Renfield 2023 – a modern relook at Dracula’s familiar – falls short on horror and comedy, says TERRY SHERWOOD
DIRECTOR: Chris McKay
CAST: Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Brandon Scott Jones, Adrian Martinez
Review of Renfield 2023
Actor Dwight Frye once lamented, “If God is good, I will be able to play comedy, in which I was featured on Broadway for eight seasons, and in which no producer of motion pictures will give me a chance! And, please, God, may it be before I go screwy playing idiots, half-wits, and lunatics on the talking screen!”
I wonder what Frye, who went on to appear as the crazed Renfield in Tod Browning’s 1931 version of Dracula, would make of the pseudo-action comedy called Renfield 2023.
The film was originally pitched as a comic book series by Robert Kirkman, who was responsible for the story.
The writer and director, Chris Mackay, had blurred vision when they thought they could inject modern comic elements into the story of a character, who is killed in both the book and the films.
Welcome to my house, I think.
Renfield is a 2023 American action comedy that reminds me of the Bad Boys film series, starring Will (Six Degrees of Slapnation) Smith. It offers police action, gunplay, fistfights, new-age angst, and of course, fly-eating.
The picture also claims it was “inspired by characters from the 1897 novel Dracula by Bram Stoker,” not the Lugosi film that was a stage play.
The film stars Nicholas Hoult as Renfield, Awkwafina as Rebecca, a traffic cop, and various others, making it seem like a crossed-up rejected Spike Lee comedy or a lesser Eddie Murphy picture, Vampire in Brooklyn 1995.
For horror aficionados, you may not catch all the good stuff because there isn’t much amid the gunplay, urban culture, and odd plot twists that make the Renfield character a bystander.
He occasionally does something using his abilities, but they are often too nonsensical to mean anything.
This should have been expected, as director Chris Mackay’s previous work included the chaotic yet funny The Lego Batman Film from 2017.
‘You are an idiot, Father. Worse than that.’
Throughout all this snappy talk and odd situations, you have Nicolas Cage’s version of Dracula. Cage seems to be the go-to person for those trying to make a cult film since he appears to take almost any role. Is that wrong? No, because he is a working actor and often helps projects with his name and new filmmakers. The trouble with this style of film is that you don’t set out to make a cult film; it becomes a cult film.
Cage, in his best Christopher Lee-esque athletic impression and face, does his best to ham it up to literally hammer (yes, a pun) the character of the vampire.
What lacks is any real menace other than comic book menace, as there is no hint of the character’s other massive qualities.
Dracula might as well have been an old-style film villain dressed in black, which he is.
The saving grace is the look and makeup Cage gives Dracula, especially his eyes and fangs, right out of Dracula 1958. However, this effect peters out (another pun, to cushion the blow) when the dumb script gets in the way.
The best part of the whole film is its black-and-white opening scenes, recreating the events of Dracula 1931, with Nicolas Cage and Nicholas Hoult wonderfully inserted in place of Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye as Count Dracula and Renfield, along with Helen Chandler and Edward Van Sloan.
‘It’s too late, Kent, get away from there; it’s too late’
Is Renfield 2023 funny? To some, it is. I suspect it appeals to non-horror people, which is good for the market.
For those who like a rollicking urban style with some homage names like Tedward Lobo, referencing Tor Johnson, and a Captain Browning nodding to Tod Browning, the setting is New Orleans for all you Anne Rice fans in the audience.
I had hoped it would have shown some reverence for the characters and the material, much like the still classic Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein 1948, Love at First Bite 1979, or Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers 1967.
As far as Renfield 2023 is concerned, I offer a friendly warning to the audience who see this work, from Andrew Keir as Father Sandor’s bit of dialogue from Dracula, Prince of Darkness 1966, with fang in cheek: “Do… and tell him that I stopped you from performing an act of blasphemy!”
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