When “Renfield” premiered on April 14th, 2023, I sadly missed the chance to see this touted horror-comedy spectacle in theaters, because our local cinema, bizarrely, did not screen it. But fate had its way – I recently stumbled upon it on Apple TV and rented it without a second thought. It features Nicolas Cage as Dracula, Nicholas Hoult as Renfield, Awkwafina as Officer Rebecca Quincy, and Ben Schwartz as mobster Teddy Lobo. This enticing cast, and the fact that it’s a new take on the Dracula mythos, was more than enough to beckon me in. That’s right; I entered freely and of my own will.
Directed by Chris McKay, “Renfield” takes us into the twisted world of Dracula’s overworked servant R. M. Renfield, who, after decades of slavish servitude, joins a self-help group and dares to forge a life outside his boss’s shadow. A unique plot, but does it deliver on its promises of terror and laughter?
In this two-part review, we’ll delve into the world of “Renfield,” exploring the humor, the horror, the performances, and the storytelling. We’ll dissect whether this film successfully marries fright with fun or merely tickles the funny bone without sending chills down the spine. So cover up your jugular veins, settle in, and let’s unravel the mysteries of “Renfield.”
Part I: The Sanguinary Synopsis
*Warning: If you haven’t seen the movie yet, skip to part II!
In the haunting shadows of the early 20th century, the enigmatic Transylvanian vampire Count Dracula meets an eager English lawyer, R. M. Renfield. Intent on brokering a land deal, Renfield’s ambitions are twisted into a nightmarish reality as he finds himself entrapped as Dracula’s devoted familiar.
Decades pass, and Renfield’s nights are filled with dark rituals and a macabre reliance on his budding supernatural powers, fueled by the consumption of (yuck) insects. After a perilous encounter with vampire hunters leaves Dracula near death, the twisted duo relocates to New Orleans to lick their wounds. It’s here that Renfield stumbles upon a peculiar opportunity—a 12-step self-help group for those tangled in co-dependent relationships. His twisted mind hatches a plan: he will use this group to identify and hunt abusive lovers, whose lives he’ll take without remorse, to satisfy Dracula’s insatiable thirst.
The plot thickens as Renfield’s hunt leads him to a warehouse filled with stolen drugs, where he faces not only lower-level criminals but also a menacing assassin hired by the Lobo crime family. In a brutal confrontation, Renfield emerges victorious but weakened, forced to drag the corpses back to Dracula’s dark lair.
Enter Rebecca Quincy, a tenacious second-generation police officer hungry for justice. When she arrests Teddy Lobo—a key figure in the crime family—after a chaotic encounter at a sobriety checkpoint, she sets in motion a series of events that intertwine her fate with Renfield’s twisted world. Meanwhile, her sister Kate, also a dedicated police officer, wrestles with the FBI, leaving Rebecca frustrated and in search of immediate answers.
As Dracula grows more demanding, seeking the blood of the pure and innocent, Renfield’s path crosses with Quincy’s. An explosive encounter in a restaurant, orchestrated by Teddy, binds their destinies as they fend off an attack, killing several gang members and narrowly escaping Teddy’s wrath.
The intrigue deepens as Teddy’s mother, Bellafrancesca, orders a relentless hunt for those responsible for the deaths of her foot soldiers. Unbeknownst to Renfield, Dracula forms an unlikely alliance with Teddy. Meanwhile, Renfield, inspired by his self-help group, seeks to reshape his life and identity, even assisting the police in their battle against the Lobo Crime Family.
But loyalty and betrayal cast dark shadows, and Dracula’s wrath knows no bounds. Upon learning of Renfield’s defiance, he massacres Renfield’s support group in a gruesome display of power.
The tension escalates as Quincy discovers the horrific scene and arrests Renfield, only to find themselves pursued by both corrupt police officers and the Lobos. A daring escape leads to a revelation of Renfield’s true origin, solidifying a partnership built on a shared desire for redemption and justice.
