Interested viewers might not want to have dinner in proximity of the new FX series “The Strain.” The horror-disaster-supernatural mashup thriller premiering Sunday at 10 p.m. is creepily captivating but most assuredly not for the squeamish, or for nervous fliers.
The first episode opens on a night flight from Berlin to New York. We meet a few of the passengers we’ll want to remember later, including a goth-y, inebriated rock star and a little girl traveling alone. But our attention is quickly drawn to something making a ruckus in the cargo hold. By the time Regis Air’s Flight 753 lands, almost everyone on board appears to be dead.
A team from the CDC Canary Project, led by Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll, “House of Cards”), fresh from a frustrating therapy session with his estranged wife, is dispatched to figure out what happened and whether a biological threat is involved. And indeed, there is: The passengers have been infected with an evil, virus-style strain of vampirism, although Goodweather doesn’t know that yet. All he knows is that there are squirmy, wormlike creatures in the cargo hold, a big, honking mysterious coffin that wasn’t on the manifest, and passengers with surgical-looking incisions on their necks.
Elsewhere in New York, there are folks in the know, including Thomas Eichhorst (Richard Sammel), right-hand man of the nefarious coffin-dweller and octogenarian pawnbroker Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley), owner of a fancy sword, feeder of blood to a throbbing, slimy heart he keeps in a jar, and hellbent for vampire vengeance.
The 13-episode series is based on a trilogy of books written by acclaimed filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Pacific Rim”) and Chuck Hogan (“The Town”), who also wrote several of the scripts, including the pilot, which was directed by del Toro. Carlton Cuse, late of “Lost” and doing such a great job on A&E with “Bates Motel,” serves as executive producer.
Even viewers who dig the undead oeuvre on television — and those who’ve survived several seasons of the unholy messiness of shows like “True Blood” — may find themselves gagging a bit at all the slippery slop, icky exsanguination, and wriggly business going on in the first few hours of the story. It is not so much that “The Strain” is violent — though it is that — it’s more that it’s . . . sticky. (Fans of hard-R horror movies, however, can dive right in; the blood-stained water is fine.)
Visually, this is one dark show, shot in earthy browns, greens, and reds, full of night shadows and urban grit, and stuffed with cabinet of curiosity details that sometimes make “The Strain” feel, not unpleasantly, like a dramatic rendering of a Nine Inch Nails video.
“The Strain” definitely won’t be love at first bite for some. But if you’re a vampire geek who likes ooky scares, there’s stuff to enjoy here, from the pulpy vampires-as-parasites premise — they have a particularly “Alien”-esque element of their physiognomy that is startlingly nasty — to the over-the-top dramatics of a cautionary tale about man’s inhumanity to man, undead or alive.