"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Renfield

RENFIELD is a so-so movie with one element of excellence that kinda goes without saying, but I will say it. Later in the review.

This is basically a comedy-action vehicle for Dracula’s crazy bug-eating stooge Renfield, played here by Nicholas Hoult (CLASH OF THE TITANS). I guess you could say it follows in the tradition of the much dorkier VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN, and (sort of) I, FRANKENSTEIN, in that it’s riffing off of classic horror characters and putting them in a modern action/super hero type of context. But it’s different in that it’s a straight up comedy, complete with jokey first person narration and the hook “what if Dracula’s familiar started going to group therapy for co-dependency?” I guess you could say it’s kind of a ZOMBIELAND tone. I generally prefer ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER approach of using an absurd concept but committing to it as if it’s serious and trusting the audience to get it, but this is not my movie. It’s not up to me.

Renfield famously spent most of the Dracula book and movies in an insane asylum, munching on insects, believing he could consume their life force. I always took that as a delusion, but I suppose in a story where vampires are real he could be some version of one. In this movie’s interpretation Renfield does seem to be immortal, and when he eats bugs it’s a power-up for super strength and jumping abilities, so he carries a pocket-sized coffin full of live spiders the way some people carry mints. When necessary he participates in decently constructed violence with lots of gore and wire work (stunt coordinators: Chris Brewster [HOW HIGH 2, UNDERCOVER BROTHER 2] and Eric Linden [BONES AND ALL]).

At the time of this story he’s at the part of the cycle where his master has been nearly killed by vampire hunters, but he can heal him by bringing him victims to drink blood from. He feels bad about killing innocent people but he’s too weak to say no, so he comes up with the idea of going after the people who wronged his fellow group members. Since the very first time he tries that it’s somebody involved with the heroin-dealing, police-corrupting Lobo crime family, there are full-on action scenes, and they get pretty bloody. For me the biggest laughs are gore gags like when he rips a guy’s arms off and somehow stabs two other guys with the arms. Also there are some x-ray views of broken bones like in THE STREET FIGHTER.

The head of the crime family, Bellafrancesca Lobo, is played by Academy Award nominee Shoreh Aghdashloo (THE NATIVITY STORY), who brings some gravitas to the role, and her douchey “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM!?” fuckup brat son Tedward is played by Ben Schwartz, the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog. That’s good casting too because he’s got the comically self deluded arrogance of his Parks & Recreation character Jean-Ralphio, plus gold chains and neck tattoos, and then he turns really sadistic and crazy. Reminds me a little of Noah Segan’s villain in REDEEMER, in that he’s an absolute dipshit but also dangerous.

Renfield crosses paths with an officer trying to bust the Lobos – Rebecca, played by Awkwafina (OCEAN’S 8). I know there’s a backlash against her now, but I’m not part of that, I think she’s still funny and likable, and we saw in THE FAREWELL that she can do a very emotional movie as well. Still, this is just a poor choice to cast her in a purely cliche police officer role – the driven cop whose dad was the best cop I’ve ever known but she’s gotta let go of this reckless crusade against the Lobos for killing him and that’s why she’s on traffic duty but she’s gone rogue, blah blah blah.

I think the best idea would be to find some original spin on that and make it actually interesting. A backup plan would be to have this bullshit as is, but cast, like, some young Dolph Lundgren or Bruce Willis type who embodies the cliche movie cop type.

What does not work, it turns out, is to cast someone who doesn’t seem either like a real or movie cop physically or in demeanor and have her try to portray this Chat-GPT-ass backstory at face value. There are a couple scenes where Awkwafina gets to do her usual humor (like when she’s asking Renfield about all the ways he mutilated some gangsters in a fight scene), but most of the time she plays it straight, and it definitely seems like we’re supposed to be emotionally invested in her story. Sorry, ma’am, the material is just not there for that.

The jokes didn’t all work for me, but there are definitely some laughs. A couple good ones about vampires needing to be invited in. There’s a joke that really made me laugh where one of the group members is talking about her abusive boyfriend, and she says, “I know this is, like, way down the list of bad stuff, but he’s also really into ska.”

