Absolutely dripping blood and camped out all week long, Renfield is more Raimi than Coppola, delightfully ripping into gangsters and corrupt cops as Renfield—Dracula’s traditionally toothless companion—turns out to be not-so-toothless after all. This film, directed by Chris McKay (The Lego Batman Movie) and written by Ryan Ridley (with a shoutout to The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman for the story), is a horror comedy that does its best to do both genres proud.
Renfield is a goofball gorefest that has way more martial arts action sequences than I would expect out of a Dracula adaptation. Nicholas Hoult stars as Renfield, and he alternates between hapless and heroic as he slowly realizes that maybe, you know, working for Dracula (a superbly cast Nicolas Cage)—a manipulative serial killer who relies on co-dependent relationships to survive—isn’t the healthiest way to live. It does not bring joy. (He learns all this from a support group he accidentally wanders into. Poor guy.)
Renfield decides to break up with his toxic boss, but it’s not that easy. He makes enemies of the Lobo mob when he saves a fearless police officer—Awkwafina’s Rebecca Quincy—from public execution in a restaurant. Quincy and Renfield team up to stop the Lobos (fronted by Tedward Lobo, a delightfully cowardly hothead played by Ben Schwartz), and when Dracula eventually realizes that he needs new help, he decides: who better than cold-blooded killers? Half the work of training them to be heartless is already done!
As Renfield and Dracula gather their allies, there are some of the most kick-ass ass kicking scenes I’ve seen in theaters in a long time. It’s taking blood splatter and painting it floor to ceiling. The film uses as many practical effects as it can, creating a campy, over-the-top, absolutely absurd film where you never know what body part will pop off next.
Nic Cage’s Dracula is the real plant-and-payoff of this film, and while he’s never really hidden away, the way that the movie holds Dracula back from going “the full Cage” until the very end is exceptional. This vampire is campy, dressed in red velvet and rhinestone-studded lapels. Cage chews on the scenery through sharp teeth. His fingers, decked in huge gold rings, drag across the screen, disgusting and terrifying, dripping blood onto the cashmere.
Renfield is a creature feature where the creature is truly fucking featured. Dracula eats up the screen every time he appears. Part of that has to do with the bulky, sharp-tooth flappers Cage is wearing (which definitely hamper his ability to deliver some of his lines, although you only notice occasionally). While Hoult’s Renfield seems to wilt in the presence of his boss, it’s clear as the movie goes on that this is part of the point of it—and Hoult’s performance as a sympathetic post-breakup sad man delivers the grounding element necessary amid all of this camp.
Throughout the film there are nods and outright fourth-wall breaks as the filmmakers pay their dues to all the previous iterations of famous vampires of the past. It’s a meta-fest, from a black-and-white Bela Lugosi imitation down to the very setting: New Orleans, a city steeped in vampire lore, mostly having to do with Anne Rice’s presence in the town. My favorite wink to the audience was when Dracula shows up in a building uninvited. The camera pans quickly to the doormat in front of the door. It reads “welcome home!” Oops.
As Cage breaks out of his coffin and Hoult prettily becomes a hero worth rooting for (even as he snacks on crickets, ants, and spiders), the whole film is delightfully spattered in gore and never strays too far away from the campiness. With a fun soundtrack, a fantastic supporting cast, and absolutely top-notch tailoring for Dracula’s over-the-top formal wear, everything about Renfield is a bloody good time.
Renfield will premiere in theaters on April 14.
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