The battle reaches its crescendo as they storm the Lobos’s headquarters, facing gang members empowered by Dracula’s dark magic. The lines of loyalty blur, and the stakes soar as Quincy’s sister’s life hangs in the balance, hinging on Dracula’s healing blood.
A climactic standoff unfolds, with Renfield and Quincy trapping Dracula in a magical circle and beating him into pieces. They capture his healing blood, sealing his fragmented corpse within the city’s water system, rendering his resurrection nearly impossible.
As the dust settles, Renfield resurrects his fallen self-help group friends, embracing newfound empowerment to forge a fresh start. The tale of horror, humor, and redemption concludes with the uneasy calm of a New Orleans morning, leaving the audience to ponder the complex dance of morality and monstrosity.
Part II: The Good, The Bad, and The Gory
Note: we’ll be using the ‘Cocaine Wolf’ rating system for this post, a homage to the brilliant decal of a wolf snorting cocaine on Teddy Lobo’s beloved car. We’ll also be scoring the film out of 10. So let’s delve into the good, the bad, and the gory aspects of ‘Renfield’ to see what makes it such an enjoyable but slightly flawed romp.
Nicolas Cage’s portrayal of Dracula stands as a towering achievement in the film. He’s a visual delight, with makeup and wardrobe paying homage to the legendary Bela Lugosi. But the real horror comes alive as Director Chris McKay lets Cage be Cage! Unleashing one of his most over-the-top performances to date, Cage’s Dracula oscillates between weird European accents and a feral display of fangs that would make Barlow from Salem’s Lot green with envy. This manic unpredictability that he brings to the role manages to both horrify and enthrall in equal measure.
But Cage isn’t alone in delivering a memorable performance. Awkwafina as Detective Quincy and Nicholas Hoult as Renfield both contribute solid portrayals that add depth to the narrative. And then there’s Ben Schwartz, who steals the show with his impeccable comedic timing as the cocaine-sniffing son of a drug lord. His role injects humor into the darkest of scenes, creating a blend of horror and comedy that’s both unsettling and hilarious.
However, the film isn’t without its flaws. One can’t help but yearn for more Dracula. Despite Nic Cage’s fair amount of screen time, his magnetic Drac leaves us wanting more—much more! This craving for more of Cage’s on-screen insanity perhaps points to the film’s success but also highlights a missed opportunity to further explore this particular Dracula’s character.
Additionally, the supposedly tragic touch of Renfield’s backstory, including the loss of his family, feels somewhat diminished by the absurd comedy that pervades the film. This discordant tone occasionally disrupts the emotional connection, leaving only a bittersweet taste at the best of times.
No review of “Renfield” would be complete without a nod to the gloriously gory spectacle that it is. Every kill is an exercise in bloody excess, demanding a willing suspension of disbelief and an appetite for the grotesque. Whether it’s henchmen being impaled by severed arms or people bursting like blood balloons when stepped on, the film doesn’t shy away from the gruesome. It revels in it, turning violence into a form of twisted art that’s both repellent and fascinating. Gnarly!
The Vampiric Verdict
To wrap up, “Renfield” is a horror-comedy that thrills, entertains, and only occasionally frustrates. Its strengths lie in its idiosyncratic performances, especially Nicolas Cage’s unforgettable Dracula, and its willingness to embrace the gory and grotesque. Its weaknesses are few but notable, mainly in its balancing act between tragedy and comedy. Still, for fans of the genre, “Renfield” offers a wild and memorable dip in a bloody pool that’s likely to linger in your memory long after the credits roll. Whether you’re in it for the scares, the laughs, or the sheer absurdity, “Renfield” delivers an experience that’s as unique as it is enjoyable. Therefore, The Longbox of Darkness awards it 7 out of 10 Cocaine Wolves.
Let us know what you thought of the film, or whether you’re planning to see it. Comments are always welcome! And remember to subscribe to the blog to be notified of future posts. So, until our next self-help group session (“Hi, I am Herm, and I’m a horror addict..”), pleasant screams be with you all!
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