Special emphasis is placed on Vampire — also referred to as Strigoi — biology as mirroring that of parasitic creatures as opposed to supernaturally immortal undead of pop culture (but nevertheless have supernatural roots in their origin since they are essentially perverse creations of The Master, one of seven Ancients who in turn, are the splintered fragments of a fallen angel known as Ozryel). The life cycle and physical adaptations of a human-turned-vampire are covered in great detail throughout the series. They serve as the universal antagonists of the series.
As of the events of the Night Eternal, the entire species was rendered extinct after the Master was destroyed by a nuclear bomb.
Becoming a Vampire
The vector for vampirism is a small, needle-thin capillary worm known as the Strain worms, which, once introduced into the human host's bloodstream (either through a vampire's feeding or direct invasion by the worm through a wound or orifice), introduces an incurable and fast-acting virus directly into the hosts body. By manipulating the host's genes, the virus causes a human to undergo numerous, radical physical changes that slowly but inevitably transform them into a mature Strigoi vampire.
- "I thought vampires drank virgin blood. They hypnotize... they turn into bats..."
"They are much romanticized. But the truth is more... how should I say?"
-Nora Martinez, Abraham Setrakian, and Ephraim Goodweather
The first and most distinct vampire adaptation is the development of a long, retractable proboscis that hides beneath what was originally the host's tongue, capable of extending up to six feet from the mouth. This "stinger" is both the vampire's feeding and reproductive mechanism, shooting forth to latch onto vulnerable human prey at the throat or thigh, draining the victim's blood for nutrition and infecting the human with capillary worms at the same time, leaving every victim as a newborn, though still outwardly human, Vampire.
The vampire's jaw is set at a lower hinge than a human, the mouth gaping like a snake's when the stinger is deployed. As the structure of the stinger is modified tissue from the human lungs and throat, vampires are incapable of physical speech once the stinger had been deployed; beforehand, grunts and rudimentary monosyllabic speech are still possible (words like mom, dad, love, help, cold etc.)
A vampire's physical appearance is governed mainly by the host prior to infection. The virus first sheds those human traits that are obsolete to the Strigoi life cycle; Hair and fingernails are gradually lost, while the external nose and ears atrophy, leaving a fully matured vampire's skin as smooth and featureless as marble. The vampire's complexion is extremely pale between feedings, but appears a flushed red following a recent blood-meal. Eye coloration consists of a black pupil surrounded by a red sclera, with a white nictitating membrane sliding across for protection. Curiously, despite losing appendages and organs that are of no use, vampires develop sharp fangs that replace their original teeth, these fangs would be redundant as their primary feeding method is through the use of their stinger.
The middle fingers of both hands grow and strengthen, and a thick talon develops in place of the lost fingernail. However, at least one vampire seems to lack the thick middle talon and indeed the rest of the claws despite being a Strigoi for over fifty years. As vampire reproduction is achieved through viral infection of hosts and not through any sexual mechanism, the human genitalia also atrophy, leaving a mature vampire with no discernible sex.
The digestive and circulatory systems of a vampire are simplified and fused into a single vast, interconnected system. The interior organs come to resemble a series of connected sacs rather than anything one might expect to find. Nutrition from blood feeding is transported throughout this system via a thick, viscous white fluid that forms the vampiric equivalent of blood. This white fluid has very potent healing properties if administered orally to humans, however in doing so one must be careful as not to ingest the worms, or else they run the risk of becoming infected. The capillary worms are present in this fluid, swimming throughout the circulatory system, often visible beneath the vampire's thin skin.
Like rodents, a vampire is unable to vomit, its suction-based digestive process functioning only one way. However, some vampires such as The Master have been able to regurgitate the worms from their bodies in order to possess another host body. All bodily waste is excreted from a single rectal orifice in the form of a pungent ammonia-based spray; a vampire will excrete for the entire duration of a feeding, purging old food as it consumes new blood.
The vampire's body temperature runs extremely high, at 48.9 °C / 120 °F, and a human is able to feel their ambient heat from several feet away.
