Review: Renfield


Nicolas Cage: Oscar winner, Golden Globe winner, SAG winner, all time Blockbuster Entertainment (yeah, the video store people) award winner, and frequent Razzie nominee. You never know who you’re going to get with a Nick Cage movie – in fact, in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” you got Nick Cage!

So when a new Cage movie debuts, it’s like opening a gift at Christmas – or that mysterious candy at Halloween.

Speaking of Halloween, the friendly folks at Universal Pictures, ever eager to plumb the depths of their film catalog looking for old material to make new, have come up with an interesting twist on 1931’s “Dracula.” This was the film that made the name, and perhaps ruined the career, of Bela Lugosi (“Dracula” then and forever). The updated story is told once again, but from the point of view of Renfield, the British solicitor who travels to Transylvania to conclude a real estate deal with the notorious nosferatu. The deal is consummated and so is the relationship between the Count and his new thrall, Renfield.

This is beautifully recreated with a montage of clips from the original 1931 film, with Nic Cage and Nicholas Hoult (“The Menu”) CGI-ed in for Lugosi and Dwight Frye (the original Renfield). The next few clips remind us that this is a 2023 flick – and a Nick Cage vehicle – as the color, gore, and manic action testify.

Renfield has been in this horribly abusive “relationship” with Dracula since the 1890s and is now attending a group session for the victims of such relationships – of course all but his are with fellow human beings, not undead monsters. He uses the sessions to identify evil people whom he can abduct as blood sources for the Count, who is recovering from a severe case of sunburn. Very severe.

I think you get the idea. This vampire tale is a perfect vehicle for Cage who can freely chew the scenery with his accustomed relish and what appear to be several hundred teeth. It is definitely tongue-in-cheek, although at times that tongue is in danger of being bitten right off.

As you would expect, all the technical aspects of the film are excellent, with some interesting casting choices. The twin law enforcement principals are sisters whose policeman father was killed by a brutal crime family. The sisters, Rebecca (Awkwafina – “The Little Mermaid”), and Kate (Camille Chen – “Game Night”), play rough, tough local cop and refined FBI agent respectively. The mobsters are weakling braggart son Teddy Lobo (Ben Schwartz – “The Afterparty”), and his ultra-tough mother Bella (!) Lobo (Shohreh Aghdashloo – “The Expanse”). Whether the criminal name “Lobo” was a reference to the “children of the night” or the bumbling character played by Tor Johnson in “Bride of the Monster,” is unclear.

There is an interesting duality to this story: Dracula is a monster trying to dominate mankind. The Lobo gang are monsters trying to dominate the police and the city. Renfield, while technically Dracula’s servant, is trying to free himself and save mankind. Rebecca is trying to free herself from a corrupt police department and save the city, with Kate’s help. This sort of duality often appears in monster stories. For example, in “Frankenstein,” who is the monster? The creature made of re-animated body parts? Or the scientist who first created and then discarded his “child”?

The writers, did an excellent job of creating an hilarious, wild vampire/mob mashup filled with every imaginable trope from the many legends and films of the undead. On top of that, the scene where Draculaplays classic “injured party” to Renfield’s dismay, blaming Renfield for their disfunctional relationship and painting himself as the “victim” is spot on.

The movie does go off the rails at times when the mashup of genres gets to be too much. But then, Universal has done that before, as in their comedy-horror series mixing Abbot and Costello with their classic monster catalog. The actions scenes are really pretty off-putting as well, with human bodies exploding like so many blood-balloons. All to violent rock music – too much like a video game.

In an interview, Nick Cage said he patterned his interpretation of Dracula after that of Christopher Lee (“Horror of Dracula”), and certainly the color and greater display of blood and tooth in that Hammer production are more in line with “Renfield.” However, the makeup, except for the teeth is much more reminiscent of Lugosi’s interpretation, as is the more noble air in the earlier parts of the film. There is even a tip of the top hat to Lon Cheney, Sr. (London After Midnight), and a brief background melody, taken from “Swan Lake,” that was featured in many early Universal horror films.

On the whole though, Christopher Lee’s taciturn representation of the Count, after the introductory scenes, is far from the “Chatty Cathy” Dracula that the irrepressible Cage gives us. George Hamilton’s “Love at First Bite” might be closer to the mark.


Director: Chris McKay
Writers: Ryan Ridley, Robert Kirkman, Ava Tramer
Producers: Bryan Furst, Sean Furst, Chris McKay, Robert Kirkman, Samantha Nisenboim
Cinematographer: Mitchell Amundsen
Editor: Zene Baker, Ryan Folsey, Giancarlo Ganziano
Runtime: One hour, 33 minutes
Availability: In theaters, streaming on Peacock

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