It’s a good time to be alive if you’re a fan of vampires. Or appreciate horror being beamed directly into your front room, weekly, thanks to the rise in popularity of shows like American Horror Story and Penny Dreadful. In an odd stroke of coincidence, two vampire shows are returning to the UK on 26 August, and both come from prolific filmmakers with Mexican heritage…
Netflix UK has the next-day premiere of El Rey’s From Dusk till Dawn: The Series, while Watch have the second season premiere of FX’s contagion drama The Strain. But which tale of bloodsucking and bloodletting is most worthy of your time?
Round 1 – The Idea:
- The Strain concerns a citywide pandemic of vampirism, caused by a Boeing 747 touching down at New York’s JFK airport that contained infected passengers from Berlin. CDC epidemiologist Ephraim Goodweather soon finds himself in the midst of an outbreak of vampires (or “strigoi”), forcing him to team up with an elderly Holocaust survivor who’s battled said creatures before.
- From Dusk till Dawn expands upon the cult 1996 film on which it’s based, re-telling the story of the antiheroic Gecko brothers—American bank robbers fleeing across the Mexican border, who eventually discover they’re being manipulated by a breed of Ancient Aztec vampire serpents. The usual thing.
WINNER: The best concept is undoubtedly The Strain’s, which has loftier aims and a smarter array of subplots. FDtD loses points for lazily remaking a film everyone’s seen over the course of its first season, and it seems unlikely it warrants going beyond where the movie concluded at the Titty Twister bar.
Round 2 – The Creators:
- The Strain was born from the mind of celebrated Mexican filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy, Blade II), who co-wrote the source novels with Chuck Hogan. Del Toro himself was behind the camera for the pilot (helping establish the show’s tone and style), and returned to film the 19th-century prologue of season 2’s opener.
- From Dusk till Dawn is very much Robert Rodriguez’s baby, who directed the ’96 film written by friend and collaborator Quentin Tarantino (from a story by Robert Kurtzman). It’s also the centrepiece of Rodriguez’s very own TV network, El Rey (named after a sanctuary in the film), and he directed three episodes in season 1—including the one that restaged the movie’s action-packed climax.
WINNER: While I think Del Toro’s a much better filmmaker, his commitment to The Strain is reduced because he’s busy making big expensive movies. Rodriguez is far more hands-on with FDtD (probably no Spy Kids sequels on his to-do list), so his show is the winner here.
Round 3 – The Monsters:
- The Strain has a surprising variety of nasties that are offshoots of its basic vampire, or “strigoi”. There are the recently-turned vamps who traipse home to attack loved-ones with their elongated tongue-suckers. There are feral children who scuttle around and leap up walls, while making clicking noises like insects. There’s the enigmatic Mr Eichorst; a stern Nazi whose Nosferatu-y features and lack of a nose he keeps hidden behind extensive makeup. And then there’s chief villain The Master; a brute with gigantism who resembles a gargoyle with spindly fingers and billowing cloak.
- From Dusk till Dawn has its own mix of vampires, but they’re a more clichéd brood of bikers, truckers, gangsters, barmen and strippers who bare fangs and shape-shift into ugly creatures with speckled skin. Extra points for the cobra-style fangs that arch backwards in the mouth, however.
WINNER: While it’s true FDtD’s vampires can get a lot nastier because of the network it’s airing on, there’s certainly more inventiveness and variety of critters over on The Strain. The Master’s a divisive creation from a visual standpoint (often appearing quite comical with his frog-like face), but those CGI tongues and Eichorst’s noseless phizog are too memorable to lose this battle.
Round 4 – The Hotness:
- Audiences watch television for a multitude of reasons, so never underestimate the allure of good-looking actors being piped into the privacy of people’s homes. The Strain has Corey Stoll as its lead (although fans of his bald look will have been cursing his stupid wig for many episodes), but there’s also Kevin Durand (if goatee’s and wonky accents are your thing) and Argentine actress Mia Maestro.
- Over on From Dusk till Dawn, the Gecko brothers are played by D.J Cotrona and Zane Holtz (whose faces are set to a permanent smoulder), and that’s before mentioning stunning Mexican singer-actress Eiza González Reyna as vampiress Santanico Pandemonium, and cute Madison Davenport for the teenage boys. This season, you’ll be pleased to hear statuesque Adrianne Palicki (Agents of SHIELD) is also joining the cast.
WINNER: Despite the efforts of David Bradley for any septuagenarians watching The Strain, it’s obvious FDtD has this round sewn up. Even with the significant drag factor of granite-faced Danny Trejo appearing in season 2, there are too many astonishingly attractive people on-screen to ignore. And there’s less chance of clothing being worn in the sweltering desert heat.
Round 5 – The Production:
- The Strain is a FX cable production, but it’s attempting to convey a very big idea on a relatively small budget. Canada’s Toronto is an obvious stand-in for New York City in most scenes, and the scope of its metropolitan invasion of undead is mostly suggested by off-camera wailing sirens and muffled screams, with the occasional shot of distant buildings with CGI fire and smoke.
- From Dusk till Dawn comes from a lower-rung in the cable TV pecking order, as crown jewel of the El Rey Network—which only began broadcasting in 2013. However, it benefits enormously from real location shooting around Texas. Rodriguez comes from a background of low-budget filmmaking (see: El Mariachi), so he excels at squeezing every drop of cash from a production and putting it up on-screen.
WINNER: The creature effects on The Strain are fantastic, but it struggles to convince audiences about scale, which in turn works against the believability of what’s happening in New York. FDtD has more modest aims, but it wins this battle thanks to some inventive effects and the natural beauty of the desert landscapes around Austin, Texas.
From Dusk till Dawn:
Both shows are on a fairly equal pegging, but From Dusk till Dawn’s sunbaked creatures pip The Strain’s chilly tongue-suckers to the post.