They do not sleep, at least not in the way that a human does or would understand. They will shut down for a brief time if they are sated. Too much blood digestion fatigues them, but never for long. They go underground during daylight hours solely to escape the sunlight.
Many of the physical changes from human to vampire occur gradually following the initial worm infection, and are accompanied by great pain. A newly "turned" human will lie in a state of suspended animation for an entire day, rising the next night as a nascent vampire. The stinger is present for the vampire's first foray to facilitate feeding, but other traits (hair loss, talons on the mid-digit, lack of distinct internal organs) will develop within the first seven nights following infection.
The vampire's mental state will also be confused at first, and its movements will be clumsy and awkward. As it matures, however, the vampire will become supremely agile, able to leap great distances and climb sheer surfaces with the aid of its talons. Full maturity, physically and mentally, occurs within the first thirty nights.
In spite of the vampire's morbid biology stripping legends of their romance, the most famously admired trait of the undead remains intact: immortality. Unless slain by violence or sunlight, a vampire's parasitic body structure will neither fade nor weaken with the passage of time, giving it an effectively endless "life"-span. Even in those cases where the host body is damaged beyond repair, a vampire of sufficient power can transfer its consciousness (via a torrential capillary worm transfer) from one human host to another.
If a vampire feeds on a pregnant woman, the baby will be turned into a creature similar to a vampire, but with a collection of very different traits. Known as "The Born," these creatures are intelligent and have many of the traits of their mother's infector, although they lack the worms in their blood. They also need to drink human blood. The preferred blood among all strigoi is B positive (Nora's blood type), but of course, any blood will do.
While the appearance of the Strigoi suggests sickness or weakness, they are far from defenseless. They are capable of great agility and speed, and in most cases are strong enough to lift humans off their feet by the neck or even crush their skulls with one hand.
Vampires are fast enough to easily outrun their prey and even dodge bullets, so long as they are intelligent enough to do so. To the human eye, their movements can only be seen as a blur.
Vampires are also physically more durable than humans and are able to take much more punishment than the standard human, but they are still susceptible to being killed via broken necks, spinal damage, severe trauma to the brain.
Vampires can also heal at a much faster rate than humans, though they cannot regenerate lost limbs.
The sensory apparatus of the vampire is highly adapted for its nocturnal life cycle. Sight becomes the vampire's least acute of senses, with color vision gradually being replaced by vision similar to thermal imaging over the course of a week as the infected host undergoes biological metamorphosis. Once fully-turned, a vampire possesses the ability to read heat signatures as monochromatic halos.
Hearing is greatly enhanced, in spite of the loss of external ears, with a fully-turned vampire's acute sense of hearing able to detect the sound of blood pulsing through the bodies of potential prey. Additionally, a fully-turned vampire can smell the carbon dioxide emitted by a human's breath, thereby locating prey with minimal reliance on other senses.
The vampires' greatest sensory asset, however, is the "hive mind", which all vampires share with the "Ancient" that propagated them. Each vampire, through some undefined telepathic link, is able to send and receive thought and sensory information to and from its Ancient progenitor. In this manner, the Ancient vampires direct the actions of their individual spawn through mental communication, regardless of distance. Perhaps akin to its radiation shielding properties, the element Lead has the effect of blocking this mental connection.
In spite of their biological inability to speak, vampires can communicate with humans through telepathy, transmitting thoughts directly into a person's internal monologue. Those vampires seeking to pose as a human can train themselves to move their lips in a pantomime of speech, but the actual communication is still via thought-transference.
An Ancient vampire is also able to use this telepathic ability as a weapon; known as the "murmur," this mental shockwave has the ability to completely overwhelm the minds of surrounding human beings, rendering them unconscious.
Vampires also experience an overwhelming compulsion to infect family members and those they cared about as humans (their "dear ones"). They possess a unique ability to locate such targets, this sense being likened to a pigeon's homing instinct.
