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SYFY WIRE Renfield

'Renfield's Chris McKay and Robert Kirkman on 'splatstick' appeal of new horror-comedy

"I think that there’s a natural connection between humor and horror," Chris McKay said.

By Josh Weiss
Nicolas Cage and Nicholas Hoult in Renfield (2023)

In case you didn't know — or perhaps forgot, because Count Dracula hypnotized you — director Chris McKay's Renfield rocks an R-rating for "bloody violence, some gore, language throughout, and some drug use."

The latest red-band trailer for the movie (swooping upon theaters Friday, April 14) fulfills that MPAA promise with plenty of F-bombs and bloody violence. The goal, McKay recently explained in a promotional interview released by Universal Pictures, was to make the film a worthy addition to the "splatstick" genre of movies that seamlessly blend horror and comedy.

RELATED: 'Renfield's Nicolas Cage, Nicholas Hoult & Awkwafina on hitting 'that bullseye of comedy and horror'

"Splatstick humor has kind of been around for a long time. Movies like Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II kind of perfected splatstick humor," the filmmaker said. "So I think that there’s a natural connection between humor and horror. And just from a structural standpoint, the way you develop a scare and the way you develop a joke oftentimes are the very same kinds of things. One is something that’s shocking and one makes you laugh. But yeah, splatstick horror has always been something that for me, some of my favorite movies have. Shaun of the Dead and things like that."

Robert Kirkman — whose original screen story inspired the screenplay from Ryan Ridley (a veteran of Community and Rick and Morty) — echoed that sentiment, diving into how "jump-scares and moments of terror in a film" can evoke laughter in the audience.

"They take you off balance and they pull you out of yourself," said Kirkman, who is best known for creating comic books like The Walking Dead and Invincible. "That’s one of the reasons why they’re so appealing. And when I think you’re in that zone, you can’t help but laugh because you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this happened to me!’ So it makes the marrying of the genres really possible and really work when it’s done well because that moment when you’re laughing, you can kind of feel yourself, ‘Am I gonna be terrified here or is this gonna be funny?’ There’s a nice sweet spot where those two feelings converge that I think you can really hit."

Inspired by more than a century of Bram Stoker-inspired vampire lore, Renfield takes a deep dive into the toxic relationship between Dracula (Nicolas Cage) and his put-upon assistant, Renfield (Nicholas Hoult).

Tired of bringing his ungrateful boss innocent victims to drain of blood, the insect-munching underling decides to up and quit his life of immortal servitude — his disillusionment egged on by a sympathetic New Orleans cop by the name of Rebecca (Awkwafina). This, as you might expect, doesn't sit well with the Count, who has a very black and white view of the world. Either you do his bidding ... or you die.

"I’m trying to find this bullseye between comedy and horror, which I don’t think has been explored that much," Cage said in a separate interview alongside Hoult. "I was often thinking about American Werewolf in London and that’s a bullseye Chris McKay and I really wanted to hit. So I was always trying to be conscious of the tone of this particular piece. It’s an R-rated fantasy, but it’s hilarious and that’s a balance that you have to find. Thankfully, Nic [Hoult] is someone who has tremendous wit and comic timing, so we were able to riff off of each other. I was always thinking about that."

Renfield officially rises from the coffin Friday, April 14. Click here to sink your fangs into tickets!

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!