“RENFIELD”, A MODERN VAMPIRE TALE
Cinema Writer/Film Critic Efe TEKSOY; wrote the horror, comedy, and fantastic film “RENFIELD”, for America’s Los Angeles-based Internet Newspaper @alaturkanews.
A COMEDY-TONED ADVENTURE
Having its world premiere at the Overlook Film Festival, Renfield is based on Robert Kirkman’s original idea, featuring characters from Bram Stoker‘s 1897 classic novel Dracula. Made by Universal Pictures and Skybound Entertainment with a budget of $86.2 million, the movie was directed by Primetime Emmy Award-winning American filmmaker Chris McKay. Described by its makers as a comedic-toned adventure set in the modern world, this horror-comedy is the first movie made by a major studio since Oscar-winning actor Nicholas Cage starred in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022). In an interview with Collider, director Chris McKay stated that the movie was actually a direct sequel to Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931), and he also tried to make the trailers and poster of the movie refers to this fact. When you watch the movie Renfield, you realize that it has gone through a unique post-production phase that requires a lot of effort. Combining Jackie Chan’s humor mixed with action with elements of horror and suspense, the producers produced a different and original production. Chris Brewster, the film’s stunt coordinator, and director Chris McKay worked hard to make sure the fight scenes were improvised that looked funny and realistic, especially working with the way the Jackie Chan-style fights were choreographed.
TOPIC OF THE FILM
Despite being tortured by his master, Renfield, Dracula’s servant, who has been forced to serve him for years, yearns for a life free from the various demands of the Prince of Darkness and all the dangers that come with them.
Stars; Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Brandon Scott Jones, Adrian Martinez, Camille Chen, Bess Rous, Jenna Kanell, Rhonda Johnson Dents, Danya LaBelle, Christopher Matthew Cook, and Michael P. Sullivan.
The character Renfield, played by Emmy-nominated Nicholas Hoult, appeared in Bram Stoker‘s classic Dracula story published in 1897 as a prisoner in a British prison who ate flies, spiders, birds and other creatures, taking their “life force” and gaining a kind of immortality. He also appeared in the 1931 film adaptation of director Tod Browning’s legendary novel, starring Bela Lugosi as the aristocratic vampire and Dwight Frye as the deranged Renfield. Years later, musician and actor Tom Waits landed the role in Francis Ford Coppola‘s successful Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Oscar-winning actor Gary Oldman played the legendary vampire in the movie. To prepare to portray Renfield, accomplished actor Niholas Hoult read Bram Stoker’s Dracula and watched the 1931 movie to see what he could borrow from Dwight Frye’s captivating performance. The actor says: “I stole what I could. I tried to add small references to the previous ones. But of course, the mood of this movie is much more of a comedy action movie and a modern interpretation of the character. That gave me a lot of freedom in what I wanted to do with the role.” He states. Hoult received intense combat training to more easily recreate the dangerous scenes the role entails. What didn’t need to be prepared was the number of insects it had to consume. Fortunately for Hoult, the accessories department made most of it without candy. But he ate dried grasshoppers in various flavors and at least one real fly. Hault; “They made caramel cockroaches so I wouldn’t have to eat the real ones. I wouldn’t recommend rosary bugs. They tasted very insectivorous.” Says.
The producers wanted to create a style of action for Renfield that had never been seen before on the big screen and turned to acclaimed stunt coordinator Chris Brewster (Black Adam, The Tomorrow War). Director Chris McKay says: “I worked with Chris on The Tomorrow War and really liked the action and brutal style. I knew I wanted some from him. But the fun version. The fights needed to be lively, to show Renfield’s ‘Dracula powers’ and to be a bit exaggerated. We talked about the way Jackie Chan fights are choreographed. We talked about how funny a fight can be, how there is always a bit of improvisation in those fights so they look spontaneous but still realistic.” says the director.
- Chris Brewster, the acrobatic coordinator, reviewed old movies featuring the character of Dracula. He then developed ideas about the vampire’s actions that would be true to his legacy. He says: “Dracula is a prince. He transforms into a bull as a matador. You see a very clear shift in his physicality, in his posture, and in everything he does.”
- Once that style was determined, Brewster determined how Renfield would act. Since Renfield had consumed some of Dracula’s blood, Brewster felt that Renfield’s fighting style should also mirror that of the vampire.
- Nicholas Hoult began training in Los Angeles six months before rehearsals began in order to be able to enact all the action required by the fight scenes. Brewster says: “Nick learned three of the fights in the first three hours of training. He tried those fights over and over. He choreographed himself, then me, and then the entire stunt team to make it into muscle memory. He wasn’t thinking about his next move when we started filming. He was playing for the camera.”
- One of the most difficult scenes to choreograph was the opening scene of the movie, where Hoult and Nicolas Cage skillfully combined the last scenes of old vampire movies. Brewster explains: “What Chris McKay initially described was like jumping into the final fight of someone else’s movie. So we jumped right into a big action segment. And that’s when our audience first saw our Dracula.”
- The two-minute scene featured intense fight choreography with guns, cables, and stuntmen set on fire. Brewster says: “Every element of the stunt world was packed into a two-minute scene. Every frame we shot and every moment of that fight scene is flawless.”
Renfield’s wardrobe reflects his personal growth just like his home. Costume designer Lisa Lovaas (Horizon, Ambulance, Transformers: The Last Knight) originally designed a bespoke brown suit for Renfield that has been worn since the 1930s. The seams of the suit were really falling apart. Lovaas says: “As Count Dracula’s faithful servant, Renfield is overworked and has no time to focus on himself. For his team, Chris McKay and I designed a look that won’t be out of place on the streets of New Orleans today. Worn and repaired. But luckily, Nick Hoult wears clothes very well, so it becomes stylish and modern.” states the successful costume designer of the film.
