Tag Archives: Richard Sammel

A short review of Season 4 of “The Strain”

The fourth and final season of “The Strain” was easily its weakest, but was still fun enough to merit an 8 out of 10.

Season 1 was a unique, detailed, methodically assembled techno-thriller crossbred with vampire mythology — you could tell that it was adapted from a pretty decent book series by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan.  The show’s subsequent seasons progressively meandered farther and farther into comic book territory … the fourth felt loosely and hastily plotted, with spotty and confusing exposition.  (I was considerably confused until late in the game about who deployed nuclear weapons in the war between vampires and humans, when they did so, and what their strategy was.)

But what the hell.  I still enjoyed this.  The writers here still know where their bread is buttered, and gave survival-horror fans more of the screwball guilty pleasures they were tuning in for.  There was plenty of blood and gore (even if it’s only the white, worm-infested vampire blood that I suspect was easier for the censors to approve). There were more of the show’s creepy, cringe-inducing monster effects.  And there was plenty of action — right up until a finale that was predictable but cool.  (If you’ve been following the show the way I have, do you not want to see machine guns, explosions, swords and severed vampire heads?)

Richard Sammel consistently outshined everyone in his role as the WWII Nazi turned vampire Himmler.  What an extraordinary villain.)  It’s a further testament to his talent that the man actually appears sublimely good-natured in real life.  (He interacts with his fans from time to time on Facebook.)

The show actually surprised me, too, by how attached I got to its characters.  It hasn’t always been a show that is strong on its characters, but … I’m going to miss them.  Vasily Fet (Kevin Durand) and “Dutch” (Ruta Gedmintas) were two in particular that I found myself surprisingly attached to — especially considering that Dutch was a superfluous character that seems to have been added only for sex appeal and romantic tension.  I was rooting for both of them.

So I’d still recommend “The Strain,” despite Season 4’s failings.  To quote Jack Nicholson’s Joker in 1989’s “Batman,” “I don’t know if it’s art, but I like it.”  (Yes, I do know that Walt Disney said it first.  Whatever.)



A review of Season 2 of “The Strain”

When I favorably reviewed the first season of “The Strain” (2104) last year, I predicted that the show couldn’t sustain its momentum much longer, as the creepy effectiveness of its vampires was already beginning to fade.  I was pleasantly proven wrong.  Season 2 was a creepy, devilishly surprising ride, despite its silliness, and I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.

Let’s get a little killjoy pedanticism out of the way first.  “The Strain” has absolutely not lived up to its promise as an epic horror-movie-meets-technothriller, as suggested by the opening episodes of Season 1.  Those episodes looked like a collaboration between Bram Stoker and Tom Clancy.  Imagine how amazing this show could have been!

What we’ve got instead is more EC Comics horror than intelligent horror.  You’ll enjoy the program more the less that you think it through.  I can’t resist being a know-it-all here and deflating one of my favorite shows with some pretty big things it overlooks.

First, the vampire legions we see laying siege to New York City here are nothing less than invading force.  New York is the financial capitol of the United States, and arguably the world.  Its fall would cripple not only America, but also the world’s economy, and that’s not even considering the more obvious threat of the vampires extending their forces outward from there.

I think that Congress would repeal The Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits America’s armed forces from occupying U.S. lands.  (Or the president could easily circumvent it.)  We would see large standing armies surrounding and then moving in to New York, with support from the Navy and Air Force.  It absolutely would not just be outnumbered national guardsmen, heroic everyday policemen, and plucky, average New Yorkers rallying together, even if those things are fun to think about.  I think our armies would have plenty of international support as well.

Second, if our vampire forces (and their human collaborators) had any sense at all, they’d try hard to spread their contagion anywhere in the United States, even if they don’t intend to invade beyond New York.  Creating wildfire epidemics anywhere else on the continent would confuse and slow America’s response.

But I’m overthinking things.  “The Strain” is silliness, but it’s sublimely fun silliness.  This show didn’t fail to surprise and entertain me, and from time to time it creeped me out too.  I jumped a few times.  It indeed remains scary, with story devices that were spooky and damned creative.  One such device is the new breed of … what I call the “spider-vampires.”  They’re a different and even more unsettling threat than the baddies we’re used to.  And I can’t say much without spoilers, but the manner of their creation is pure genius horror writing.  Yeesh.  There are other little plot-related or character-related goodies that I’m thinking of, but I can’t specify without spoiling them.

Richard Sammel and Jonathon Hyde still lead the cast in talent; this is definitely a tv show in which the bad guys are the better thespians.  (For a show where Holocaust flashbacks have become stale, Sammel shines especially in fangless flashback that unexpectedly humanizes him.)  Their performances were often good enough to make me overlook the humdrum character of our often boring good guys.

Again, “The Strain” isn’t high art.  But it can be a damn fun time for a horror fan.  Check it out.


A quick review of “The Strain” Season 1

“The Strain” is a mostly successful attempt at serialized horror, adapted from the vampire novel of the same name by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan.  It’s a smart, fun, dark genre-buster combining a conspiracy thriller, an action adventure, a plague thriller and good old fashioned gross-out monster mayhem — there are even dashes of historical fiction via flashback.

It’s an ambitious story even for the original novel, covering vampirism as a viral epidemic that sweeps New York City.  The putative heroes are two CDC investigators — though viewer loyalties will shift from these stock characters to the cooler and more interesting supporting characters — the tragic old curio shop owner; the quirky, gigantic exterminator; the local petty criminal; and the penitent computer hacker.  The little boy is such a one-note character that he might as well be a prop.

The exterminator, Vasily Fet, is played beautifully by sci-fi fan favorite Kevin Durand. (I can’t help but wonder if the character’s last name is a “Star Wars” reference.)  He’s a good actor, and his size and voice make him damn interesting as either a hero or a villain.  (See “Lost.”)  David Bradley, the curio shop owner around whom much of the plot revolves, does a great job, especially considering how cheesy the dialogue given to him sounds.

But by far and away, actor Richard Sammel steals the show.  He is simply a fantastic bad guy — creepy, unsettling, frightening, hateful, insinuating and mysterious.  This show has a great villain, and I liked rooting against Sammel’s creep far better that I liked rooting against the somewhat cartoonish “Master.”

For much of the time, the combination of the above story elements works out well.  “The Strain” can be surprisingly creepy for a network show.  The creepy-crawlies look great, even if they are reminiscent of “the reapers” of “Blade II” (2002), also directed by del Toro.  (Wouldn’t it be great if there were a shared universe?)  I’ve always thought that one of the scariest aspects of the vampire mythos was that loved ones can become enemies — the series wisely capitalizes on this more than once.  And the entire conspiracy plotline actually is pretty unsettling, as it’s scripted convincingly and with some thought behind it.

Regrettably, all of these good things can’t sustain the scares and tension over the course of a full season of television. Once they are faced and defeated more than once, the vampires do lose a bit of their punch.  The flashbacks to Europe (trying to keep this spoiler-free) grow tiresome and predictable, no matter how cool and original the idea started off.  And compounding this is a great lack of tension supplied by the actors and screenwriters.  Everyone is way too relaxed.  It is probably the end of the world, via vampire apocalypse, and these chipper folks often seem like they’re kids meeting to work on an afterschool project.  This isn’t helped much by a final action set piece that is directed so awkwardly it’s embarrassing.

Still, “The Strain” really is worth a look, at least if only to see if it’s your cup of tea.  I actually do recommend it.

A  little trivia — several episodes were directed by none other than RoboCop himself, Peter Weller.