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
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
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),
(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
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
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.