"It's not about what you are— it's about who
The film CIRQUE DU FREAK:
THE VAMPIRE'S ASSISTANT, based on the popular series of books by Darren
Shan, is a fantasy-adventure about a teenager of the same name who unknowingly
becomes entangled in a contentious, centuries-old vampire rivalry teetering on
the edge of war. Steve, Darren’s best friend and fellow high
school outcast dreams of becoming a vampire, but it is Darren who is pulled into a fantastic life of misunderstood
sideshow freaks and grotesque creatures of the night.
“There’s something about starting to become an adult that feels
like you’ve entered a moral gray area…where things aren’t good or evil,” says
Director/Screenwriter Paul Weitz. “That is what sucked me into this: Darren’s story is a metaphor for growing
up.” He vanishes from the safety of a boring existence to fulfill his destiny
in a place drawn from nightmares.
Morpheus reigns on many levels
German Expressionism of the 1920s and‘30s inspired the look and
feeling of the world that teenager Darren
Shan [Chris Massoglia] would enter—a world that vampire Larten Crepsley [John C. Reilly] had
been living in for centuries. “Darren
discovers a place that's far more visually captivating and ethnically diverse
than his pastel-saturated suburban home,” Weitz explains. “The German
Expressionist painters’ vision was dark and somewhat humorous, but also
incredibly colorful. That was part of the reason I wanted to make the film…to
do something that was gothic, but completely packed with color.”
“I felt it was essential to work with people who could jump right
in and invent things,” he adds, “many who had collaborated with me before.”
Thus, the project was a perfect fit for Set Decorator David Smith SDSA and
Production Designer William Arnold, who have teamed with Weitz on several
films, including AMERICAN DREAMZ, IN GOOD COMPANY and, currently, THE LITTLE
The cavalcade of characters comprising the Cirque du Freak presented Smith, Arnold and their teams the
opportunity to create amazingly imaginative sets, each revealing not only the
peculiarities of the freaks, but also the depth of their humanity. Tents, huts,
yurts, cottages, trailers and wagons shelter and define the denizens of the cirque community, such as:
Vampire Larten Crepsley – A coffin bed is
not the most unique feature of this Victorian
vampire’s domain, which he shares with his oversized poisonous spider, Madame Octa. In fact, the tent is
an architectural paean to the gargantuan arachnid.
Madame Truska, the Bearded Lady [Salma Hayek] –
Fabrics are lush, sensuous, gorgeous, with smoldering hues evocative of
the mystery and passion Madame Truska exudes. Hanging pieces subtly remind
of her hirsute nature.
Evra the Snake Boy [Patrick Fugit] –
The scaly teenager is a rock musician. All he really wants to do is make
music. The snakeskin-like green silk walls, Goth drawings, gigantic
terrarium and equally large drum-set telegraph the boy’s dichotomy. Evra is forced to share his
dwelling with Darren, whom he eventually befriends.
Merman [Wayne Douglas Morgan] – Of course,
a man of the sea would have a fishmobile, complete with shell-covered
throne and table, plus a lovely reading lamp, as he sits playing his
violin through a wall of water.
Arnold points out thatit was
important that the audience could walk with Darren
and discover an otherworldly place.
Moss-laden branches of ancient trees, weathered buildings and the
almost mystical mist of Louisiana offered the creative team an atmospheric base
point. A rundown theater in New Orleans was elaborately restored, then aged
again and transformed into the freak show’s clandestine performance venue.
Due to the restrictive filming hours when working with children,
the entire, elaborate, self-sustaining cirque encampment [exteriors as well as
interiors] had to be built indoors, where lighting could be controlled for day
or night. Even the canopy of oaks was re-created onstage.
The nature of vampires requires contact within graveyards and
because New Orleans is below sea level, all cemeteries there are comprised of
above-ground crypts.This forced
the hand of the production, which moved to Baton Rouge to film the cemetery
scenes, where they could dig six to eight feet down before water began seeping
into the holes!
When the war between the underworld of Vampires and the Vampaneze
finally explodes, this parable finds the best friends on opposing sides. Good
versus evil lurks even in the darkside.
There’s an underlying current of camp mixed with the darkness in CIRQUE DU FREAK. Humor and color are
deftly woven through the film’s tapestry, underscoring the paradox of
characterizing good and evil.