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Purple "Strain"

That Guillermo Del Toro is a busy guy. In between nurturing  the Mexican Film New Wave with co-Amigos Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu with their production company Cha Cha Cha, working on a two part adaptation of Tolkein's "The Hobbit," and much, much more, the auteur behind "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Hellboy" is writing a trilogy of novels (co-authored by Chuck Hogan, who also wrote "Prince of Thieves," now being adapted into "The Town" by Ben Affleck, shooting in Boston as we speak and looking for local actors) about a plague of vampirism titled "The Strain."  Having read the first volume, due out June 2, all I can say is -- Guillermo, don't strain yourself. This one looks like it would have been served better by going directly to film, thus sparing us such deathless prose as:

"The foul smell of fresh, hot vampire piss filled the arched space, the burnt-ammonia scent holding dark associations for Setrakian.."

Almost Proustian, that. Then there's this observation when a woman turns into a vampire and pursues her son and ex-husband (omissions to avoid spoilers):

"[he] knew that [she] would never give up. She would go on haunting her son forever unless someone put a stop to it.

"Their custody battle for [their son] was not over."

That sure puts in perspective a demonic viral infection that has wiped out Manhattan and threatens the world.

So here's the premise. A plane lands at Kennedy Airport, everyone on board mysteriously dead. But then the dead start to rise and kill other people who also rise and drink the blood of others with their six-foot long razor sharp tongues. The only people who have a chance  to stop the zombie/vampirification of the world is a doctor named Eph and an old immigrant vampire hunter from Romania named  Van Helsing, er, Setrakian.

I'm not the only one who's noted that the book is derivative of just about every other zombie and vampire  and miscellaneous horror book and novel ever made, starting with Bram Stoker's original "Dracula" and continuing on through "Nosferatu," "I Am Legend," "Night of the Living Dead," "28 Days Later," Philip K. Dick (there's a character named "Eldritch Palmer," so I guess that would qualify as an allusion), "The Night Stalker" (okay, it's acknowledged, so another allusion), "They Came From Within," "Outbreak," "THe Stand," etc, etc. You might even throw in a resemblance to "Airplane!" for the first couple of chapters, not to mention  Del Toro's own "Blade 2" and "Mimic."


Which, given the rich tradition of vampires (and zombies) in literature and film, is inevitable, I suppose. I do look forward to Del Toro's own rendering of this on the screen, however, since he is a genius at visual story telling. AS for this prosaic  version, well, maybe this dialogue from the book best describes it:

" Nora said, ‘I thought vampires drank virgin blood. They hypnotize...they turn into bats...'

"Setrakian said, ‘They're much romanticized. But the truth is more...how should I say?'

"‘Perverse,' said Eph.

"‘Disgusting,' said Nora.

"‘No,' said Setrakian. ‘Banal. Did you find the ammonia?'"

My advice: lay off the ammonia.

By the way, Del Toro's new trilogy should help convince those who doubted my prediction about vampires taking over from zombies in the undead competition to rule pop culture (okay, his is a vampire/zombie hybrid).There are more to come including another vampire trilogy, Justin Cronin's "The Passage," already signed for a film deal.

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