Many of the traditional vampire "weaknesses" of common folklore remain effective, although their potency is explained in terms of specific effects on vampire biology.
- Sunlight is the vampire's ultimate destroyer, specifically ultraviolet light in the UVC range (Ultraviolet C-rays, are the short wavelength variety, which has the ability to destroy the DNA machinery which allows organisms to heal and multiply. This includes micro-organisms such as bacteria & viruses). This is due to the germicidal properties of the wavelength, as it breaks down the virus-laden tissues of the vampire's body. A localized source of UVC light, such as a fluorescent lamp, can be used to repel a vampire, much as a burning torch can repel an animal. Complete exposure to either direct sunlight or a powerful UVC source will result in complete desiccation of the vampire's body, leaving behind nothing but ashes.
- Silver, in the form of a metal weapon or even a fine chemical mist, can also wound or kill a vampire. Much like sunlight, this is due to the disinfecting properties of the element damaging the vampire's viral biology (It has been known to interfere with sulfur bonds in bacteria). While conventional weapons (lead bullets, steel blades) can cause physical damage, they will not repel a vampire. Silver causes vampires both debilitating pain and a certain amount of fear; binding a vampire in silver will completely incapacitate it.
- Despite conventional weapons being unable to repel a vampire, they can be killed by severe brain trauma. This can be achieved through shooting them in the head with firearms or smashing the brain (typically with a close combat or melee weapon).
- Severing the spinal column through any method is another effective way to destroy a vampire. While the vampire's simplified internal organ structure makes it difficult to harm it with attacks on the body, decapitation will result in the vampire's death.
- Warfarin and possibly other pharmaceuticals that reduce blood clotting, colloquially thinning, have toxic potency on vampires. For instance, Eichhorst was rendered immobile after feeding on Setrakian, who had taken a large dose of warfarin prior, and this was coupled with his inability to vomit the toxic blood. Setrakian was able to exploit this situation and behead him. It is unclear if the poisoning alone would have killed Eichhorst but the poisoning of a partnership blood harvesting truck led to the mass deaths of hundreds of vampires throughout Philadelphia.
- Strigoi are typically feral and lack any true sentience, unless the gift is granted to them by their Master. This lack of sentience can be exploited to lead them into traps or kill them in far more efficient ways than a toe to toe fight. Without sentience or direction from their Master, a vampire's attacks will be uncoordinated and lack strategy.
Through the wonders of genetic engineering, it is possible to mate select micro-organisms to produce offspring with desirable characteristics: 1) Minimal deleterious effects to Humans 2) Fatal to Strigoi yet transmissible to the rest of its cohort population. In this case, a bio-weapon which is neurotoxic, that is, it was created to feed on cerebrospinal fluid, which prevents cells from communicating with each other, as well as other strigoi.
Although there appears to be no biological imperative behind it, vampires cannot cross running water. This is alluded to as having something to do with the origin of the Ancients, but no further explanation is given. This aversion to water can be overcome, however, if the vampire is assisted (or "invited") by a human.
Traditional religious protections against vampires, such as a crucifix or holy water, display no practical effect. Garlic, another common folk defense, has no noticeable use in repelling vampires.
Silver-backed mirrors, while they will not harm a vampire, will reveal its presence. While a vampire does indeed cast a reflection, it is blurred and distorted, akin to an image vibrating at an impossible speed. Modern chrome-backed mirrors, however, will not have this effect, and the vampire will appear normally in such a looking-glass.
Differences from the books
- In the books, the strigoi will lose their external ears in addition to their nose. This doesn't happen in the show; in fact, the ears will grow larger and more pointed. The physical changes also progress much more slowly in the TV show, as the Master is shown to still have a nose in his Jusef host after around hundred years of possessing him.
- In the books, Strigoi cannot speak but simply mimic speech by moving their lips while telepathically communicating with someone. However, this is not the case for the Strigoi in the tv series, in which the only trouble a strigoi can have is to speak in their original voice.
