I love zombies, which is probably obvious after the last four days of reviews, but I also feel that they're overdone, and its time for them to go back into the coffin. Speaking of coffins, today's movie features one of my other favorite horror monsters... the vampire. After four days of gloom-and-doom zombie flicks, I wanted something a little more lighthearted, so I decided to give Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant a shot.
Best friends Darren and Steve attend an illegal freak show in an abandoned theatre. They are entranced by the performers, especially when a man named Crepsley takes the stage. Crepsley performs with a beautiful, but deadly spider named Madam Octa. Being obsessed with spiders, Darren is drawn to Octa, but Steve, being obsessed with vampires, recognizes Crepsley from a painting in one of his books. After the show is ended early by a group of protestors, Darren sneaks into Crepsley's dressing room and steals Octa, hiding in a wardrobe and eavesdropping on a conversation between Crepsley and another vampire about an impending war between vampires and the "vampaneze." Steve enters and demands Crepsley make him a vampire, but Crepsley refuses, claiming Steve has "bad blood." The next day at school, Steve discovers Octa in Darren's locker, and the spider gets loose, biting Steve and putting him into a deadly coma. Darren returns to the theatre and pleads with Crepsley to save Steve's life. Crepsley agrees on the condition that Darren consent to becoming his half-vampire assistant. Darren consents to the change and fakes his death, going with Crepsley to live with the performers of Cirque Du Freak. When a mysterious man called Mr. Tiny recruits Steve (who resents Crepsley for refusing to turn him, and Darren for stealing his dream) to fulfill a prophecy and bring an end to the fragile truce between the vampires and the vampaneze, Darren is forced to make a choice about what kind of man (and vampire) he is.
Let me start off by saying that John C. Reilly really impressed me in this one. I typically find his movies to be hit and miss, with his comedic roles almost consistently being misses (particularly anything he does with Will Ferrel. Reilly's dramatic range, however, is astounding, and he proves it again with this blend of horror and dark humor. I wasn't sure I could take Crepsley serious at first with his wild mop of shaggy red hair, and I was prepared for a screwball character, but I was pleasantly surprised. Reilly plays a convincing world-weary immortal whose tongue is dripping with sarcasm and razor wit. His non-vampiric appearance actually helped sell the character. He's not a goth stereotype like the vampaneze characters who all looked like Underworld extras who wandered onto the wrong set.
The rest of the cast is also stellar, with the freaks being played by a host of familiar faces, including Ken Watanabe, Salma Hayek, and Orlando Jones.
The motivations of Mr. Tiny are a bit foggy. We know that he wants a war between the vampires and the vampaneze, and he's determined to see a prophecy about two warring friends through to its bitter conclusion, but the big question is, what does he stand to gain from this war? Clearly he's some kind of supernatural being, but what exactly?
Unfortunately, the movie leaves us with more questions than it answers, and I feel that is its biggest flaw. We really don't get any sense of what's at stake, aside from the obvious threat of violent vampaneze being the dominant form of bloodsucker. I mean, they already kill for blood, and their truce is with the vampires, not the humans, so... what's the difference?
Despite the convoluted, muddy vampires vs vampaneze plot, Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant is a fun movie. It's a shame there's no follow up to tie up the loose ends, but I may just have to check out the book series to satisfy my curiosity. It's definitely intended for a young adult audience, but that shouldn't scare away grownups looking for a different take on vampires. The movie is streaming on Netflix, so give it a shot.