tek's rating:

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant (PG-13)
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Caution: spoilers!

This came out in 2009, but I didn't see it until 2017. It's based on a series of books that I haven't read, but I think I'd like to. Especially since the movie itself was kind of poorly received, and it doesn't seem like there will be any sequels. So if I want to know where the story goes, I'll have to read the books. Although I've gotta say, I don't understand why anyone wouldn't like the movie. I mean, I get that it's not perfect, but I do think it's pretty good. Maybe I'd like it less if I'd read the books before seeing it, I dunno. Also I want to mention that the DVD case makes it seem like the movie is called "The Vampire's Assistant: Cirque du Freak," but that's definitely wrong.

So anyway, the movie is narrated by a teenager named Darren Shan, beginning with his funeral. But we soon see that he's not exactly dead. Then some cool opening credits happen, and then the narrative skips back to before he "died." He's a straight-A student with very controlling parents (and a little sister), whose one act of rebellion is his choice of best friend. Steve (Josh Hutcherson) is obviously a bad influence on Darren, but he won't stop hanging out with Steve, even if he tries to keep their continued friendship a secret. Meanwhile, the two boys learn of a show that has recently arrived in town, called "Cirque du Freak." I should say that Darren has an interest in spiders, and Steve has an interest in vampires. Anyway, the person in charge of the circus is called Mr. Tall (Ken Watanabe). He looks rather freakish himself, though I don't think he has any particular skills, or anything. His performers include a sort of magician named Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly), who has a pet spider called Madam Octa. While watching the show, Steve recognizes Crepsley from a picture in one of his vampire books, but Darren is more interested in Octa. Anyway, other freaks include Madame Truska (Salma Hayek), a clairvoyant who can grow a beard at will, and who is dating Crepsley; and a snake boy (and aspiring musician) named Evra Von; and a woman named Corma Limbs (Jane Krakowski), who can regrow body parts after losing them; and Gertha Teeth (Kristen Schaal), who has large teeth that can apparently cut through anything; and Alexander Ribs (Orlando Jones), who... is horribly thin; and Rhamus Twobellies, who has two stomachs, and can apparently eat anything; and a wolfman, and any number of other freaks.

After the show, Darren sneaks backstage to steal Octa. He winds up hiding in a closet or whatever, and witnesses Steve asking Crepsley to turn him into a vampire, though Crepsley declines. He also listens in on Crepsley talking with a fellow vampire named Gavner Purl (Willem Dafoe), about another vampire friend of theirs, who had apparently been killed by some "Vampaneze." It will be awhile before we learn more about them, but there is an uneasy truce (following a period of war) between vampires and vampaneze, because the former drink human blood without killing or turning their victims into vampires, while the latter apparently do both those things, and hate vampires for not doing them. Anyway, the next day, Darren takes Octa to school. And Steve finds the spider in Darren's backpack, and accidentally lets it loose, and ends up getting bitten by her. And he ends up in a coma, or whatever. Later, Darren finds Crepsley and asks for his help, and Crepsley makes a deal to turn Darren into a half vampire, in exchange for providing an antidote to save Steve's life. But that means he has to fake Darren's death, so Darren will never be able to see his family again. Hence the funeral from before the opening credits. After that, Crepsley digs up Darren's grave... but they're attacked by a vampaneze named Murlough, who works for someone named Mr. Tiny. After a fight, Crepsley manages to get Darren back to the cirque's camp, where Darren becomes tentmates with Evra. He also meets a girl named Rebecca, whom he unwittingly offends at first, but she eventually (and predictably) becomes a love interest for him.

It's not long before Mr. Tiny convinces Steve to become a vampaneze. The cirque is neutral in the feud between vampires and vampaneze, and Tiny is also supposed to be neutral, but he definitely seems to be on the side of the vampaneze. Or at least... he wants there to be a war between the two sects, and all he does in this movie is designed to provoke such a war. (Honestly, there's a lot of history to which I'm not privy, and it's not even clear what Mr. Tiny is. I assume he's human, but he definitely has magical powers. And I'm not sure what he expects to gain from a war between vampires and vampaneze, but I don't doubt that he knows what he's doing.) Of course, Tiny's plan means setting former best friends Darren and Steve against each other. And... beyond that, I don't really want to spoil anything. Although I will say it's pretty unfair that vampaneze killing vampires obviously doesn't break the truce, but vampires killing vampaneze would.

Anyway... I just think there's a very interesting mythology at play, here, and I'd like to learn more about it. And I liked the movie's special effects. And I thought it was a fairly amusing movie, with some decent drama (though it was never particularly scary). And I really do wish there would be some sequels, but whatever. I guess I'll live.

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