Get Your “Freak” On

There is a vampire craze on television and in movies these days – the “Twilight” series, HBO’s “True Blood,” and “Vampire Diaries” on the CW network are all extremely popular, focusing on the integration of vampires (and other mythological creatures) into modern society.  But slipping under the radar was a film last year called “Cirque de Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant,” based on the Cirque de Freak book series by Darren Shan.  Perhaps no one noticed this film because it doesn’t have any teen heartthrobs (well-known ones anyway), nor does it center on vampires’ inclusion in “normal” society.  I did not expect much from it, but it’s a decent vampire flick with an interesting (although not totally original) story.

Chris Massoglia plays Darren Shan, a slightly nerdy high-schooler with an obsession for spiders who does his best to stay on the straight and narrow, but is often pulled off the path by his life-long best friend Steve, played by Josh Hutcherson, a rebellious sort with a passion for the world of vampires.  A flyer advertising a freak show wafts to their feet, thrown from the window of a mysterious purple Rolls Royce driving by.  Darren and Steve, intrigued by the flyer, end up sitting in the front row and are introduced to a variety of circus performers, from the super tall emcee aptly named Mr. Tall (played terrifically by Ken Wantanabe), to Evra the Snake Boy (played by Patrick Fugit), and Salma Hayek as Madame Truska, a voluptuous beauty who can grow a beard on command.  The final act is Larten Crepsley, played by John C. Reilly.  Steve thinks he recognizes Crepsley from one of his vampire books.  Crepsley is a magician of sorts who carries around an extremely large, poisonous and rare species of spider – Darren is entranced by the spider and decides he must have it for his own.  He hides in Crepsley’s dressing room and overhears a conversation between Crepsley and Mr. Tall, where he learns some amazing secrets about Crepsley and the other freaks.  But he escapes with the spider and brings it to school, where it gets loose and ends up biting Steve.  Feeling horribly guilty, Darren confesses his crime to Crepsley in hopes of getting an antidote for Steve.  Crepsely agrees to give him the antidote on one condition – Darren must become his assistant, and must become a half-vampire.  Darren agrees, in order to save his friend.

Things get complicated after Steve realizes that Darren has become half-vampire, a dream that Steve has had for years.  We begin to learn of the war between vampires and “vampanese,” a vampire species bent on killing humans, while vampires only feed on, but don’t kill humans.  Darren must begin to use his new powers to save his fellow man and protect the freak show society, of which he’s become a part, while Steve’s loyalties are questioned and sides are chosen.

Reilly seems a bit out of his comfort zone playing a vampire – he’s good at being an oddball, but as a vampire, it doesn’t quite work.  The plot is somewhat reminiscent of the “Blade” films, where violent vampire sects break from the pack and force their own agenda…it’s also similar to the “X-Men” series when mutants have to choose either between the pacifist side that wants to integrate into human society, or the revolutionary side which wants to take control.

The film is entertaining as the plot unfolds, and we see the two sides pitted against one another.  The freak society is quite enjoyable as far as characters go – Fugit’s Snake Boy has an ambition of being a rock star, but feels handicapped because, well…he’s a snake boy.  We feel sympathy for the freak side of life, and therefore look for a happy ending where the freaks win.  But the film’s conclusion is somewhat open-ended, begging for a sequel; a sequel which will most likely go as unnoticed as the original.  But if you’re sick of the “Twilight”-style of vampirism of late, “Cirque de Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” is a good alternative.

Final Grade for Cirque de Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant: C+


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