CIRQUE DU FREAK: THE VAMPIRE'S...
Reviewed by: Zombie Boy
John C. Reilly
What's it about
A night out at the freak show has unexpected - and dire - consequences for young Darren Shan and his best friend, Steve: vampiric consequences. Mwu-ha-ha!
Is it good movie?
On the outside it seemed that Darren Shan had everything going for him: boy-next-door good looks, a loving family, and a promising academic career. But when he and his best friend, a troubled youth named Steve, visit a one-night-only freak show, all that changes. Steve is bit by a venomous spider, and Darren must allow himself to be made a half-vampire by the freak show’s full-vampire, the 200-year old Larten Crepsley, in order to get the antidote. This requires him to fake his own death and go live with the traveling freak show…and subsequently play a part in a larger struggle for power between two opposing vampire clans being orchestrated by the mysterious Mr. Tiny.
The Vampire’s Assistant actually has a lot more going for it than I thought it would. When I initially saw the trailer for it, I thought it was just another bone-headed SFX-heavy Harry Potter knock-off. To an extent it is, but it also has an underlying charm and humor that is infectious. Director Paul Weitz decided to lighten the tone of the considerably darker books the film was based on, in order to make it more teen-friendly, which might not have been the best move. The movie still has its dark moments, but unlike Darren, who ultimately finds the balance between his human nature and his new vampire identity, the movie never really finds its balance between darkness and teen coming-of-age dramedy.
The look of the film is very slick, with a lot of nice scene transitions. It is clear that Weitz has not done many fight scenes, though, but considering the level of blue-screen and wire-work necessary for the film, I think he did a respectable job. The freaks in the circus all have a distinct personality behind their more obvious abnormal physicalities, and the SFX are above average for this type of film. I was especially pleased to see Tom Woodruff as the past-his-prime Wolfman, and Orlando Jones, Jane Krakowski, Kristen Schaal, and Patrick Fugit all brought a depth to their supporting roles that really helped give the film a more grounded feel than I had expected.
Unfortunately, the two leads, Chris Massoglia as Darren and Josh Hutcherson as Steve, are the weak links here. They do their best, but stacked up against the aforementioned character actors, as well as John C. Reilly as Crespley, turning in a well-tuned dramatic performance (much appreciated after his string of dick and fart joke films of late) they pale. No pun intended. The whole last act of the film is dependent on their face-off as best friends turned archenemies, and it simply does not come off. Luckily the film ends on a Willem Dafoe note, and I’ll forgive a lot for that beautiful bastard.
Video / Audio
Video Widescreen (2.35:1), and the color scheme in the freak show camp scenes really pops.
Audio Only an English audio track in Dolby Digital, with optional English, Spanish, and French subtitles.
Deleted Scenes: There are 20 deleted scenes that total about 10 minutes, which sounds a bit like a Ramones set. Most are just slivers of scenes shaved off for time or impact, but some are actually alternate takes.
Guide to Becoming a Vampire: This is a collection of three mini-docs, each detailing a different aspect of production. Learn Your History: The Development and Casting is a general overview, with interviews with some cast but mostly the director and producers. It deals mainly with how the project came together and runs about ten minutes. Find a New Home: Filming the Big Scenes runs about 6 minutes long, and mostly talks about a fight scene filmed in a cemetery in Louisiana. Finally, Surround Yourself with Friends: Making the Cirque and Its Freaks is another sixer dealing with the genesis behind the creation of each of the freaks, and includes interviews with the cast. You can also choose to play them all in a row.
Tour Du Freak: This piece plays like an EPK kind of thing, with an extensive set visit to the freak show winter camp. It is impressive the level of detail and individuality that went into the creation of each character's trailer. This one's gonna cost you about twenty minutes.
Despite its underperforming lead actors and its inability to find its thematic footing, I found The Vampire's Assistant to be a well-made, enjoyable piece of fluff. There are plenty of oogly bits and loads of idiosyncratic performances by venerable character actors. It gets half-marks for being entertaining despite its flaws, and another half-beer for Salma Hayek's rockin' cleavage.