Sixteen-year-old Darren Shan (Chris Massogloia) is talked into attending the travelling freak show Cirque du Freak by his best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson). While there, Steve realises that one of the performing freaks, a man called Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly), is a vampire.
Crepsley has a giant poisonous performing spider called Madame Octa, and Darren has a passion for spiders. Following the show, Darren decides to go backstage and ‘borrow’ Madame Octa. While Darren is taking the spider, he overhears Steve ask Crepsley to turn him (Steve) into a vampire. Crepsley refuses.
Darren manages to get away with the spider, which he takes to school the next day. Unfortunately, it escapes from Darren’s locker and bites Steve, who ends up in hospital in a coma. Darren goes back to Cirque du Freak to get an antidote from Crepsley. In return for the antidote, Darren must agree to becoming Crepsley’s assistant. This involves Darren being turned into a half-vampire. Following Darren’s transformation, Crepsley gives the antidote to Steve, who promptly recovers. But when Steve learns that Darren has been turned into a half-vampire, he becomes very jealous and vows revenge.
Freak shows; vampires; jealousy and revenge
The violence in this movie is at times quite brutal. But much of it is shown in comic-book style, with little or no blood and gore. Also, the majority of the action violence is confined to three major fight scenes. For example:
- During a Cirque du Freak performance, we see a wolfman attack a woman in the audience and rip off her arm. He then drops the arm on the stage floor. The woman stands and announces that she is fine. As she shows the bloody stump of her severed arm to the audience, we see her grow a new arm within seconds. The woman then picks up her old severed arm and kisses it before carrying it off stage.
- A large spider crawls underneath Steve’s t-shirt and then onto Steve’s face. The spider bites Steve on the side of the face. He collapses with two fang marks on his face. Later Steve is shown in a hospital bed in a coma, with his face swollen and discoloured.
- To give Steve the antidote for the spider bite, Crepsley sticks his long filthy fingernail into a vein into Steve’s arm, producing a small drop of blood. Crepsley drinks liquid from a small vial and then lowers his mouth to Steve’s arm, forcing the antidote from his mouth into the wound.
- To turn Darren into a half-vampire, Crepsley makes cuts in Darren’s fingertips and tells Darren that it will hurt when it reaches his heart. Darren collapses in pain. Darren is told to lick his fingers and when he does so, the cuts immediately heal up.
- During a brutal fight between Crepsley and a Vampanese (half-vampire) at a cemetery, the Vampanese smashes a rock over Crepsley’s head. They punch and kick each other with extreme force. They use their fingertips as stabbing weapons, smash heads against walls, smash shovels over heads, and bite each other. Crepsley uses a headstone as a frisbee to knock the Vampanese down. Crepsley tricks the Vampanese into standing in front of a speeding truck. When the truck driver checks to see if the man he just ran over is alive, the Vampanese attacks the truck driver, biting him on the neck.
- Having become a Vampanese, Steve uses his fingertips as knives to slash a teacher across the face. Later he brags about how he killed his teacher.
- During a fight between the Vampanese and the Cirque du Freak people, a man has his head smashed into a mirror. Another man is smashed in the face with an iron bar. The wolfman attacks a Vampanese and bites him on the arm. A group of Vampanese wielding clubs and knives attacks the wolfman and knocks him to the ground.
- Towards the end of the movie, there is a brutal fight between the leader of the Vampanese and Crepsley. The two men throw a dagger back and forth. They are trying to kill each other, and each uses his powers to grab the dagger from the air and hurl it back towards the other. The dagger cuts their hands, but after each grab, they lick the wounds and heal (no blood is depicted). As the fight progresses, bones break and a finger is bitten off. Crepsley is thrown from a balcony. When he lands, a dagger is embedded in his chest and another in his leg. A Vampanese pulls the dagger from Crepsley’s chest and hands it to Steve, encouraging Steve to use it to kill Crepsley. Before Steve can deliver the death blow, Darren knocks him down. Crepsley stands and pulls the dagger from his leg. Crepsley’s face is covered with blood.