I thought that was so funny, but then the first band she lists is Fishbone (followed by Mustard Plug and Voodoo Glow Skulls). I know it’s meant in good fun and I guess I’m too close to it, but in my opinion Fishbone is not in the same category as those white ska bands, and I don’t remember if I’ve ever seen ska dudes at their shows. So RENFIELD is on notice for that. But it was funny that later when we saw the boyfriend he did dress like a ska dude.

I noticed on IMDb that TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 star Caroline Williams is in this. I’m guessing she must be in the support group. I feel dumb that I didn’t recognize her. I was too distracted by the Fishbone slander. I guess I should’ve know that since WENDELL & WILD was so pro-Fishbone some fool would have to come back and take shots at them.

The part of the movie that does make it worth seeing, as you may have guessed, is that Nicolas motherfuckin Cage plays Dracula. An icon playing an icon. He does all of the things you would hope: a weird, shifting accent, a silent-film-worthy dedication to facial expressions and physicality, some humorously mega tantrums, and also just getting into being a monster, roaring and hissing and stuff. Additionally, we get some Cage rarities. I was surprised that one of his early scenes is done behind heavy latex makeup as a burnt up husk. And the rest of the time he’s acting with a painted face, contacts and a mouth full of long, needle-like teeth. He gets to have claws, long coats, a cane sometimes a top hat – obviously he has fun with that stuff. He’s in the middle of a very flawed movie, but he really is a delight.

RENFIELD is directed by Chris McKay (Robot Chicken, THE LEGO® BATMAN MOVIE, THE TOMORROW WAR). I’m not saying he’s anywhere near as good, but I think (maybe because of his animation background) he goes for a vaguely Tim-Burton-circa-BEETLEJUICE approach to some of the visuals. It has more style than your average comedy, though admittedly none of it looks as cool as the prologue where they put Cage and Hoult into clips from Tod Browning’s DRACULA (1931). I wouldn’t mind a little more of that gothic atmosphere, but putting Dracula into different environments is more novel.

The screenplay is credited to Ryan Ridley (Community, Rick and Morty, Invincible), from a pitch by Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman. I read that he started with a more serious take as part of the Dark Universe before THE MUMMY flopped. I still mourn the untimely death of the Dark Universe, so what do I know, but I genuinely think it would be cool if Cage became Universal’s official Dracula for a while, having his own sequels, crossing over with other monsters, or action stars, including more serious ones. Let’s do this. A better world is within our grasp.

P.S. Universal Pictures Nicolas Cage could appear in as Dracula besides, obviously, FAST X PART 2 or JURASSIC WORLD: RISE OF LYCANRAPTOR:

RIDDICK VS. DRACULA
GLADIATOR 2
THE SKULLS 4
THE MUMMY RETURNS AGAIN FOR MORE
J3: JOHNNY ENGLISH 3: BLOWBACK
SEABISCUIT: MISSION BURMA
THE BOURNE EFFICACY
SAY GOODBYE TO THE FOCKERS
SMOKIN’ ACES: POKIN’ FACES
SOUTHLAND TALES BOOK II
STILL WANTED
LARRY CROWNE: VENDETTA
COWBOYS & ALIENS & VAMPIRES
ELECTRONIC BATTLESHIP
ZERO DARK THIRTY-TWO
BLACKHAT REFURBISHED
PITCH PERFECT REUNION
RIDE ALONG 3
BRIDGET JONES’ DRACULA
OUIJA: BOARD OF DRACULA
FIFTY SHADES OF BLOOD
HALLOWEEN VS. DRACULA
DEAR EVAN HANSEN, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING, DRACULA

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 13th, 2023 at 7:15 am and is filed under Reviews, Action, Comedy/Laffs, Horror. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

18 Responses to “Renfield”

  1. ResidentClinton

    June 13th, 2023 at 7:40 am

    Bridget Jones’ Dracula did that thing where I almost shot milk out my nose. I should know better than to read your reviews over breakfast.

    Also, I had the same reaction to that Fishbone joke. Low blow, Renfield!

