Renfield (2023): ‘Dracula Sucks’ Edition [Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital]

Chris McKay’s take on the Dracula dynamic with Renfield has a lot going for it, but it also has so much stacked against it from the starting gate. In a year teeming with Dracula iterations, “Renfield” has a real shot at standing out among the other interpretations of Bram Stoker’s lore, but never really rises to the occasion. That’s mainly because while the concept is interesting “Renfield” never decides what it wants to be. It wants to be a satire on “Dracula,” and a commentary on abusive relationships. It tries to be a cop action, a buddy comedy, a vampire film, and straddles the dangerous line of being a satire on the abuser and abused relationship at times.

In this modern monster tale of Dracula’s loyal servant, Nicholas Hoult stars as Renfield, the tortured aide to history’s most narcissistic boss, Dracula. Renfield is forced to procure his master’s prey and do his every bidding, no matter how debased. But now, after centuries of servitude, Renfield is ready to see if there’s a life outside the shadow of The Prince of Darkness. If only he can figure out how to end his codependency.

Director McKay’s movie is not entirely a slog to sit through, but hiding beneath the massive gore set pieces, and Nic Cage’s hammy performance, there’s a great movie desperate to get out. “Renfield” could very well have been in the spirit of “What We Do in the Shadows,” which was a scathing social satire that gave us a new look in to vampires, and their everyday habits. “Renfield” attempts that same formula but never quite allows the premise to breath. The crux of the movie trailers for “Renfield” was his therapy sessions that allowed him to confront his abusive dynamic with Dracula. But these scenes are rare, and are barely a quarter of the movie.

Meanwhile the whole back story and long tale of Renfield and Dracula is told through abrupt flashbacks that demonstrate only the great special effects. There’s not a ton of insight in to their troubled relationship, and the writers imply a symbolic LGBTQ interplay between the two male characters, but nothing ever comes out of it. The movie is centered mainly on Renfield, Cage’s Dracula, and Awkwafina’s sub-plot involving her as a police officer trying to live up to her deceased father’s legacy. Although I enjoyed her sub-plot, Awkwafina’s entire arc feels painfully tacked on and never really clicks in to the hooplah between Renfield and Dracula.

For all intents and purposes Awkwafina does a fine job here, as does Nicholas Hoult, whose own boyish charm helps amplify the inherent lunacy of his role as Renfield. As for Cage, he hams it up big time as Dracula, playing him as a flamboyant, seductive, over the top monster. Cage is damn good as Dracula, and he seems to dive right in to the skin of the character until the very end. There’s also the great practical effects which are just dynamite, including some great scenes involving dismemberment, torn limbs, and burnt flesh. “Renfield” is not what I’d consider one of the best horror movies of the year, but it’s a perfectly good horror comedy, and sometimes that’s enough.

The 2-disc Blu-Ray/DVD release arrives with a digital HD copy of the film. Featured in the “Dracula Sucks” edition is a over an hour of bells and whistles including an Audio Commentary with Producer Samantha Nisenboim, Screenwriter Ryan Ridley, and Crew. There are 18 minutes of Deleted and Extended Scenes, and 3 minutes of Alternate Takes. There’s the 5 minutes Dracula UnCaged with Cage talking about what drew him to the role, and his influences by Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee and others. The 13 minutes Monsters & Men: Behind the Scenes of Renfield offers an in-depth look at the film’s cast, sets, and costumes.

The 6 minutes Stages of Rejuvenation features the special makeup effects team talking about four stages of Dracula’s transformation in the film. The 5 minutes Flesh & Blood explores the myriad gore-gags created for the film, the 6 minutes Fighting Dirty features stunt coordinator Christopher Brewster getting into the execution of the movie’s action-packed stunt work. Finally, there’s the 4 minutes The Making of a Deleted Scene: Renfield’s Dance! which features star Nicholas Hoult and choreographer Kathryn Burns further elaborating on the fantasy musical number that was cut from the film (but featured in the deleted scenes).