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Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant

The film based upon the vampire fantasy books by Darren Shan.

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2 ½ Stars: The War Between Vampires and "Vampaneze" is Brewing...Oh the Horror!!

  • May 21, 2010

Amid all the abysmal “Twilight” movies and the “Harry Potter” franchise, Universal Pictures and director Paul Weitz (brother of Chris Weitz, director of Twilight New Moon) aims to create a new franchise based on the books authored by Darren Shan. “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” is the film adaptation of the “Vampire Blood trilogy” in the “Saga of Darren Shan” book collection which garnered a good following and great sales. Let’s be honest here, you know that this is a feeble attempt to capitalize on the recent “vampire rage” that even the National Lampoon comic franchise made a pitch with “Transylmania“. This is indeed a bad sign, and truth be told, I am tired of all the vampire emo crap instigated by Stephanie Meyer. This film is derivative, a little convoluted with a lot of plot holes, but at least it wasn’t as bad as I feared it would be because of the performances of its cast. I haven’t read the books so consider this review from someone who just love vampire-fantasy films.
Darren and Steve (Chris Massoglia and Josh Hutcherson respectively) are two high-schoolers who live in the suburbs who have very little to show at school and at home except for their friendship and the respective passion they have for spiders and vampires. After attending the performance of a traveling show called “Cirque du freak” led by Hibernius Tall (Ken Watanabe), Darren finds himself running away with the spider that performed with a vampire named Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly) and from a closet witnesses his friend Steve ask Crepsley to turn him into a vampire but was rejected.
The next day at school, the two had an incident that ends with Steve getting bitten by Crepsley’s poisonous spider and to save his friend, Darren makes a deal with the vampire for the antidote; this deal includes making Darren a half-vampire and Crepsley’s assistant, that he has to leave his family. Now that Darren is a half-vampire, he learns that there are even more sinister forces that walk this earth besides vampires, these beings are actually decent, respectful beings and the threat actually comes from the “Vampaneze” led by Mr. Desmond Tiny (Michael Cerveris) as they seek to provoke a war with the vampires. 

                     Chris Massoglia as Darren, Michael Cerveris as Mr. Tiny and Josh Hutcherson as Steve in "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant."

                   Chris Massoglia as Darren, Ray Stevenson as Murlaugh and John C. Reilly as Larten Crepsley in "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant."
“The Vampire’s Assistant” is a film that I went into with low expectations and I believe that this would be the best way to approach this film. There is actually nothing special with the film; the script is pretty predictable and the screenplay is rather convoluted, after all, how can any director fit the premise of three books in one 90+ minute film? There is just no way that its elements would be properly developed and as a result, the film ends up pitching ideas that it barely develops. The film could’ve used more editing and the exposition of its overflowing elements a little more simplified. The film’s script has potential, but sadly it never achieved the best of it. I liked the idea of ‘civilized vampires’ who drink human blood but they never kill and the opposing “vampaneze” (why do they have to be called this name?) who kill their prey. Of course such different practices is a disaster waiting to happen; especially when nudged on by “Tiny”. 

              John C. Reilly as Larten Crepsley in "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant."
              Josh Hutcherson as Steve, Willem Dafoe as Gavner Purl and John C. Reilly as Larten Crepsley in "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant."
I guess I wanted more characterization in the film; a simple plot can survive with the benefit of strong characters. While the film does have interesting characters, there’s a 6-foot tall Ken Watanabe (Mr. Tall, the head of the show), a bearded Salma Hayek (Madame Truska), a non-ribbed Orlando Jones (plays Alexander Ribs), a regenerating Jane Krakowski (plays Corma Limbs), a wolfman, a vampiric Willem Dafoe (plays Gavner Purl) and many others. The characters are interesting but the film makes them minor “fillers” to get to where it wants to be. It was nice to have “Tiny” remain an enigma but the rest of the characters needed more development to make the story compelling.
I guess the film’s saving grace would have to come from the performances. John C. Reilly makes for a great quirky, eccentric vampire and even Massoglia makes for a good Darren Shan; he keeps his role grounded but the portrayal isn’t perfect. Michael Cerveris makes for a very enigmatic “Mr. Tiny” that for some reason, this character reminded me of “Violator” in the “Spawn” comic series. The vampaneze are led by Murlaugh (Ray Stevenson, Rome); his somewhat manic performance proves quite entertaining. Plus, it is pretty cool to see a sexy Salma Hayek with a growing beard. The colorful spider is also pretty cool. 

