The 1988 movie Vampire’s Kiss, about a lonely lothario with delusions of vampirism, may have flopped at the box office, but it did help establish Nicolas Cage’s idiosyncratic performance style. Perhaps inevitably, he has now brought his eye-popping instincts and shouty charisma to the role of Count Dracula – with most pleasing results.
Cage’s Dracula doesn’t have top billing here, however; that goes to his longtime servant, played as a meek-but-mighty Englishman by Nicholas Hoult. In this modern-day telling, Renfield’s bug-eating is the source of his super-strength, not a mark of madness, and he wants out of what he sees as an abusive relationship with his over-demanding boss. But his breaking free is complicated by a blossoming romance with Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina), a New Orleans cop determined to bring a local crime family to justice.
In this way, Renfield efficiently sucks only the best and bloodiest lore from decades of Hollywood monster movies. A black-and-white preamble, in the stye of Bela Lugosi’s 1930s heyday, nicely sets up the master-servant relationship, while the whole “lifeforce-draining monster” metaphor is comically reinvented for Renfield’s therapy support group for victims of narcissistic personalities. (So very What We Do in the Shadows.)
As you’d expect from a movie originated by Robert Kirkman of The Walking Dead zombie franchise, Renfield is also resplendent in gore. Dracula’s grotesque visage – decaying in reverse as he gathers strength – is a prosthetics triumph, and in one fight scene our hero rips an opponent’s arms from his torso then uses the severed limbs as clubs to batter his next victim. Cool!
This may be all good clean comedy-horror fun, but more unintentionally stomach-turning is Renfield’s carefree depiction of gun violence in a period when real-life US shooting deaths are soaring. Gun massacres are fine in this film, but snogging? Not so much. In fact, Renfield is so coy that romantic leads Awkwafina and Hoult barely even hold hands. “Don’t make it a sexual thing,” is Dracula’s prim instruction after requesting a busload of cheerleaders to feast on, and, as usual, Renfield meekly complies.
• Renfield is released on 14 April in the UK and US, and 25 May in Australia.