  2. Well, this actually sounds a little better than expected, might watch it at some point. I’m getting a bit wary of movies that cast Cage purely in the hopes that he’ll elevate their shit – recently watched Willy’s Wonderland, which is exactly that and then he’s kind of phoning it in (despite them giving him a scene to really let his freak flag fly.) Big mistake not to give him any lines.
    That being said, there’s a funny as hell scene early on in that movie that knows how to use Cage perfectly, but I resent it because it got my hopes up.

  3. Call me a purist, but it just struck me as chintzy how they kept having these big explosions of CGI blood that left Nicholas Hoult with a little daub of red on his chin like he’d been painting a still life. Evil Dead Rise just came out and it had the characters properly soaking in fake blood, so Renfeld suffers in comparison. It undoes a lot of the goodwill they engendered with Cage and all the production value they gave him (the make-up that depicts him regenerating is CHOICE).

    Otherwise, this feels a lot like one of those fifteen-minute Youtube shorts that got bumped up to a full movie. But there’s only fifteen minutes of material, so they pad it out with all this generic crime drama/action movie stuff. Why not more thematic Dracula material like Van Helsing or Mina & Lucy or even the Wolfman and Frankenstein? All the crime storyline does is provide an endless supply of henchmen for the big action scenes, and the action scenes only seem to be there so that everyone from the director on down (excluding Cage) can do an audition tape for an MCU movie. “Here’s how I handle quippy banter, now here’s how I handle a big fight…” And the weird part is, they skip through the Dracula and Renfeld stuff to get back to the ‘take down the Mob’ stuff.

    There’s a bit where Awkwafina learns about Renfeld’s deal–I think he explains it to her in like six lines and she immediately leaps to the properly digested conclusion she needs for Renfeld’s arc to continue. Like, oh wow, you’ve known about the existences of vampires for two minutes, but now you’re sure you understand Renfeld’s circumstances and you’re gonna say something about how he’s not the hero because that’ll motivate him to the next stage of his character development? This seems like it should be a full-on sequence and not a brief breather between fight scenes, but you do you, movie.

  4. Dread, I too think it’s too bad that after years where most people liked Cage only “ironically” they finally understand and appreciate what he is doing, while he now seems at times to lean way too hard into his meme status and yes, WILLY’S WONDERLAND has been so far the worst offender (that I have seen). It’s really obvious that he read the script and thought “Wow, I play an action hero with zero lines! I must do that!”, but sheesh, the movie is so styleless, it’s obvious the director just thought “Eh, Cage will do something with it and then we will go viral on Reddit.”

  5. I was surprised that this was as expensive as it was. For that money it was…basically okay?

  6. Fishbone is a national treasure and doesn’t deserve to be associated with all those ska bands that white dudes in Long Beach are into.

    Also, I want every one of those proposed Renfield-verse movies.

  7. Yeah this was a huge disappointment to me, probably because I actually binged almost all the Draculas leading up to this. (They’re all pretty good but Bram Stoker’s is still the GOAT, as if there’s any doubt). The Renfield character was consistently the most underbaked part of pretty much every movie he was in, and you could easily cut him out of most versions without losing a thing (except the Lugosi one where he weirdly plays the Jonathan Harker role for the first section). So sure, I was looking forward to seeing a Dracula tale from his perspective. I appreciated they finally explained how he got his powers, and why he has to eat bugs (if any of that was explained in any other version, i missed it).

    But yeah, the movie itself is a mess – it’s like they had no faith in the core idea, so they drew a “Comedy” modifier out of a hat, which is fine, I’m down with that. Then they had to draw “Cops and Mafia Crime Family Drama” out of the hat too, and I was like, “uh, unnecessary but I guess we’ll go with this” Then they drew out “Mediocre Martial Arts Film” and “Excessive Gore” cards and I just kinda gave up. (Hot take: Universal’s Dracula Untold kinda did the same thing except they drew out cards saying “Superhero Movie” and “Lord of the Rings”, but they shockingly pulled it off alot better than they did here). I agree with Kaplan that they needed more ties to Dracula’s themes- Awkwafina’s last name is Quincy, so I GUESS she was supposed to be a descendant of Billy Campbell’s Texan guy from Bram Stoker’s before the race swap? I’m sure there was some kind of thematic idea at some point before the movie went to hell.