            A scene in "The Vampire's Assistant."
The effects are pretty decent for this type of film and the set designs can be real colorful on some scenes to exude that ‘quirky fantasy’ effect. The fights are pretty toned down compared to other movies that deal with vampires but they are decent for a “grimly” funny vampire film. I do like the effects of the vampire “speed travel”. From a visual standpoint, the film is mildly clever that it avoids the cheap tricks of slow-motion and editing. The visual style and art direction is pretty spiffy and is its own.
Overall, “The Vampire’s Assistant” is a pretty routine, generic and despite the credible performances, it just couldn’t go head-to-head with other vampire fantasies of this kind. It clearly has similar intentions to the “Harry Potter” series but it is a lot less focused. The film draws its strength from the charisma of its cast, but the passion of a legitimate adaptation of the books is beyond its reach. It just missed the opportunity to build on the dynamics of this fantastic world. It is too bad that it is no “Harry Potter” but at least the film is better than “Twilight”. Teens and kids may still enjoy this film, at the very least, the movie isn't insulting (I didn't hate it); but experienced viewers had better stay away.
RENTAL [2 ½ out of 5 Stars]



2 ½ Stars: The War Between Vampires and 2 ½ Stars: The War Between Vampires and

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July 19, 2010
because i did read the book series i was sadly dissappointed with this movie. with its cast i felt like it had potential to be really good. like you said not bad but not great. i really liked the spider though. and it had some parts that where pretty funny. a rental or a bargin basement find for sure though.
July 19, 2010
I wish I could've read the books, I heard they were pretty good. I liked the spider too but too bad it wasn't around that long. Yeh, this was alright, not horrible but sure is something not worth hunting for.
June 06, 2010
Quite honestly, this movie looks like a bad cable TV weekend movie for teeny boppers who like Miley Cyrus and shit. I'm not sure how the director was able to get this cast. Plus, somehow it just looks cartoony. The costumes, makeup, John C. Reilly's wig, the lighting, just basically everything looks like something that would have been at home as an early '90s cartoon and not a good one. Perhaps if the film were visually darker and not so colorful I would give it a chance, but I don't like movies that are over-saturated with colors. I know, It's silly, but brightly lit movies annoy me. One of the many reasons that many '80s horror films don't do anything for me. You want to scare people you have to obscure things in darkness and not shine brightly colored lights on villains.
June 07, 2010
I won't argue with you there but then I haven't read the source material. This had an ambitious premise but it just lacked discipline in its storytelling. I would've rated the 2.5 rounded down but I saw that it entertained the people I saw it with on dvd. So I opted to round up since the acting was good.
June 07, 2010
I wouldn't have expected that. By the way, please tell me that they make fun of Reilly's wig in the film, otherwise I'd just be laughing at it hysterically.
May 27, 2010
You wrote the words that are the kiss of death for me--"pretty predictable".
May 28, 2010
I know. If you're bored, maybe a watch on cable would be alright.
May 28, 2010
That's been happening a lot lately. I've been watching stuff I never thought I'd watch on the tube just because I'd prefer to be propped up in bed watching a movie than bent over the computer screen.
May 21, 2010
Great review. I had steered away from this film because the previews made it look like some kind of slapstick parody. I guess it may not be quite as bad as I feared, but I feel validated for avoiding it now. Interesting though. to know that it has some redeeming qualities after all. I'd have never guessed. ;o) It'll prolly turn up on TV some night and I may see it then, but I'm not going out of my way to rent it.
May 22, 2010
I am with you, Esmeraude (love your screenname) it does appear to be a parody of sorts. Don't get me wrong, the movie isn't good, but alright if you just want to pass the time. I didn't hate it and the acting was real good. Better than "Twilight" :) LOL!
May 21, 2010
Great review man, I knew I was doing the right thing staying away from this. Still I have a feeling I will see it some where down the road.
May 22, 2010
Just rent it, bro, not worth a purchase at all.
More Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's... reviews
review by . December 19, 2010
In an age of horrible vampire films (I'm talking about you Twilight), we finally get a cool one. That being Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant. I don't see how so many people hate this movie, because it's really good. I haven't read any of the books, so I can't judge it's faithfulness, but this is probably the only cool vampire film that has come out since Bram Stoker's Dracula. The only major problem is that it leaves the audience wanting more. More than they're …
Quick Tip by . December 06, 2010
Wow, this film was pathetic. Truly one of the lamest attempts to adapt a popular vampire book into a film. I haven't read the novels that inspired this abysmal effort, but after having seen this I have no desire to read them. It's amazing to me that so many talented actors were involved in this film. I can only imagine that they wanted to cash in on the current teen vampire trend. Circus freaks and vampires versus the "Vampaneze"? Give me a break!
Quick Tip by . July 24, 2010
entertaining movie, the books where way better as always. a little disappointing that with all the good actors in this movie that the outcome wasn't better.
review by . May 02, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
This movie was OK. Nothing spectacular but it didn't suck either. I can't quite decide which way to go on this, so I'll say 3 stars.
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About this movie


  • 16-year-old Darren (Chris Massoglia) was like most kids in his suburban neighborhood. He hung out with his best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson), got decent grades and usually stayed out of trouble. But when he and his buddy stumble upon a traveling freak show, things begin to change inside Darren. That’s the exact moment when a vampire named Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly) turns him into something, well, bloodthirsty. Newly undead, he joins the Cirque Du Freak, a touring sideshow filled with monstrous creatures from a snakeboy and a wolfman to a bearded lady (Salma Hayek) and a gigantic barker (Ken Watanabe). As Darren flexes his newfound powers in this dark world, he becomes a treasured pawn between the vampires and their deadlier counterparts. And while trying to survive, one boy will struggle to keep their brewing war from devouring what’s left of his humanity. -fandango.com

Poster art for "The Vampire's Assistant."


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Director: Paul Weitz
Genre: Sci-Fi, Fantasy
Release Date: October 23, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Screen Writer: Paul Weitz, Brian Helgeland
Runtime: 109 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios
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