IT'S A SAD WORLD we live in when vampires are continuously portrayed as boring, moralistic Pollyannas. These days we're stuck with the sort of undead you'd never invite to a party—they're too concerned with "feelings," "humanity," and "right" vs. "wrong." The latest entry in the emo vampire canon: Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant.

Seduced by a Something Wicked This Way Comes-esque flyer, best friends Darren (Chris Massoglia) and Steve (Josh Hutcherson) leave their milquetoast, pastel world to watch an elaborate freak show at a spooky theater. Quickly and implausibly, the two teenagers deduce that the show's spider wrangler, Crepsley (John C. Reilly), is a centuries-old vampire; while Steve longs to join the whiny vampire ranks, Darren just really, really wants to cuddle a CG spider. (What? He likes spiders.) But because this is how things go in these convoluted sort of yarns, Steve gets bitten by the spider, so Darren has to become a vampire to get the antidote for the spider bite, but then they become mortal enemies, and you're right, this doesn't make any sense at all, which is why I went into a defense-mechanism trance at this point. What followed, as far as I could tell, was a supernatural war of enemy vampire tribes, one in which many competent actors (including Reilly and Salma Hayek) were wasted. The Vampire's Assistant is an aimless mess of a film—lacking bite, substance, or any sort of satisfaction.

Seriously, doesn't this make you long for the days when vampires didn't look and behave like John-Boy Walton? Remember when they'd fellate your neck with a bit of reckless violence instead of asking your permission? Good. Old. Days. Sadly, The Vampire's Assistant is based on a 12-book series of children's novels (!), and clearly, the studio is hoping to provide umpteen sequels to this bloodless beginning. Please put a stake in the heart of that hope.