    The good news is Cage is pretty good here – the one scene where he’s in Renfield’s apartment yelling at him feels like something out of a darker toxic relationship drama and it’s easily the best thing in the movie. Too bad it’s buried under 90 minutes of juvenile gross-out gags, leads with zero chemistry and a plot nobody really wants to see.

    Note: I had hope Renfield was going to cement my theory on the Unofficial Dark Universe, where instead of interconnecting storylines, the one binding element is Universal letting actors do what they wanna do. The Mummy is a Tom Cruise Summer Action Spectacular, because that’s what Tom Cruise does best. The Invisible Man is going to be a dark, disturbing feminist low-budget indie thriller, because that’s what Elisabeth Moss does best. I was really really hoping Renfield was going to be “Nicolas Cage mega-acts and chews the scenery as Dracula, because that’s what he does best”, but instead we get Nicholas Hoult tries martial arts and makes dudes explode to fake Beastie Boys songs. Such a waste.

  8. “Renfield famously spent most of the Dracula book and movies in an insane asylum, munching on insects, believing he could consume their life force.”

    No clue why I picked this asshole to be my internet avatar. I was fifteen at the time, in the year 2000. I blame Waits

  9. grimgrinningchris

    June 13th, 2023 at 1:31 pm

    Caroline Williams was like a detective or FBI or something. It was just one scene with a handful of lines and she was wearing glasses so kinda easy to miss or not recognize.

    To be fair, Vern, VoodooGlowSkulls aren’t white. They’re all (or most) latino (hence many of their album titles abs some lyrics being in Spanish). Doesn’t mean they touch Fishbone.

  10. HALLOWEEN VS. DRACULA

    dude

  11. I was vaguely interested in this when I heard about the project. Nic Cage as Dracula alone as potential. But, man, that trailer was just awful. I will give them this. The studio didn’t engage in any false advertising. It sounds like the film is just as mediocre as promised.

  12. Naaaah…you Crusty Curmudgeons are just a little too harsh on this movie. It was a perfectly enjoyable little time-passer. We’ve had every single iteration of Dracula at this point, from Doomed Tragic Lover to Campy to Action Hero. So a half Camp/Half Berserker version played by an Icon practically born to embody those 2 States on film, already gets this movie off to a solid start. Plus, have always had a soft spot for Hoult and his charming re-imagining of a minor character from the book who’s pretty much depicted as an Unhinged Acolyte worked for me.

    Plus, nowadays, any movie that wraps up it’s act within an efficient 90 mins with an economy of story telling and pace scores major points with me.

    Toss in a NOT Annoying version of Awkafina for once, and that’s the icing on the cake.

    I enjoyed the action, while acknowledging this isn’t on some Stahelski/Gareth Evans levels of choreography, but I always adjust my expectations upfront when I know it will feature actors with little to no martial arts training basically performing rehearsed moves for the close-ups while an army of talented stunt people earn their paychecks several times over in the wide shots.

    They may have tossed in a hodge podge of plot mixtures for this film but the resultant cocktail went down easy for me.

  13. “SMOKIN’ ACES: POKIN’ FACES” Godammit, Vern.

  14. “DEAR EVAN HANSEN, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING, DRACULA”

  15. I just realized it should’ve been SMOKIN’ ACES 3D: POKIN’ FACES.

  16. JOHN WICK 5: DEAD AND LOVIN’ IT

  17. CANDYMAN… CANDYMAN… DRACULA?
    THE 400 YEAR OLD VIRGIN

    …Nah, I’ll leave the experts to riff on these.

  18. Since Ole Drac is the gift that never stops giving as far as adaptations go, the go to trend now seems to be adapting portions of Stoker’s novel as opposed to the whole thing.

    So fresh off RENFIELD’s extrapolation of a minor character in the novel, comes THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER, that essentially takes a middle chapter off it to give you ALIEN on a ship.

    It’s not too bad, it boasts decent production design, suitably creepy atmospherics, gives a nice starring role for Corey Hawkins and most importantly leans into it’s R-Rating with glee meaning kids and dogs are equally fair game.

    It suffers from over length and some ridiculous plot contrivances. And as ever, I am awestruck as to how much of a Russian Roulette transfusions must have been in the 19th century, before the advent of blood-typing.

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