There have been dozens of movies about the most iconic character in horror history, Count Dracula, but never has the attention been on his familiar, the reluctant servant, Renfield, until now. We have a new comedy horror that looks like a dream on paper, with a fantastic cast and a plot that certainly adds a sense of fun. However, the difference between a basic premise and actual execution is vast, so instead of a movie that wows, we get a perfectly fine one. Somewhere along the way, we have a huge missed opportunity.

Helping to regenerate his master, Renfield goes to modern-day New Orleans, where he joins a support group for those with abusive or controlling partners. A perfect place to choose new victims for the Count to drink their blood. Alas, Renfield recognises the traits and believes he’s a victim of a controlling partner and wants to do something about it. That is until he becomes a hero saving a bar from a gang belonging to a powerful criminal family and befriending a local cop who wants to bring down that family. Now Renfield has a criminal team after him and a master who is not best pleased with Renfield’s change of attitude.

There is no doubt that Renfield is a fun movie. It’s thankfully short at just over 90 minutes, zips along at a breakneck pace, and has some ruthless yet impressive set pieces. The premise of Renfield finding himself part of a self-help group is terrific, as he is surrounded by people sharing their tales of overbearing partners and discovering that he fits the same category and wants to change his life completely. The idea of Renfield trying to move away from Dracula does throw up some intriguing ideas; moving into his own apartment with pastel colours and posters of affirmations while he wears a jumper better placed in the 80s also raises a smile.

The relationship between Renfield and the cop he saves, Rebecca, does have the occasional sweet moments in a blood-soaked film, to say the least. The scenes between the Count and Renfield are the movie’s high points, with two talented actors going great guns, one literally chewing the scenery and going back for seconds.

As for the set pieces, they are jaw-dropping. Not in the sense of being incredible, but how bloody they are. Body parts, faces, and limbs are torn off, and heads and bodies explode red. This is far from subtle. In fact, these are the goriest fight sequences this side of a Tarantino movie. Except these are played for laughs. They are so outlandish and over the top but are far from horrific. When a pair of arms are used as a weapon, you know you cannot take any of this seriously.

Where the film fails to ignite is in the humour itself. For a comedy, this is not that funny. Don’t get me wrong, there are fair amounts of chuckles and sniggers, but no real big belly laughs. If you are going to present a movie with this much quality attached, it needs to be far funnier. Directed by The Lego Batman Movie helmer Chris McKay, he obviously knows funny and does a great job with the set pieces, but most of the other jokes fall flat. It should go all out for laughs if you make something this outrageous. When you think about it, Dracula can go either way, either really scary or really funny. They are going for the laughs, but sadly don’t all work.

However, if there is a saving grace, it’s the performances. Taking on the title role, Nicholas Hoult is terrific. Playing the character like his former co-star of About A Boy, Hugh Grant, from his early rom-com days, Hoult gives a solid comedic performance and handles the physical parts well. Thankfully he does his best with the material. Awkwafina, as Rebecca, is also good. Her husky delivery of each line does raise a smile, and she’s an excellent companion to Hoult’s typically English counterpart. However, where this film really scores big is casting Nicolas Cage as Dracula. A real slice of inventive casting, Cage wallows in the chance to put his own stamp on a classic role. With his slightly dodgy accent, Cage goes all-out Cage, and looks like he’s enjoying every moment. The scenes between Cage and Hoult are terrific and are the glue to the rest of the movie.

Would this have worked as well without having Cage in the role? Who knows, but even though the film disappoints, it still works for this screen legend. Renfield is no masterpiece, but there is fun to be found. I just wished the goldmine they had and made this funnier and, dare I say it, freakier than it is.

3 out of 5

Director: Chris McKay

Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Brandon Scott Jones, Adrian Martinez, Camille Chen

Written by: Ryan Ridley and (based on an original idea) Robert Kirkman

Running Time: 93 mins

Cert: 15

Release date: 14th April 2023


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