Picture from Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant
Overall C

A bored teenager named Darren Shan (Chris Massoglia) looks for excitement by attending a performance of the Cirque Du Freak. While there, he captures the attention of Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly), a suspected vampire, who persuades the boy to become his assistant.

Violence C
Sexual Content A-
Profanity C+
Substance Use A-

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense supernatural violence and action, disturbing images, thematic elements and some language.

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant

Darren (Chris Massoglia) is a reasonably good kid who is getting decent marks in high school (the A’s earn him more allowance) and loves spiders, but his buddy Steve (Josh Hutcherson) isn’t providing the best influence. Despite the friction their friendship is causing with Darren’s parents and teachers, the youth still willingly follows Steve when he accepts an invitation (in the form of a promotional handbill) to attend a travelling freak show.

After lying about their age, the boys settle into the front row seats of the ramshackle theater hosting the event. Soon their eyes are wide with amazement while they view an assortment of impossibilities, like a woman’s hand growing back after being bitten off and a man swallowing the fire of a blowtorch. But it is the appearance of Mr. Crepsley (John C. Reilly) that captures Steve’s attention, because he is sure he has seen the man’s mug in a 19th century vampire painting. Darren, meanwhile, is more impressed with Mr. Crepsley’s pet blue and red spider.

So minutes later when the police storm the auditorium, accusing the show with exploitation, the boys take advantage of the resulting chaos. Darren grabs the arachnid while Steve seeks out Crepsley and begs to become a vampire.

Surprisingly, the stage performer turns down Steve’s request (claiming the boy has “bad blood.”) However, he takes an interest in Darren and even uses blackmail to persuade the young man to become his assistant   which actually means giving his life and becoming a vampire. This preference between the pals eventually leads to a rift and Steve aligning himself with an opposing force of evil bloodsuckers.

The immortal aspects of the characters lets screenwriters have run with creating scenes that would otherwise result in certain death: a truck hits a man and a boy deliberately drinks a vial of poison (he must die to become a vampire). Fight scenes are also intense, with characters being thrown, hit with shovels and smashed against objects. Profanities are mild and relatively infrequent, and a couple of crude anatomical and scatological terms are use. Thankfully sexual content is limited to a budding romance and a kiss between teens.

While this movie doesn’t artistically bite as badly as its obvious competitor Twilight, (its performances are better and there is more character development), there are still good reasons to approach viewing with caution. Depictions of teens considering suicide or taking their life in order to become a fantastical being may be a concern. Parents and teachers are also negatively portrayed. In the end, the first film in this franchise (which is clearly built for a future sequel) may still not be a compatible blood type for your family.