- At the end of the movie, Darren and Steve fight each other using supernatural speed and strength. They punch each other in the face, head-butt each other, and slam each other into a wall. The fight is stopped before either can inflict any visible damage on the other.
- Throughout the movie, there is frequent violence-related dialogue, particularly about vampires drinking blood. At one point, Darren says that he is very close to killing his own little sister and drinking her blood.
Content that may disturb children
In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, this movie contains some scenes that could scare or disturb children under eight. For example:
- There are numerous bizarre, scary-looking creatures and people, who might scare or disturb younger children. Examples include a large multicoloured poisonous spider that gets under people’s clothing and crawls across their faces; a group of short, vicious goblin-like creatures with grotesque faces and mouths full of long, razor-sharp teeth; a wolfman; and a bare-chested man who is missing the skin, flesh and intestines from his abdomen. We see his exposed spinal column with what appears to be his vital organs tightly wrapped around his spinal column.
- Several goblin-like creatures eat chunks of bloody flesh from a large trough.
- The body of a Vampanese shrinks and turns into a small shrivelled goblin-like creature.
- A small goblin-like creature reaches into its own chest cavity and pulls out a small black, beating heart, which it shows to Darren. The creature then puts the heart back into its chest.
- Darren and a teenage girl are told to clean out the wolfman’s cage, the floor of which is covered in poo and other filth.
- Darren’s younger sister, his parents and a teenage girl are tied up, gagged and hung above a stage. Darren is told that to save his family, he must kill the teenage girl.
Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by the scenes mentioned above.
Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by the scenes mentioned above.
This movie contains occasional mild sexual innuendoes and references. For example:
- Crepsley finds pornographic magazines in Darren’s bedroom and asks why he doesn’t get it off the internet.
- A teenage girl asks Darren to take off his pants. Darren looks a little confused, but the girl explains that he has a tear in his pants that needs mending.
- Darren talks to Crepsley about liking a girl who has a tail. Crepsley says that he likes his female partner’s beard.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
This movie contains some use of substances. For example:
- In a couple of scenes, people drink wine from glasses but don’t seem drunk. A man suggests having ‘one for the road’ and drinks all the wine in his glass.
- A couple of times, Steve talks about his mother being drunk all the time. Steve appears resentful about this.
Nudity and sexual activity
This movie contains some partial nudity and sexual activity. For example:
- Women wear low-cut tops that reveal cleavage.
- A woman feeds a man cake icing from her fingertip. She breaks off her finger, places it her mouth and offers the other end to a man. They eat the finger and kiss passionately when they meet in the middle.
- During a performance of Cirque de Freak, a female performer wearing a low-cut and tight-fitting dress drags Darren onto the stage. She acts in a sensual way towards him, and he gently touches her face. Then she suddenly pulls away and slaps Darren across the face. She then instantly grows a beard. A similar scene occurs when Crepsley touches the woman’s face, after which Crepsley passionately kisses the woman on the lips.
None of concern
This movie contains some coarse language, put-downs and name-calling.
Ideas to discuss with your children
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant is based up a series of books. It is a supernatural vampire thriller suited to an older adolescent audience. It contains numerous scenes and images capable of disturbing younger children.
The main message from this movie is that it doesn’t matter whether you are seen as a freak or otherwise. What matters is how you behave and how you treat others.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include self-sacrifice and courage. For example, Darren sacrifices his own life to save the life of his best friend. He also hangs onto his humanity by refusing to drink the blood of humans.
This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about issues such as Crepsley’s view of right and wrong. He thinks that because vampires don’t kill humans when they drink human blood, vampires are better than Vampanese, who do kill their victims. You might want to talk about whether Crepsley’s behaviour is still a kind of assault, because his victims don’t know what he’s doing to them.