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SYFY WIRE Renfield

'Renfield' director Chris McKay says horror-comedy draws from every corner of 'Dracula history'

Renfield arrives on the big screen April 14.

By Josh Weiss
(from left) Nicolas Cage and Shohreh Aghdashloo in Renfield (2023)

What makes Count Dracula such an enduring character more than a century after he was first introduced by author Bram Stoker?  Nicolas Cage, who plays the iconic bloodsucker in director Chris McKay's Renfield (out in theaters everywhere next month) has pondered the question and thinks it comes down to "expressing the human condition."

Sitting down with JoBlo to discuss the upcoming vampire film, Cage explained that he sees the Count as an immortal — yet ultimately vulnerable — being, plagued by a relatable, shoulder-dwelling monkey known as addiction.

"But how did he get there?" the actor mused. "I’ve often thought of the romantic element of Dracula’s character that is love and exile, a character that is unrequited love. And ultimately the condition turns bad as a result of the vulnerability of unrequited love. That’s my own theory as to the fascination with the Dracula character and the vampire character."

RELATED: Go back to the 1930s with a new 'Renfield' flashback, fresh from his new Tumblr about his terrible boss

Written by Ryan Ridley (the Rick and Morty alum penned the script off an original idea provided by The Walking Dead and Invincible co-creator Robert Kirkman), the film places the narrative emphasis on Dracula's longtime assistant, Renfield (Nicholas Hoult). After nearly a century of servitude, the put-upon subordinate finally decides to call it quits and part ways with his toxic employer.

For McKay, the idea of throwing a wrench into such a longstanding relationship meant an opportunity to step back and reflect on the various treatments of Dracula in pop culture throughout the decades.

"I wanted it to reference all different versions of Dracula," the filmmaker known for The LEGO Batman Movie and The Tomorrow Wasaid to Bloody Disgusting. "Whether it’s Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, or Lon Chaney Sr.’s London After Midnight vampire. There were pieces of all different kinds of vampire images, vampire lore, vampire history, and Dracula history. I made all the teeth sharp like Lon Chaney Sr. in London After Midnight, which was important."

RELATED: 'Renfield' star Nic Cage says he doesn't feel the need to join the MCU: 'I'm Nic Cage'

"We’re actually using some direct references to the original films, and to some of the actual Universal horror movies," production designer Alec Hammond (Lost in SpaceSnake Eyesrevealed to JoBlo. "The original ones. So we established for the audience those actual films — and some of those actual film images early, with this sort of, semi-unaltered [version]. So, what — in some ways I have no choice but to — as, sort of as a designer, play off the visual world that is established in those films."

Indeed, it's already been confirmed that the movie opens in the world of the 1931 Dracula, with Cage and Hoult digitally composited (Forrest Gump-style) into the seminal black and white film. Hoult even went so far as to emulate a bit of Dwight Frye's manic performance.

"Trying to steal some stuff from him when possible, particularly that laugh he [brought]," the leading man confessed to ScreenRant. "I do my best. I've gone back and read the book again as well, just to see if there was anything in there. But as I said, we're kind of joining Renfield at a very different point in his journey at the start of this film."

Renfield arrives on the big screen Friday, April 14. You can purchase tickets here!

Need to satisfy your vampire craving right now? Check out SYFY's Reginald the Vampire, which is set to return later this year for a second season. Or head on over to Peacock, where Vampire Academy is now in session!