CONTAINS SPOILERS AND AAAAARGH! DON'T LOOK! TAKE IT AWAY!
There are certain things I really don't want to see in movies. Obviously at the top of the list are the big nasties: sexual violence, animal cruelty, racial abuse, the Troma logo. Further down the page are the moderate annoyances: reggae, Danny Dyer, celery. Somewhere in between lie personal phobias and fears: I don't like spiders. To me they're worse than wasps. And in movies I certainly don't like scenes in which characters allow these evil demonspawns to run over their hands and up their arms. Even if they're all CGI and no real spids were actually used in the production, it still creeps me out. It's just wrong. Bugs, fine. Monsters, fine. Line dancing, fine. Spiders, no. The result is that I spent a good portion of the first act of the movie with my hands in front of my face trying to block out all sight of the giant poisonous spider from the screen. And not in the "can't look but must look" kind of way as with Insidious, but simply in the "take it away and call me when it's gone" way. (Weirdly, I had no problem with Arachnophobia twenty years ago when I kept my feet firmly on the floor of the old Portsmouth Odeon throughout.)
Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant is the first and most likely only film from the Darren Shan series of Young Adult novels in which straight-arrow Darren Shan (Chris Massoglia) and his troubled best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson) pick up an invitation to the Cirque Du Freak, a mysterious carnival freakshow that's quickly moved on by the outraged citizenry. But not before the arachnid-obsessed Darren has stolen the owner's performing spider, Madame Octa - which promptly escapes in the school corridor and bites Steve. The only cure is held by the show's ringmaster, 200-year-old vampire Crepsley (John C Reilly) - but the price is Darren's apprenticeship as his assistant....
On its own terms, the film is perfectly decent entertainment for the older and less easily creeped out kids (it's a 12 certificate). The cast are having fun with more outlandish characters than usual (Willem Dafoe turns up for a couple of scenes, and the freaks include Salma Hayek, Ken Watanabe and Orlando Jones) and the CG effects are passable. Clearly the film was intended to be the first in a franchise which doesn't appear to have materialised, probably due to a general lack of audience interest; so plot threads, characters and potential relationships are set up for further development, but they never come to fruition as they're left hanging in the air for the Part 2 that never was. Better than Twilight, not up there with Potter and, evil spiders notwithstanding, it's still likeable and enjoyable enough. Directed by Paul Weitz, whose brother Chris' own fantasy franchise, The Golden Compass, also fizzled out after one film.