Robert Montague Renfield (Nicholas Hoult, The Menu) is just another downtrodden employee, tortured daily by his narcissistic, ungrateful superior, Count Vlad Dracula (Nicolas Cage, Pig). When we meet him in modern-day New Orleans, Renfield is at the end of his rope—not knowing what else to do, and, after decades of servitude, he joins a support group for codependents and starts to grow a pair (not fangs). But The Prince of Darkness will not abide even a hint of disobedience from his bug-guzzling underling and things go from bad to worse when Renfield gets caught between a ruthless drug lord, Tedward Lobo (played by Ben Schwartz), and a straight-arrow traffic cop, Rebecca Quincy (played by Awkwafina).
There’s a decent amount of horror cred in this darkly delightful comedy: The whacky premise comes from Robert Kirkman, of “The Walking Dead” fame (but Ryan Ridley, who’s best known for TV series like “Rick & Morty” and “Community” wrote the screenplay). Cage loves vampire movies—he starred in the cult classic Vampire’s Kiss in 1988 and went on to produce the Oscar-nominated Shadow of the Vampire in 2001—and it really shows in Renfield, wherein he gets to sink his teeth into the O.G. of cinematic bloodsuckers. Hoult played a lovelorn zombie in the underrated Warm Bodies several years back. And last but not least, there’s a cameo from Caroline Williams, who starred in the Texas Chain Saw Massacre franchise.
Cage is over-the-top in all the right ways (this is no Wicker Man remake, thank goodness) and he emotes with aplomb through his prosthetics and pointy teeth, but it’s Hoult who’s the real star of the show, playing Renfield with just the right mix of awkward charm and badassery. The music could have been better (the score by Marco Beltrami is good; the soundtrack songs kinda, well, suck) but the sets, costumes, special effects, and cinematography are all top-notch. The fight choreography is elaborate yet easy to follow.
Director Chris McKay (Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves) juggles a lot of wooden stakes here, what with the somewhat convoluted story and non-stop action (think: John Wick for horror fans) but Renfield has heart and laughs, which keeps it both fun and relatable. Still, a subplot or two could have been cut and the story would have played better. There are a few gross-out moments I could have lived without but the unrestrained gore is wildly entertaining and jaw-dropping, to say the least. Renfield is rated R and while there is no nudity it doesn’t hold back on language and violence—throats are slashed, limbs are severed, intestines roil, and bodies burst into flames with regularity throughout the 93-minute runtime.
Renfield is the best horror-comedy I’ve seen since Benny Loves You (2019) and Freaky (2020) and it’s one that I will definitely add to my library when it’s released on Blu-ray.