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Cirque du Freak – The Vampire’s Assistant (2009)

by on 2010/03/09

Imagine Ronald McDonald as a clearly insane person in a velvet suit, and you’ll have a fairly good idea of John C. Reilly’s Larten Crepsley in the The Vampire’s Assistant.

Please don’t get me wrong. I dearly love John C. Reilly. His character acting genius is demonstrated in his work in Gangs of New York (2002), Prairie Home Companion (2006) and Step Brothers (2008). I’ll not have a word against him.

Ok, maybe just a few.

I watched this film with Miss_Tree my favorite person and deeply critical movie watcher. Her first reaction to Crepsley was “Oh my god, he looks like a crazy clown. Isn’t he supposed to be a vampire?” So I basically stole the above lead from her, I confess…

To be fair to John C. Reilly, in this movie, the camera seemed to even hate Salma Hayek, one of the most beautiful women nature ever created. Sure, playing a bearded woman is a tough gig for anyone but Hayek made a hideous snake creature look good in Dusk Till Dawn (1996). I’m going to blame the movie.

Now that I have vented all my shallow pettiness, onto to the real review.

The film is based on the first of the series of books The Saga of Darren Shan by author Darren Shan. Darren Shan’s (Chris Massoglia) world is a simple one filled with good friends, good grades and preppy clothing in pastel colors. But 16-year-old Darren’s idyllic suburban landscape of chain stores and white-washed McMansions is starting to show some cracks. After this straight-A student missteps mildly, his barrel-chested mom and humorless dad become instruments of argyle-sweater-wearing rage, forbidding him to associate with his best friend and bad influence Steve (Josh Hutcherson.)

Things heat up further when both boys are lured to a traveling freak show called the Cirque du Freak. The boys lives are transformed by this parade of human and not-so-human oddities in an abandoned theater. There’s a werewolf, a woman who can regenerate her limbs (30 Rock’s Jane Krakowski), a snake boy, and of course, a vampire. There’s even Gertha Teeth, a woman with enormous teeth played by Kristen Schaal, best known for her role as Mel in the HBO series Flight of the Conchords.

The cameos keep rolling when we are introduced to Willem Dafoe playing fellow vampire Gavner Purl, Crepsley’s good friend and “Last of the MoFreakins.” Through Purl we discover there’s a schism in the vampire world. Vampires don’t kill people, the Vampaneze do.

Vampires are the vegetarians of the undead world, politely sedating their victims and only taking what they need rather than draining their humans dry. Vampaneze are scabby, poor-tempered lonely ones, lacking the velvet-clad panache of Purl and Crepsley.

Oh, who am I kidding? Both factions are all pretty uniformly hideous, please refer to the first sentence.

All of this said, there are tremendously compelling moments in this film. I commented to Miss_Tree that I could watch a whole movie that looked like the opening credits, they were spectacular. The changes to the vampire myth taken from the Darren Shan series are fascinating. Vampires have super spit that heals in a flick of the tongue, they flit at high speeds to get to their appointments (remember to hold your breath when you leap on a vampire’s back for a ride), vampires exhale a sedating colorful gas … I could go on.

There are some beautiful venues, the tents the freaks of the Cirque du Freak deserve special note. The bitey Little People makes me want one for my very own — think a cross between Gollum and a Star Wars Jawa.

Overall, I found myself feeling cautiously optimistic when the ending seemed to signal a sequel. Further, I bought this movie at full price on Blu-Ray at an evil multinational department store and after watching it, I don’t regret it. (This is saying a great deal as I am very cheap).

I give it 3 stars out of 5. It isn’t perfect but I would like to see more from Darren Shan and his band of freaks.

* * *

1 hour, 49 minutes
Rated PG

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