Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant



Teen vampire flick is scarier, edgier than the book series.
  • Review Date: October 13, 2009
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Release Year: 2009
  • Running Time: 109 minutes

What parents need to know

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

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."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Adults and vampires drink socially on a couple of occasions.

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.

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.

Families can talk 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

Theatrical release date:October 23, 2009
DVD release date:February 23, 2010
Cast:Chris Massoglia, John C. Reilly, Josh Hutcherson, Salma Hayek
Director:Paul Weitz
Studio:Universal Pictures
Run time:109 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:sequences of intense supernatural violence and action, disturbing images, thematic elements and some language

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Adult Written byAnthony Cerquone July 17, 2015

hate it

a disgrace to the cirque du freak name! This is the most pitiful attempt at making a movie from a book I'd ever see I could barely even watch. I hate this the books we're just amazing so I was excited to see a movie based off them but just no this fucking is terrible
Kid, 12 years old June 6, 2011


Violence is an issue. A lady's arm is bitten of and you can see it lying on the ground and many more
What other families should know
Too much violence
Teen, 14 years old Written byTHE MOVIE MAN November 8, 2009


Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant could be summed up into one word: Terrible. The story is about a teenager named Darren who has a perfect life that anyone would want. Loving parents. Sweet sister. Great friends. Good grades. Good future. The only thing is he doesn't want it. He hates that everything is just lined up for him. One night Daren and his trouble making friend Steven sneak out late at night to go to a freak show. There Steven, who is obsessed with Vampires, finds one performing and sneaks backstage and asks if he could become one. When he rejects him because he has bad blood Steven threatens him that one day he will kill him. While that's going on Darren also sneaks backstage to take a look at the Vampire's poisonous spider which he steals. Later Darren by accidentally lets the spider out and it bites Steven and he is put in a coma in the hospital. That night Darren goes back to the place where the freak show took place and asks the vampire if there is an antidote that will cure Steven. The vampire says he will give him the antidote if Darren becomes his assistant and half a vampire. Darren agrees to do it. Steven gets well and Darren helps the vampire. Soon Darren has trouble with the vampire part of him. He starts doing weird things like thinking about biting his sister and eating raw meat. He decides he can't live like this anymore and he becomes a full vampire. To do that he has to fake kill himself. Darren then joins the Cirque which is a group of freaks with weird talents and some of them are disturbing. A little later Steven finds out about this and turns into an evil vampire. What's terrible about this movie is that towards the end the two best friends start fighting but not just that but the movie doesn't even finish the fight. It just ends. What parents should be alert about is that this movie has non-stop cursing. The longest gap between curses is probably four minutes. There is no message except appreciate what you have. If you read the books get ready for a big disappointment. If you don't want to waist your money on a movie don't see this movie but if you want to see it make sure you are twelve or up but be prepared for a failure.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing


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