In the hot, sticky humidity of New Orleans, a dark and twisted tale of vampires and circus freaks took shape, and the terrifying result is coming to a theater near you just in time for Halloween '09. Okay, it's not too terrifying -- it's PG-13, after all. But writer-director Paul Weitz has adapted the first four books of the 'Cirque du Freak' series by U.K. author Darren Shan, and on Oct. 23 you'll get your fill of bearded ladies, monkey girls, Willem Dafoe and other intriguing creatures, in 'The Vampire's Assistant.'

Moviefone was invited to the N'Awlins set last year to witness the creepy goings on (and conduct interviews in Evra the Snakeboy's tent, natch). What we learned might frighten and amaze you, but unlike a real sideshow, this thrill ride is free admission. In the hot, sticky humidity of New Orleans, a dark and twisted tale of vampires and circus freaks took shape, and the terrifying result is coming to a theater near you just in time for Halloween '09. Okay, it's not too terrifying -- it's PG-13, after all. But writer-director Paul Weitz has adapted the first four books of the 'Cirque du Freak' series by U.K. author Darren Shan, and on Oct. 23 you'll get your fill of bearded ladies, monkey girls, Willem Dafoe and other intriguing creatures, in 'The Vampire's Assistant.'

Moviefone was invited to the N'Awlins set last year to witness the creepy goings on (and conduct interviews in Evra the Snakeboy's tent, natch). What we learned might frighten and amaze you, but unlike a real sideshow, this thrill ride is free admission. -- By Liane Bonin

1. SALMA HAYEK'S EVEN HOT IN A BEARD
Yes, a beard. Sexy Salma Hayek plays Madame Truska, a mysterious carnival worker who reads fortunes, hangs around in sultry lingerie and just happens to sport a big ol' ZZ Top-worthy beard. But, according to costume designer Judianna Makovsky, that didn't put a crimp in Hayek's hot factor. "She's probably the only woman I know who looks good with a beard," she says. "Not many would be comfortable with putting it on, but she had fun with it." But there were critics. While Hayek's daughter Valentina was confused by Mommy's new look, Weitz's son was more vocal in his disapproval. "The only person who didn't think she was hot was my 16-month-old son, who started freaking out and screaming when she went toward him," he says. "It made Salma feel bad, but everyone else was into it."

2. FOUR FOR THE PRICE OF ONE
Don't expect the 'Harry Potter,' one book-one movie algorithm here. With 12 books in the series, Weitz felt comfortable enough to snap up the first four for this film. But his cast isn't stopping there, at least when it comes to reading the series. "The movie is only based on the first four, but I wanted to read all of them," says John C. Reilly, who plays the morally ambiguous vampire Larten Crepsley. "I wanted to know what the readers of these books would be bringing to the movie when they see it."

More on 'Cirque de Freak: The Vampire's Assistant'


3. CREPSLEY IS NOT YOUR AVERAGE VAMPIRE
Oscar-nominated Reilly, who's better known for playing the well-intentioned dork in movies like 'Chicago' and 'Magnolia,' doesn't exactly scream vampire. "This is a bit different from what he's done before, but he's an articulate person and I wanted this character to be articulate." Not surprisingly, Reilly's approach to Crepsley is a little more thoughtful than one might expect. "All aspects of the character were based on the idea 'If you were 220 years old, what would your worldview be? What would you wear? Contemporary clothes, or a few favorites and just stick with that?'" Bet they aren't thinking about that stuff on the 'Twilight' movies (or maybe they are, since Paul's bro Chris is directing 'New Moon').

4. THE SETS TRUMP CIRQUE DE SOLEIL
Fans of the book will be happy to see the book's traveling freak show brought to vivid, colorful life. On the set we were able to see not only Evra the Snakeboy's tent, but the ornate trailers and tents for the Monkey Girl, the Wolfman, professional rib-tickler Alexander Ribs and telepath Mr. Tall. Expect this movie to be the fantastical, seedy-but-glamorous world you imagined with plenty of special effects. "I think this [more than any other] movie I've done by far has been the biggest production, as far as the craziest stuff, the wardrobe and makeup and Snakeboy," says Josh Hutcherson, who plays kid-turned-vampire Steve.


5. REAL LIFE IS A WASHOUT
If the opening scenes of the movie seem a bit blah to you, don't worry -- that's by design. "In the beginning of the movie, the world [lead character Darren] lives in is sort of scarily white bread," says Makovsky. "No one wears jeans, everyone wears khakis. When you get to the cirque, you get stronger color."