Renfield is one of this year’s most overlooked horror movies, and it's worth a revisit

(Image credit: Universal)

It was a good year for horror. In fact, it was a really good year for horror – for both big-budget franchise sequels and independent one-off features alike. But while you were out watching Evil Dead Rise on a first date or hiding behind your popcorn during Skinamarink, there was one spooky movie that may have slipped through the cracks. Renfield, or the "Nicolas Cage Dracula movie" as Google search trends would have it, came and went without making a peep – even though it deserved so much more.

Let's get one thing straight: this isn't your average horror comedy. While Dracula is camp and Nicolas Cage as an actor is inherently campy, the film turns away from the shocking and absurd and presents a serious story rooted in something we rarely see in mainstream media: surviving narcissistic abuse. Dracula and Renfield's partnership, which dates back all the way to 1931, serves as a clever metaphor for toxic, abusive relationships that sometimes take years and years to leave.

Unfamiliar ground

Nicholas Hoult as Renfield in Renfield

(Image credit: Universal Studios)

If you're not familiar, the character of R. M. Renfield was first introduced in Bram Stoker's 1897 Gothic horror novel 'Dracula'. He's the doting shmuck who helps the Count turn Mina Harke into a vampire in exchange for immortality, and ends up becoming his eternal servant (and losing his sanity) as a result. He made his first (non-silent) on-screen appearance in Todd Browning's 1931 pre-code horror Dracula, played by Dwight Fye, and the titular Count played by none other than Bela Lugosi. The 2023 film smartly recreates black-and-white scenes from the original, subbing in Cage for Lugosi and Nicolas Hoult for Frye, to explain how our anti-hero ended up at Dracula's castle in the first place.

But this Renfield isn't like any other Renfield we've seen on screen (and we've seen over 20 so far). This Renfield is a vigilante of sorts: he, no longer willing to take an innocent life in order to feed his Master, hunts and kills the abusive partners of individuals who regularly attend a support group for surviving narcissistic abuse. It's here that Renfield realizes that he's in an abusive relationship of his own, and where the film becomes a hopeful allegory for leaving. In between impressively choreographed bone-cracking fight scenes and severing limbs with decorative serving platters, Renfield is repeating affirmations about self-love, strength, and self-worth. He's wielding a self-help book like it's a wooden stake.

But make no mistake, it's Hoult's strong performance that makes this iteration of Renfield succeed. His unwavering sincerity in both the film's funniest and most emotional moments allow this famously flawed character to become not only someone we want to root for, but also wrap our arms around. Not to mention the juxtaposition of Renfield's tender, vulnerable interactions and spine-snapping, skull-crushing hand-to-hand combat scenes – with Hoult effortlessly transitioning from worrier to warrior in seconds.

Cage rage

Ben Schwartz as Teddy and Nicolas Cage as Dracula in Renfield

(Image credit: Universal Studios)

It's hard for me to grapple with the fact that not nearly enough people went to the theaters to see this movie, resulting in its status as a box office 'flop.' The reason might lie within the (very limited) marketing, which focused mainly on Cage's Count Dracula. Don't get me wrong: it's cool, it's really cool (and was the reason why I, a self-proclaimed Nicolas Cage stan, was excited about the film in the first place). Cage channels his famous "Cage Rage" into something calmer and more controlled, resulting in a Count that is neither sexy nor mysterious, but creepy, cult-leader-like, and enraged at all times. He also wears velvet suits, bejeweled rings on every finger, and has two rows of sharp, tiny teeth that look like they belong to a piranha. 

But I guess the concept of Cage playing Dracula, an icon playing an icon, wasn't as exciting to the rest of the world. In reality, he has pretty limited screentime (though he absolutely makes the most of it) and the film actually focuses on three different plots – with Awkwafina's Officer Rebecca Quincy struggling to bring her father's killers to justice amidst the constant gaslighting of her male superiors and Ben Schwartz's unqualified crime boss Teddy Lobo struggling with his own hang-ups about self-worth and purpose. Oh, did I mention that Schwartz plays a violent sociopath with a neck tattoo who's afraid of his own mom? 

There's also the incredibly funny ensemble group therapy cast, a soundtrack with Beastie Boys and My Chemical Romance needle drops, clever plays on canonical vampire lore that go beyond crosses and garlic, and some truly jaw-dropping gore that makes Hostel look tame. It's a little bit all over the place, sure, but there's truly something for everyone.

Renfield is a strange and unexpectedly deep horror comedy that deserved so much more recognition in 2023. Whether you love Nicolas Cage, are an abuse survivor yourself, or just want to watch some crazy violence that's intercut with equally crazy humor – Renfield has it all. It's a wildly creative sequel to an almost 100-year-old movie, and breathes new life into some of fiction and film's most beloved horror icons. Plus, Ben Schwartz has a neck tattoo. It doesn't really get better than that.

Renfield is streaming now on Prime Video. For more, check out our ranking of the best Nicolas Cage movies.

For more on the end of year, check out our guides to the best movies of 2023 and the best TV shows of 2023.

Lauren Milici
Senior Writer, Tv & Film

Lauren Milici is a Senior Entertainment Writer for GamesRadar+ currently based in the Midwest. She previously reported on breaking news for The Independent's Indy100 and created TV and film listicles for Ranker. Her work has been published in Fandom, Nerdist, Paste Magazine, Vulture, PopSugar, Fangoria, and more.