"...not particularly deep or artistic but it does hit a vein, and it Is a whole lot of fun"

Cage Gets a Role He Can Sink His Teeth Into

(042723) Bram Stoker never knew what he started. Although Sherlock Holmes and James Bond are also in the running, Count Dracula is probably the most filmed and one of the most popular cinematic characters ever. He has been featured in over two hundred films. And the lord of vampires is experiencing a bit of a cinematic resurgence now. There is an upcoming Dracula film called, The Last Voyage of the Demeter, which is named after the ship that brought Dracula from Transylvania to his new home in the novel. In addition there is supposed to be a science fiction Western featuring Dracula that is being developed by Eternals director Chloé Zhao. Also on the horizon is a remake of Nosferatu (Dracula) by Robert Eggers who did a great job with fantasy and/or horror tropes in The Northman, The Lighthouse and The Witch. Also, Marvel will be producing a new Blade flick, and I am sure since Dracula is Blade’s greatest foe in the Marvel Comics, he will somehow be included in the film (hopefully Marvel won’t screw him up like they did with Namor).

Now the first of all these films, Renfield has hit the theatres and although it is not particularly deep or artistic but it does hit a vein, and it Is a whole lot of fun. This film draws often successfully from previous film portrayals of Dracula. Classic horror film buffs will probably love the scenes that recreate whole sequences from the Todd Browning Dracula with Nicolas Cage replacing Lugosi’s positions in key scenes from the film (which was based on a play not the Stoker novel.) Many horror fans have probably been dying to see Cage play the vampire king ever since he appeared in The Vampire’s Kiss, and they will probably get a rise out of his performance.

Dracula here is less an embodiment of evil than a gleefully sadistic parental figure. Although this portrayal lacks the nobility and intelligence of earlier Drac portrayals Cage provides exactly what the movie script needs, and he is simply perfect for the role. Sean Penn once famously argued that: “Cage is no longer an actor now he’s more like a performer.” This might be true in some cases, but at least can be a very entertaining performer.

For someone with so much potential, Cage has had an extremely spotty career. He went from triumph to triumph during his best period in the 80s and early 90s with Valley Girl (1983), Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), Raising Arizona (1987), Moonstruck (1988), Wild at Heart (1990) and Leaving Las Vegas (1995). Shortly after he won an Oscar, he seemed to float adrift and became kind of a low rent Sylvester Stallone. Still he has had a great if not quiet comeback over the last five years with Mandy (2018), Pig
(2021), which might be his best performance ever, and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022) in which he basically playing himself. Unfortunately a lot of the stuff in between during this period has been mediocre.

Renfeld was directed by Chris McKay who also did the Robot Chicken TV series as well as the
Batman Lego Movie, both of which parodies pop culture genres. With Renfeild he has made an interesting mafia/splatter/horror/action/romcom/superhero film, and although the film does not always work-he finds just the right tone for the film which elevates it even when the material gets thin or predictable.

The script was co-written by Robert Kirkman who is best known for working on the classic Walking Dead show and comic. Kirkman has also combined superheroes and horror together successfully before in The Marvel Zombies and lesser-known Astounding Wolf Man series. Although the film’s script is serviceable it will not be remembered as one of his best works.

The film is well cast and the acting is quite good. English actor, Nicolas Holt who played The Beast in the X men films as well as a shallow czar in The Great is quite sympathetic here in the role of Renfield. Japanese pop singer Awkwafina (best remembered for Crazy Rich Asians as well as
Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) is almost as good as his love interest. She is a noble cop whose dad was killed by the mafia who helps set Renfield on the path towards redemption. Like Harvey Keitel’s protagonist in Mean Streets, Renfield finds it very hard to find redemption because his background and work situation make it almost impossible. As Bruce Springsteen wrote: ”It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City.”

Renfied is of course focused more on Dracula’s servant than the vampire lord and twist here is that when he eats insects, he gets a tremendous burst of energy and his strength and speed are increased and he wants to do good so he is almost a superhero. This is not the first film to expand on the side characters in Stoker’s classic novel. Mina Harker was also depicted as quasi-superhero in League of Extraordinary Gentleman and Hugh Jackman's Van Helsing focused on the legendary vampire killer. But this film is far more successful than those hit and miss films.

As time goes on Renfield gets bored with being a familiar and wants to sometimes use his vampiric powers to help people. Like
Morbius he uses his powers to do right by killing evil people. When he hears about abusive people in his encounter group he kills them and gives the bodies to Dracula to drain. But this does not please the vampire lord because as it turns out Dracula gets more power from draining the innocent so he would prefer to feed on nuns and he even asks Renfield to deliver a bus load of cheerleaders to him.

Although I am not a big fan of extreme gore and ultra-violence the film depicts the vampire king killing people creatively and the vampire used his powers in new imaginative ways. At another point he becomes a colony of bats to attack people. At times the vampire turns into mist and makes people explode from within with imaginative special effects. I could almost imagine the special effects crew smiling and saying “Here-see what I learned to show.” The count doesn’t just kill most of his victims he eviscerates them.

The conclusion leaves things open ended which could leave room for a sequel or perhaps not. But The film has not been doing that well at the box office so it is doubtful it will generate franchise in and of itself. But it is possible the film will achieve a one-shot cult status and be admired in years to come as like ever popular: Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter, Flash Gordon or Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.

At its weakest moments the film becomes a self-important cinematic sermon on the importance of self-reliance and breaking ties with narcissists. And the story in Renflield is never particularly surprising or original. Many of the story elements were used much more effectively in the Hulu mockumentary vampire series: What We Do in the Shadows. But overall Renfield is a bloody good show. The directing is good, the cast is uniformly excellent, most of the splatter comedy works and the movie finally gives Cage a comic horror role he can sink his teeth into.

Directed by:    Chris McKay
Written by:    Screenplay by Ryan Ridley. Based on a story by
 Robert Kirkman. Adapted from the Bram Stoker
 novel Dracula
Starring:    Nicholas Hoult, Awkafina, Nicolas Cage
Released:    04/14/23 (USA-wide)
Length:    98 minutes
Rating:    Rated R for bloody violence, some gore, strong
 language throughout and drug use
Available On:    At press time the film was playing at local theatres

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to and His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

Come to the first session of the New Poetry Show on the first Saturday in May (050623)/May 6 at Tangible Books in Bridgeport from 7-9 at 3324 South Halsted (if it goes well maybe this can become a monthly or periodic thing) hosted by Vittorio Carli

RENFIELD © 2023 Universal Pictures
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2023 Alternate Reality, Inc.


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