SciFridays: “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” (2009)

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Baddie – Teenagers. It’s always teenagers.

Lesson – Vampirism is not the best way to go through puberty.

Continuing in my chosen theme of Octoberween (vampires), but not in the theme of SciFridaysI made an impulsive decision to watch this movie based on the fact that the cast is stellar and it appears to feature a lot of John C Reilly, who is one of those actors that just shoes up in weird places. I now understand that this was at some point a book, but I have not read the book, so, uh, that. 

Vampire’s Assistant is, at its core, a coming of age movie featuring two boys, one slightly more mature than the other. When I say ‘coming of age’, I do not mean in the brutal apocalyptic sense that Stakeland is a coming of age movie. This one is much more-so the candy-coated cousin, landing somewhere around a poorly-marketed tween movie and some heavy handed morals. I’ll admit, I made it through 20 minutes of this movie before calling it quits and having to start again. Somewhere between Willem Defoe doing his best Vincent Price and John C. Reilly’s quirky-but-dangerous vampire and Salma Hayek’s bizarre bearded lady…I got lost. Plus, and I don’t yet know the reason for this, you are absolutely not rooting for the kid and his annoying best “friend”. 

I am aware this is a children’s (or at least tween) movie, but there is a somewhat uncomfortable theme of exoticism going on. You have your suburban teen (Darren), burdened by his somewhat WASPy family values. But lo, he has a quirky interest – spiders. This quirky interest takes him to the freak show (hence Cirque du Freak) where he’ll be permitted to live a “simple, Vaudevillian life” amid the, you guessed it, freaks. His best friend, the aforementioned annoying Steve, is from a poor family, with an absent father and an alcoholic mother. His blood tastes like evil, and he is not permitted to become a vampire ever. I am not making this up. “American Horror Story” is doing something similar this season, but their defunct debutante male character is actually certifiable. I’m not sure that makes it better, but it’s at least not quite the same level of pining. Also there are bad guys called the Vampanese, which is…well I don’t know. It’s a weird word.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Vampire’s Assistant is a movie that switches rapidly between taking itself very seriously and not seriously at all. Occasionally, I totally buy that John C. Reilly is a sort of Depp-style quirky monster vampire who’s capable of being callous and cold. Most of the time though, those dialogue moments are misplaced and strange feeling. To its credit, it is a movie that grows marginally more entertaining as it goes on. This all being said, this same movie without all the weird pre-teen stuff would probably be decently entertaining.

If you’re interested in seeing one Mr. Josh Hutcherson, who I understand is somewhat of a teenage heartthrob from the illustrious Hunger Games, he’s the evil annoying best friend in this movie. This movie has a ton of weird cameos, Salma Hayek’s being the most weird in my book. As I mentioned, she’s the bearded lady, but in a magical way, so she can grow and lose her beard at will, but also she’s psychic. This is only marginally more strange than Orlando Jones’ ability to not have an abdomen, Kristen Schaal’s strong teeth, and Jane Krakowski’s ability to re-grow her limbs.

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 1.52.36 PMI wouldn’t even say, “This is a great movie for your kids to watch,” because it has some weirdly dark moments and uses curse words to accentuate Reilly’s quirk. It’s not a particularly strong morality tale, other than like, “If your friend seems a jerk, he’s probably a jerk.”

Next week I’m going to watch a slightly more serious vampire movie, but I promise, we’re gonna close Octoberween out with a bang.

 

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