- Renfield’s wardrobe changes dramatically as he goes his own way. He suddenly wears colorful sweaters, linen pants and sneakers because he’s really trying to fit in with modern society.
- Lovaas drew inspiration from many different sources for Cage’s Dracula. From Bela Lugosi, David Bowie, even Liberace. For the character’s modern-day scenes, she made a striking red velvet suit and an elegant cloak. All of her costumes have CD letters embroidered on them to emphasize that each piece was custom-made for the aristocratic vampire.
- Lovaas also made a diamond and ruby locket for Dracula, similar to the one Kugosi wore in the 1931 movie. But the designer adapted the piece specifically for Cage. Lovaas says: “My husband made a painting of Dracula based on the actual portrait of Vlad the Impaler. He put Nick’s face on the face in the picture and did it again in miniature. We put it behind the glass. So the talisman has a miniature portrait of Nick Cage on it.”
- The police uniform Lovaas designed for Awkwafina helped the actor realize a lifelong dream. Lovaas explains: “Awkwafina told me, ‘I always wanted to be a cop. He wore that uniform and wore it. He acted with an air of authority as if he had been a police officer for years.”
- Lovaas dressed Ben Schwartz’s Tedward Lobo character in eye-catching shirts to highlight his ambitious, exaggerated enthusiasm. His mother, Bellafrancesca (Shohreh Aghdashloo), always looks perfect in a head-to-toe white outfit and over-the-shoulder jacket. He also has a beautiful satin cape of his own.
PLACES AND PRODUCTION DESIGN
- Renfield was filmed in and around New Orleans, Louisiana between January and April 2022.
- Production designer Alec Hammond (RED, Immortal Cops, R.I.P.D., Snake Eyes) studied classic Universal horror films and more recent vampire films to develop the right aesthetic for Renfield. McKay was concerned with creating elevated environments that would complement the genre-spanning mood of the film and give it a timeless appeal. Hammond says: “The classic Universal monster movies have a sense of the era, but they’re still great to watch now. That was one of our goals for the whole production.”
- For the opening flashback scene, Hammond designed an impressive library set to showcase detailed stunt choreography. He wanted the set to feel like it came “directly from a Bela Lugosi movie where you feel the trappings of 200, 300, 400, 500 years of accumulated wealth.” “It also had to be a set in which you could set someone on fire, smash antiques, and have fights.”
- Today, Dracula no longer lives in a castle. His home is in the basement of the Charity Hospital, which has been unused since New Orleans’ city was flooded by Hurricane Katrina. • Instead of filming inside the actual Relief Hospital, the production built a larger version of the dilapidated structure on a set to Hammond’s specifications. Hammond says: “It looks like a crumbling cathedral. The brick consists of old blood, oxygen cylinders, and pipes.”
- McKay and Hammond planned to revive Renfield’s Dracula by intravenous feeding. That’s why Hammond built a “throne of blood” for the vampire. The original throne was an antique oral surgery chair. It was later expanded with dozens of blood bags. Some stretched out from behind Dracula-like peacock tails. Hammond says: “It’s a homemade mechanism. We see what ways Renfield uses to protect Dracula’s health. And we also decorated a throne very beautifully theatrically. Dracula used to sit on the thrones of kings. Now he’s sitting in an old operating chair surrounded by a bunch of blood bags.”
- Hammond designed Renfield’s home to reflect the character’s personal growth. “This is Renfield’s first home of her own after leaving her family in the 1930s, and she’s very excited about it. He goes overboard with the joy of finally being free from Dracula.” • The house, which was rather dull at first, was soon decorated with bright colors on the walls with inspiring posters. Hammond says: “Renfield doesn’t know how to live independently so he’s exaggerating. When you are that happy, you want everything to be that happy. It has no limits.”
- The impenetrable campus where the Lobo family lives is equally extravagant but in a very different way. Hammond says: “Outside two huge, super grotesque walls, completely covered with golden leaves. It’s such a delicious pleasure. It shows how smug the Lobo family is. No crime lord has ever stood out so much in a city. At first glance, it shows that they are above the law.”
- To make the bugs and worms that Renfield eats in the movie, props master Gary Tuers and his team used life-size 3D enlarged prints of cockroaches, beetles, worms and ants to make food-grade silicone molds. As a result, about a hundred pieces of each insect were made.
- A lot of research and development has been done to find out what material is most suitable for each insect’s mold. According to Tuers, it was best to inject melted caramel into the cylinder insect molds. They added the legs after the caramel had dried.
- The materials trial period is too long. In one experiment, to make maggots, he made batches of jelly, poured it into food-safe molds, and added charcoal to color it before freezing. In the end, they didn’t choose that path. • The biggest challenge for Tuers and his team was getting all the bugs done and then storing them in a safe, dry place until needed for construction. Shooting in New Orleans in the winter made it even harder.
- Before production began, Tuers held an “Insect Show and Tell” meeting with directors Chris McKay and Nicholas Hoult. The meeting covered many topics, from drawings of insects that Tuers plans to mold, to real gum-like worms and real edible insects from the Internet. He brought grasshoppers, bugs, rosary beetles, and even tarantulas in three flavors (ranch, barbecue, and salty vinegar). McKay and Hoult actually ate some of the bugs during the Show and Tell, and during the three-month construction period, Tuers estimates Hoult ate as many as 100 locusts.
Renfield, in the genre of horror and comedy, is a fantastic production that will take you to a horror world full of fun and adventure.