy.

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