Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant (2009)
By: J.R. McNamara on August 19, 2010  | 
Universal | Region B | 2.35:1, 1080p | English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 | 109 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Paul Weitz
Starring: John C. Reilly, Josh Hutcherson, Chris Massoglia, Salma Hayek, Orlando Jones
Screenplay: Paul Weitz, Brian Helgeland
Country: USA
External Links
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While his American Pie brother Chris Weitz was filming his hit film Twilight: New Moon, Paul Weitz was directing what he perhaps hoped would be the beginning of a new franchise based on a popular series of books. These books, known as the Cirque Du Freak series, were written by Darren Shan and first published in 2000. The novels are a post-Harry Potter teen series that focuses on a young man who suddenly has strange powers bestowed upon him, and learns how to use them from a weird bunch of lovable creatures. Oh hang on, or is that Harry Potter? Anyway, like The Spiderwyck Chronicles and Stardust it was only a matter of time before this was given the treatment. And boy, was it given the treatment!

Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant tells of high school student and arachnid fan Darren Shan (Chris Massoglia) who along with his best friend, vampire nut Steve (Josh Hutcherson) longs for more than his boring, pastel life, and excitement soon comes to them in the form of a freakshow known as Cirque Du Freak. The freak show is everything they expect, hosted by Mr Tall (Ken Watanabe) and starring Evra the Snake Boy (Patrick Fugit), Alexander Ribs (Orlando Jones), Rhamus Twobellies (Freddie Faison) and the mysterious spider wrangler, Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly).

Now Crepsley's act is of particular interest to the boys. Steve is interested as he recognizes Crepsley from a century old painting, and Darren just loves his spider, Madam Octa. Darren temporarily loses Steve, and finds himself in Crepsley's dressing room with an opportunity to steal Madam Octa, but is forced to hide in a wardrobe when Crepsley returns, to be confronted by Steve who asks to be turned into a vampire. Crepsley tells Steve he is not worthy and kicks him out, which enrages Steve and he tells Crepsley that one day he will kill him. Darren manages to escape with the spider but through a variety of shenanigans it escapes and unfortunately bites Steve, putting him at death's door. Darren then approaches Crepsley with a not so indecent proposal: save his friend and he will offer himself as an assistant. Crepsley accepts and introduces Darren to a colorful world of excitement, but that excitement is fraught with danger in the form of Mr Tiny (Michael Cerveris) and his villainous cohort Murlaugh (Ray Stevenson) who both wish to see a war start between their own people, the bloodthirsty vampirese, and the more sedate vampires, like Crepsley.

After the success of the Harry Potter and Twilight films producers everywhere are trying to find the next big film series based on novels aimed at young adult/teen audiences, and they aren't having much success. Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant is a failure; a disappointing megamix of The Vampire Circus and Freaked, with a bit of Phantasm thrown in (one bunch of characters is lifted directly from the Phantasm films. The second you see them you'll think of the dwarves from Phantasm, and their origins are almost the same).

As much as I don't like to make the comparison, as I am supposed to be reviewing a film on its own merits, this is definitely one of those cases of the books being better than the film, as the film has taken many liberties with the novels. It seems to have lifted key scenes from the first three books, but linked them together tenuously with a story that barely resembles the source, especially seeing as how it has had to create new characters to help the story move along. The books reveal a far greater tapestry as one would expect, but the film serves mostly as an uneventful introduction to a series that may not go any further than its first installment.
This film comes in a spectacular 2.35:1 presentation that boasts vibrant colours and has no imperfections.
Like the picture this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 presentation is flawless.
Extra Features
There are 35 deleted scenes which I believe the film could have benefitted from had they been reinserted; some of the freak's freakery may have made this catastrophe worth watching! On the other hand though, it would have added about thirty minutes to it's already disastrously long running time!

There is a section titled Guide to Becoming a Vampire, which is divided into 3 parts, whose names give away what each mini-doco is about: Learn Your History: Development and Casting, Finding a New Home: Filming the Big Scenes and Surround Yourself with Friends: Making the Cirque and Its Freaks. As casting and spfx featurettes are concerned they aren't too bad. Interestingly in one of the featurettes, Weitz makes an error that is unforgivable: he compares his own film to Harry Potter. The only reason this film exists is due to the popularity of J.K. Rowling's creation, and if it had been me, the 'Potter' word would have been banned from the set altogether.

Tour Du Freak is a cast guided tour of the set. It's whimsical and slightly amusing, but a throwaway fluff piece.

This film also comes with a fairly decent U-Control picture in picture commentary. It does seem to be a lot of stuff from the other extras though mixed into the film at relevant points, though seemingly extended and more informative.

This Bluray also comes with My Scene bookmarking , BD Live and D-Box motion code for those interested.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The real tragedy of this film is that it has a great visual style and some quality cast members who are overshadowed by terrible acting from some that aren't, and a story that is quite frankly shithouse. This film is like an accountant with a boob job: you don't mind looking at it, but it has no charisma.

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