Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant Movie Poster Image
Teen vampire flick is scarier, edgier than the book series.
  • PG-13
  • 2009
  • 109 minutes

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 39 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Kids can learn about self-awareness, sacrifice, and courage through Darren transformation's from regular teenager to half vampire. Crepsley, despite being centuries-old and curmudgeonly, demonstrates the importance of not being completely self absorbed. Together, and with the help of the circus folk, they triumph over a looming threat.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Darren is willing to sacrifice his life in order to save his best friend's, and he refuses to drink blood from anyone, even people who've been sedated, until Rebecca freely offers him some of hers. He's sweet, open-minded, and brave, and he doesn't fight unless it's for self-defense. On the other hand, his foil/best friend is the exact opposite -- Steve is selfish, sullen, and volatile, not to mention violent.


Although many of the fight scenes are slightly comic, there's plenty of violence, including stabbings with knives and swords, fistfights, kicking/stomping, slashings with vampire nails, and the protagonist having his neck broken for the sake of faking his death. Most of it isn't gory or bloody (surprising for a vampire movie!), but it's still fairly dark. There are also possibly disturbing scenes of the titular "freaks" (a girl with a monkey tail, a boy who's green/scaly like a snake, a man with two bellies, a woman who can rip off her limbs and regenerate them, a man with no skin covering his lower abdomen/ribs, a Bearded Lady, and more.). And those who are afraid of spiders will have several "look away" moments.


A couple of embraces and kisses between Crepsley and Madame Truska (as well as a joke about her beard growing out as a sign of arousal) and Alexander and Jane. Chaste flirting between Darren and Rebecca and a lips-only kiss (which does make her monkey tail stand on end...).


Several uses of the word "s--t" and its cousins "bulls--t" and "holy s--t/crap," as well as a few utterances of "a--hole," "ass," "hell," "dick," "oh my God," and milder insults like "jerk," "wimp," "stupid," and "idiot."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults and vampires drink socially on a couple of occasions.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that amped-up violence and language make The Vampire's Assistant movie too mature for younger tween fans of the Cirque du Freak books it's based on. There are several disturbing scenes of vampires stabbing, punching, kicking, and otherwise wiping the floor with each other (although none of it gets particularly gory), along with potentially disturbing images of circus "freaks" and fairly regular use of words like  "s--t," "a--hole," and the like. Although the sexuality is on the mild side (especially for a vampire tale), there are a few kisses and a brief glimpse of the protagonist about to suck blood from a willing love interest.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bypersnip September 27, 2012

Dark and fun

It's a good Halloween movie. My 11 & 8 year old daughters loved it and thought it was funny. It's a little intense if you have sensitive child... Continue reading
Parent of a 12, 14, and 15-year-old Written bycheesed12 August 27, 2010
YEAH!!!!!!!,I am 12!,And i can that movie!
Teen, 16 years old Written byapersonherejust... July 20, 2019

Some people are kind of wrong on this

Some people are saying that this movie is darker than the books but i can assure you otherwise. Atleast on the regard of the accurate to original manga(the writ... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byStr8Hogger April 20, 2018

Great Story

It would be good to watch with a parent. Could be scary for some people.

What's the story?

Based on the first three books of the popular young-adult Cirque du Freak saga, THE VAMPIRE'S ASSISTANT follows straight-laced high-schooler Darren Shan (Chris Massoglia), who's unexpectedly pulled into an underground world of traveling circus "freaks" and warring vampire factions. After Darren and his bad-boy best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson) attend a one-night-only performance of the Cirque du Freak, Steve becomes convinced that sLarten Crepsley (John C. Reilly) is a vampire and privately begs Crepsley to turn him into one as well. Crepsley refuses but eventually agrees to turn Darren into his "half vampire" assistant in exchange for providing Steve with the antidote to a fatal spider bite. Darren saves his best friend's life -- but is then forced to abandon him and his family to join Crepsley. Just as Darren is getting used to his new environment -- making friends with a snake boy (Patrick Fugit), a monkey-tailed girl (Jessica Carlson), and a bearded lady (Salma Hayek) -- his new way of life is threatened by the evil Mr. Tiny (Michael Cerveris), who recruits Steve into joining a band of bloodthirsty "Vampanese" that wants to start a war with the less-violent vampires.

Is it any good?

Director Paul Weitz would have been better off adapting just one book, since the conflation of three novels (even ones in a series) rarely translates well. (Think of the disappointing Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.) Consequently, The Vampire's Assistant drags on for almost an hour before Darren is even made a "half vampire." And by the time he joins the self-proclaimed freaks, the audience isn't able to fully immerse itself into their intriguing culture because the action shifts to the battling vampire groups. There's a ridiculous montage of Darren hanging with his new friends -- flirting with Rebecca the monkey girl, jamming with Evera the snake boy, and eating barbecue with the entire clan. It doesn't help the bland characterizations that Massoglia says everything in an emotionless monotone.

Hutcherson, who was brilliant in Bridge to Terabithia, nails the insecure, impetuous character of Steve and deserves more leading -- not sidekick -- roles. The familiar actors in the supporting cast -- including Hayek, Jake Krakowski, Orlando Jones, and Willem Dafoe -- are frustratingly underused, while Tony-Award-winning actor Cerveris chews up the scenery as a jowly mastermind with a penchant for purple accessories. Reilly is, as expected, laugh-inducing, from his hilariously awful Ronald McDonald hairdo to his many quips about vampire life. Bits and pieces of the movie work fairly well, but as a whole, it feels much longer than it is, and it makes you wish it had been adapted into a TV series instead, where all of the characters could have let their freak flags fly, instead of being reduced to just a few sequences.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how this vampire thriller differs from other vampire-themed movies and shows. How are the vampires depicted? Why are vampires so popular?

  • Why do you think the movie amped up the level of language and violence compared to the books? Can you think of other movies that are "heavier" than the books they're based on?

  • How are Darren and Steve examples of "foils"? What kind of person do they each represent? Kids: Name other famous literary foils (here's one to start you off: Twilight's Edward and Jacob).

Movie details

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