- In the books, Strigoi die out after the death of the Master. In the series, they just became feral and unorganized.
Vampire Lore and The Strain
According to a 2014 ComicCon Interview, Guillermo del Toro said that his rendition of the Vampire is an actually a composite of two creatures: the Aswang and the Strigoi. The Aswang is a creature found in the Philippine Islands, which attacks its prey by projecting its tongue. The Strigoi, of Eastern European fame, on the other hand, has a stinger under its tongue.
The following is a transcription of select portions of said interview:
I collect and know a lot of vampiric lore, not fiction; I read all the fiction but I collected lore. When I was a child of the 1970's, it was an explosion of myth, re-evaluation, occultism, post-hippie occultism, recuperation. People were re-evaluating, Charles Fort, Colin Wilson was coming out with beautiful essays about not only about the outsider but fringe science, and paranormal. You had Jacques Verger, he...[unintelligible]... the UFO.... There was a real interest.... There was a book called Passport to the Supernatural by Bernhardt Hurwood the collected lore from India, the Middle East, the Far East, Europe, The Americas about Vampirism. And...That was my first time when I started realizing how the Vampire that interested me was not the Vampire that was romantic but the hollow corpse that was inhabited by an unholy will...
The Strigoi particularly in Eastern Europe. Everytime, the body was possessed, it would resurrect and go and drink the blood of the family first, and then would propagate the disease all over the world. I was fascinated by many of the Eastern European lore, like for example lores about cemetery and not the sedentary corpse came out of a vampiric tale in Europe that was called the shroud eaters....It was because the corpse foamed a bloody discharge full of bacteria that ate the shroud. They open the coffin and saw the teeth and they thought the corpses got up and ate people throught the shroud.
I have been fascinated by fringe vampiric lore mythology. I read one of these things "Mad" Montague Summers .... Every single essay ever done on Vampiric folklore and genealogy
The vampire when it was birthed by John W Polidori in the English language with the story of the Vampire, he was birthed as a romantic hero and a monster at the same time. So either obsession was correct. No one was doing the brutal vampire...
...I been a morbidly biologically obsessed kid...The metabolism is so hard, so quick, they become really hot, their hair falls off. My rationale is also their lungs dry off, so they don't need to breathe because they don't need the oxygen to produce erythrocytes, to produce red cells, their bones becomes brittle...if touched by silver they can break. The idea of them not having a breathe, makes them non-human, they develop a parasitic heart.
In terms of mythology, I borrow from a vampire [tale] in the Philippines called an Aswang, which projects a tongue...He drinks the blood of a baby inside the mother.... The idea of the tongue also connects with the Strigoi, the Eastern European Vampire, who has stinger under the tongue, and again goes to drink the blood of the family.
The only time I have seen the vampire the way I like it is on a tv series that The Strain is very very influenced by which is Kolcheck the Night Stalker. I wanted to go back to you know horror being first and foremost brutal and fun. Its not about,... it makes you reflect about the loneliness....Its like a perfect summer horror series.
The Strain can take liberties with vampiric lore because it is not adopting a novel.
- Interviewer: What is the challenges to taking your idea and bringing it to screen...
- Del Toro: The way I wanted to design the show... All the episodes you see, every effect goes to me, every single makeup effects go through me of all the episodes.I do a final color correction on the cinemaphotography of all the episodes myself. Its because I want to give a uniformity in the look. The way I tried to design the look, was supersaturated colors that almost felt comic-book like. I color coded the show with everyone saying we have basically two colors cyan or blueish and gold. If you watch the episodes, I wanted to say no reds except if there in the real world like a fire extinguisher or siren of a patrol car...yes...but no reds, so we can reserve the red for the blood. That way we have a stringent color code and even if you don't notice it, the show has a style, you know, and thats the first thing. The second thing I tried to do was to try to give it a cinematic look and give it scope. We did for the budget, we did it for the schedule, but we wanted to make it ambitious. So those were the challenges, to try to do a spectacle, and big effects,big visual effects within the budget and schedule.