Release Date(s)2023 (June 6, 2023)
Studio(s)Skybound/Giant Wildcat (Universal Pictures)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C
Stuck in development hell after 2017’s The Mummy failed to ignite a new “monster universe” franchise, Renfield eventually went in its own direction with a more comedic tone, but without forsaking the horror. Nicholas Hoult plays the title character, the familiar for the darkest of them all, Dracula (Nicolas Cage). After decades of loyalty, Renfield questions whether or not he wants to continue a life of servitude, and he begins attending co-dependency seminars. He chooses to no longer bring Dracula fresh victims and tries to step outside of his powerful shadow, but Dracula will not let him go that easily. Dracula’s plans of conquering the world also happen to coincide with a local mob boss (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and her reckless son (Ben Schwartz), both of whom tough-minded police officer Rebecca (Awkwafina) hopes to bring to justice. Her and Renfield’s paths soon cross, eventually leading to a bloody showdown against both the mob and Dracula.
Renfield seems to have a lot on its mind, but it’s not entirely executed as effectively as it perhaps should have been. It often settles for the low brow, particularly when it comes to the video game-like action scenes or its comic sensibilities, rather than making use of witty cynicism, thematics, or character arcs. The idea of an abusive co-dependent relationship between Renfield and Dracula is very intriguing, but it’s too broadly-realized to be all that effective. There are moments when the drama kicks in for real, but they never feel earned, and seem as if they’re getting in the way. In other words, it’s tonally off balance in a way that doesn’t allow us to really, truly connect with it.
That said, Renfield still manages to be at least visually interesting, with swaths of Mario Bava-ish lighting and color schemes. It even re-purposes footage from the classic 1933 Dracula to give us a background on Renfield and Dracula’s relationship. Thankfully, the film isn’t shy with the horror either as it’s quite gory in some instances. When Nicolas Cage first appears (outside of the film’s prologue), he’s in heavy prosthetic make-up, which he dons less and less as he gains more power—the idea being that in times past he was nearly killed by vampire hunters, who exposed him to sunlight, and now requires pure blood to heal. It’s also far more intimidating for vampires to have multiple rows of sharp teeth instead of a normal set of fangs, which Cage wears menacingly.
While we’re on the subject of Nicolas Cage, he’s certainly been reined in here compared to some of the other unrestrained performances that he’s given over the years, which is a not a bad thing in some respects. Folks walking into Renfield wanting a ridiculously exaggerated version of Dracula will be disappointed. They actually treat him and most of the horror elements with care and respect, expanding on the lore without ever sweeping it under the rug. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last. When the bloodbaths begin, the CGI blood comes out, which is preposterous considering that real gore effects were used on set. It’s a letdown after such a promising start.
All in all, Renfield is far from being a bloated mess. At a brisk 93 minutes, it gets things done. Relying a little too much on exposition, over-caffeinated action scenes, and unnecessary comedic outbursts, its promise of a sardonic character study—perhaps in the vein of Alexander Payne—is unfortunately wasted. There are some funny moments, many things are set up and paid off, and there’s a mild heartbeat behind it, but its inconsistencies might not warrant repeated viewings. Perhaps I’m asking too much from a gore-soaked action rom-com of sorts... perhaps not.
Renfield was captured by cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen in the Redcode RAW format (at 8K resolution) using Panavision Millennium DXL2 and Red V-Raptor cameras with Panavision C-Series lenses, and finished as a 4K Digital Intermediate at the aspect ratio of 2.39:1. Oddly, Universal has chosen not to release the film on 4K Ultra HD (which I’m sure another company like Scream Factory will likely remedy in the future). It’s a strong presentation that offers clarity and a sharpness that doesn’t appear digitally artificial. Hues are big and bold, from the reds, greens, and oranges of Renfield’s dark world, to the blues and purples of the club scenes, to the pastels of Renfield’s new apartment. Contrast is mostly good with deep blacks, but there are moments of flatness when shadows don’t have nearly as much depth as they should. A 4K presentation with HDR would iron out these inconsistencies, but aside from these nitpicks, it’s a very pleasant-looking picture.
Audio is included in English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish 7.1 DTS-HD HR, French 5.1 DTS, and English Descriptive Video Service. Subtitles options include English SDH, Spanish, and French. The 7.1 track has an enormous amount of aural muscle, with frequent activity staged all around. LFE is often powerful, whether its gunfire, score, or music numbers. Dialogue is clear and precise, as well. No issues here, though a Dolby Atmos mix would put it over the top.
Renfield on Blu-ray sits in a blue amaray case alongside a DVD with a Dracula Sucks Edition insert. The following extras are included, all in HD:
- Audio Commentary with Samantha Nisenboim, Ryan Ridley, Noah Cody, Nancy Nugent, John Marquis, David Cole, Jamie Price, and Christien Tinsley
- Deleted & Extended Scenes (Play All Option – 17:31):
- Open (1:42)
- Lobo Compound & Murder Room (3:19)
- Renfield’s Dance! (2:41)
- Marks Gives Renfield Advice (1:19)
- Newscaster (1:47)
- Lobo Gang Meet Dracula (1:58)
- Coda Kill (1:04)
- Apartment Fight (3:46)
- Alternate Takes (3:18)
- Dracula Uncaged (4:48)
- Monsters & Men: Behind the Scenes of Renfield (12:35)
- Stages of Rejuvenation (6:15)
- Flesh & Blood (5:23)
- Fighting Dirty (6:12)
- The Making of a Deleted Scene: Renfield’s Dance! (3:34)
The audio commentary is loaded with people who worked on the film, including producer Samantha Nisenboim, screenwriter Ryan Ridley, post-production editor Noah Cody, supervising sound editors Nancy Nugent and John Marquis, digital color supervisor David Cole, visual effects supervisor Jamie Price, and makeup effects artist Christien Tinsley. It’s far too many people for one commentary, but it’s mostly a dry Q&A session that’s not all that interesting to listen to. They also drop out often, despite the number of people in the room. As for the Deleted & Extended Scenes, it’s easy to see why the majority of them were trimmed, especially the over-bloated, extended dance sequence, but it’s a shame that the jab at the Catholic Church that was cut from the prologue wasn’t left in (the film needed more of this kind of humor). The Alternate Takes are just that, actors improvising, and unsurprisingly, Awkafina’s are the most entertaining of the lot. As a matter of fact, one of her alternate takes should have stayed in the film. Next are a series of brief featurettes featuring interviews with the cast and crew about the making of the film. Dracula Uncaged covers Nicolas Cage’s performance, Monsters & Men gives a brief overview of the production, Stages of Rejuvenation covers the Dracula make-up and prosthetic process, Flesh & Blood covers the gore effects (unfortunately, a lot of them are covered up in CGI or had CGI blood added to them), Fighting Dirty covers the action sequences and the fight choreography, and The Making of a Deleted Scene covers the full dance number that was cut out of the film (wisely). It’s all very light stuff, although you do get glimpses of the on-set special effects and prosthetic applications in action. Too bad we didn’t see more of them.
Renfield is a cute, old fashioned type of movie that’s rough around the edges with a more fascinating film trying to burst forth from it. Most people will overlook this and take it at face value, which is fine, and the Blu-ray release offers a strong enough presentation to do just that.
- Tim Salmons