Just because I’m a vampire doesn’t mean I’m bloodthirsty. It’s not about what you are. It’s about who you are.
So with COVID19, the library building has been closed, giving staff the opportunity to work on some projects we have been wanting to do. One project that was given to me was to reorganize the YA section by book series. As I was reorganizing them I came across the Darren Shan/Cirque du Freak series. Because the series had two names (mentioned on different books) it took a google search to see what was the official name, it turned out it had a UK series (the Saga of Darren Shan) and they changed the name in the US (Cirque du Freak)
I also discovered that the first book was made into a movie starring Josh Hutcherson in 2009.
I looked it up as I was completely surprised. I had zero memory of this movie coming out, even though Josh Hutcherson was a big name in the 2000s.The film intrigued me, but we didn’t have a copy because someone checked it out and never returned it.
So a few months later I was thinking of how I would like to see it and decided to search it across my streaming sites and found it on Netflix.
So the story starts with Darren Shan, normal 16 year old boy in a nuclear family-and a bit of a coward. His best friend is Steve, they have been friends since Steve saved Darren from being beat up years ago. Steve is a sad creature-his mother is an alcoholic, no one likes him except Darren, and the only reason he goes to school is to be with his friend. So young and to have so little to live for.
They are going to school when they find flyers for a Cirque du Freak freak show. They decide to sneak out that night and go watch it.
When they get there, it is very strange show. They thought it would be fakes pretending, but things are too weird to be fake. One act, Larten Creepsley (John C. Reilly), performs with an incredibly poisonous spider, Madame Octa.Darren loved bugs, espechially spiders and he wants her.
Now Steve is a giant vampire fan and looking at Larten he recognizes him from his vampire book. He points him out to Darren who thinks Steve just has an overactive imagination from reading too many vampire books. Overactive imagination from too many books coupled with vampires-guess what popped in my head?
Darren goes to get Madame Octa, the spider-but before he can escape Larten comes in the room. He is with his friend Gavner Purl, (Willem Defoe), the two talk about vampire business and the Vampaneze, the rivals of the vampires who are bloodthirsty and cruel in their killings. They are interrupted by Steve who wants them to turn him into a vampire.
This part was really sad to me as Steve shares he has nothing in life but his best friend Darren. Life sucks and he thinks being a vampire is the only way to get a better life, a family. Poor Steve.
Larten and his friend refuse, telling him that he is evil, full of evil blood. They are really cruel and cold and Steve leaves-threatening them that they will be sorry.
Darren runs off with Madame Octa and right into Mr. Tiny and the Vampaneze Murlough. Mr. Tiny takes a bit of his blood and is interested in him, while Murlough sees him as not worth his time. They drop him off at home.
After they all leave, Darren sneaks out with the spider and takes him home. The next day he brings the spider to school-why? Steve finds him with it and Darren shares that he heard him. He tries to get Steve to talk about it, having not realized how bad Steve was feeling and what he was going through. Steve shrugs it off and tries to get a closer look at the spider.
As he is looking at it, the bell rings and he drops the cage and the spider escapes. Darren tries to get it while Steve tries to squish it. The spider bites Steve and he is in the hospital doing poorly. Darren goes to Larten and begs him to help. Larten doesn’t care, but finally agrees as long as Darren becomes his Vampire assistant.
You know I just want to pause here and say, for years I have said vampires and spiders should go together as spiders basically kill their prey in the exact same way that Vampires do. It makes perfect sense and I’m glad Darren Shan used that in his books (yes the author named the main character after himself).
Anyways, Darren agrees and after Larten administers the antidote Darren takes off.
Darren thinks he can go back on his word, but he starts behaving strange. This scene reminds me of Once Bitten when Jim Carrey’s character acts all weird after his vampire bite.
After Darren almost attacks his sister he realizes that he can’t do this and plans to go with Larten. Larten agrees and throws him out the window.
Larten Crepsley: Nice night, actually. [pointing up, causing Darren to look away] Is that the Little Dipper or the big one? I can never remember it. [breaks Darren’s neck and throws him down] Sorry about that. I had to do that or they would never believe you were dead. Don’t worry. There’s no damage to your spinal cord. And I’ll sneak into the funeral home and fix your broken neck. Oh, and… sorry about this next part.
Darren is buried, and all come to his funeral. Steve is espechially broken up as now he has no one. He decides he can’t leave his boy languishing in the afterlife and gives Darren his cellphone. While he does he sees the mark of the vampire and knows what happened-Larten said no to him but chose Darren. This makes Steve very upset.
I’m glad the mark is on the hand and not the upper thigh like in Once Bitten. That’d be awkward.
Larten digs Darren up the next day and is attacked by Murtagh of the Vampaneze. Larten manages to fight him and they take off with Vampire speed. Larten takes him to where the Cirque resides and he meets the snake boy, Evra Von, and Rebecca, the monkey girl.
Meanwhile, Steve is upset and is considering suicide as he has no one to care for him anymore. Mr Tiny approaches him and Steve is turned into a Vampanze.
So we have teenage Vampire and Vampaneze, this has fulfilled some plan of Mr. Tiny. And when Steve takes Darren’s family and girlfriend to draw him out-you know a fight is going to go down. Vampire vs. Vampaneze, Friend vs. Friend-who will win. You’ll have to watch to see how it turns out.
So I really enjoyed it.
I really liked the actors and the special effects. I think they did a good job giving it this macabre look and feel, but still having it in a colorful world. I’m sad I missed it in theaters.
So the nice thing about this is that they don’t just throw vampire lore out the window and create new stuff, they instead keep some aspects of Vampire lore. I like that they weren’t forgetting what’s come before.
I actually liked the fight scenes. I didn’t think I would, but I thought they were well done.
I really loved the costumes-the flowy trench coats, the red pleather coat Darren wears after he becomes a vampire, etc. Larten’s clothes had an old fashioned feel to them, like how the Addams dress in The Addams Family. Darren’s clothes are more modern but still have an old fashioned feel.
Josh Hutcherson as Steve really surprised me. When I read he was in it, I thought he was going to play Darren. It is a little weird seeing him in this role, as it wasn’t the part he usually played, but I guess he was trying to break out of the Little Manhattan, Zathura, Firehouse Dog, etc box.
I know Steve is supposed to be “the bad one”, but having just seen the films and not read the books-I felt really bad for his character. Life is pretty awful for him and the only one who keeps him balanced is his friend Darren, who then “dies” and “betrays” him by becoming the vampire he always wanted to be.
He is pretty creepy, although when the Vampaneze take him to be their leader, I laughed as there is a movie, I can’t remember which one, they say “Steve isn’t a scary name”.
I don’t know why the film wasn’t a bigger hit. I thought it was a fun story, a nice blend of macabre and comedy, and had great costumes.
The only thing I didn’t really like was the end. They left it open as you can clearly see that they definitely planned to make more films. It’s not horrible but it does have a clunky ending. But other than that I thought it was good, and I really wish I had seen it in theaters.
For more Vampire films, go to Time for You to Awaken, Master. Time for You to Go Out: The Return of the Vampire (1943)
For more Teen Vampire films, go to I Don’t Want to Be a Vampire. I’m a Day Person: Once Bitten (1985)
For more Teen Horror films, go to Once, There Was Even a Man Who Had Scissors for Hands: Edward Scissorhands (1990)
For more Josh Hutcherson, go to I’ll Do All I Can to Keep You Safe: Catching Fire (2013)