A bloody good horror comedy, and there’s lots of blood.
Unlike last year’s Marvel vampire bomb “Morbius,” “Renfield” doesn’t suck (pun intended); it drives a stake through its heart and has the audience laughing and being disgusted at the blood and gore simultaneously. And unlike that film, which was rated PG-13, this one is rated R.
When it comes to horror comedies in their opening weekend releases, security guards are always having to deal with the trouble young movie-goers make. They could buy PG-13 movie tickets to sneak inside, or they could laugh more than they should or they think they can make as much noise as they want. I hear this kind of reaction all the time. A theater guest complains about the noise, the security guard goes in, and half the time, they quiet themselves. I like to consider them in the same analogy as Michigan J. Frog, who only sang for his human, while croaking to other people.
With its R-rating, thanks to the violence, and vulgarity (and there are lots of nasty and awkward laughs), “Renfield” has entered that ongoing trend, but with a Universal Classic Monsters tribute.
The opening, for example, features Nicolas Cage as Dracula and Nicholas Hoult as Renfield replacing Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye in the 1931 film. They’re merged a more brilliant pace than how Yosemite Sam tried to be the star of “Casablanca” in “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” And they’ve been in the same situations for centuries, until they hide out in New Orleans.
But we’re more focused on Renfield, who, as you know, is the loyal servant to Dracula. He’s tasked with finding fresh victims and also gets his powers by eating bugs, which would baffle doctors from previous centuries ago. And the Count knows how to manipulate and lure his henchman and victims. There have been countless versions of the tales with Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, and Richard Roxburgh playing Dracula, but never have we seen his servant Renfield in a support group-one that could teach him how to get out of such a toxic relationship.
On the side in other vampire films-good or crappy-there have been vampire gangsters in “Innocent Blood” and vampire punks in “The Lost Boys.” But I don’t believe we’ve seen any in the form of a drug empire. This empire is by the mobster Ella Lobo (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and her mean and stupid enforcer son Teddy (Ben Schwartz), who plan to take over New Orleans. Okay, these are gangsters like in “Innocent Blood,” and they’re all over the top, but I’ve never seen a combination of vampires and cocaine before. Believe me, the best use of the powder comes at the end.
Renfield is always catering to Dracula’s needs-never having the opportunity to be his own man. He needs the insects to live, and Dracula needs fresh victims to heel himself. But at this moment, he can’t stomach the already dead gunmen Renfield drags to him. Renfield then finds himself at the support group, where he eventually tells the members his troubles. And for obvious reasons, because they’re supposed to be living in reality, they’re impressed with his courageous voice, while commenting on how he makes his tale sound so drastic.
He also gets to have a love interest in the film-a young traffic cop named Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina), whose father was murdered by the same crime family, and tries so hard to bring them to justice. And she’s challenged even further, when Renfield reveals his true nature to her and must save her from the bad guys.
Hoult manages to put his mannerisms inside Renfield, and he combines humor with pathos in so many unexpected ways. And Cage is also wickedly funny and nostalgic in the ways he manipulates his victims, henchman, and soon-to-be collaborators. In fact, they both have fun spoofing the 1931 film.
Director Chris McKay (“The Lego Batman Movie”) and writers Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ridley may have the mobster story being bombastic, but they also can satirize the violence and gore and the iconic character names. I’m not sure Lugosi would approve of how movies are being made these days, but then again, he did work with Ed Wood in his final years. So, who’s to say?