For people of my generation, our introduction to scary movies was through the gothic horror films made by the British Hammer Corporation, which were hugely popular from the late 1950s to the 1970s.
They crossed a range of styles but mainly concentrated on Frankenstein and the Dracula characters.
Dracula was usually played with a sort of camp menace by Christopher Lee and his nemesis, Dr van Helsing, was almost always played by Peter Cushing.
I probably saw the first of these films at about the age of 10 or 11 at the old Civic cinemas, which had rounded wooden corridors and a mezzanine section. It must have been around 1972, and it terrified me for days.
But it wasn’t long before I developed quite the taste for these usually over-the-top and quite ridiculous films, and I have loved them for the past 50 years.
The genre of horror films has changed significantly over the years and now includes splatter films, movies with names like Chopping Mall.
But the characters inspired by Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker draw me back because, at their heart, there’s a sort of broken humanity – people trapped in eternity from which there is no real escape and their hapless victims who never knew what was coming.
This week I went to see a film called Renfield.
In the original book, Renfield is an insane man at an asylum who assists Dracula in stalking his victims and believes he gains life force by eating vermin.
Over the years, there have been many versions of the character, quite famously played by Tom Waits in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
In this version, he is played by Nicholas Hoult (About a Boy, Warm Bodies, The Menu), who is suffering from an existential crisis.
His boss, Dracula, in an oddly subdued performance from Nicolas Cage, is a difficult employer who decides on world domination in a bid to keep him motivated.
There’s a corrupt police force, in league with the local crime gang, giving the film an almost Gotham City feel. The police force has one honest cop, Rebecca, played by rapper and comedian Awkwafina, who famously burst onto our screens with a supporting role in Crazy Rich Asians.
Renfield seeks counselling in a support group in a bid to leave Dracula’s employment and eventually become friends with Rebecca.
The film was written by Robert Kirkman, who writes superhero comics and has penned a number of The Walking Dead episodes. It’s directed by Chris McKay, who also delivered two Batman Lego films.
In essence, Renfield is a fast-action, terribly violent, and surprisingly hilarious comedy/horror film.
Nicholas Hoult has the marvellous gift of appearing clueless in many of his films, giving him a sort of innocent charm. Cage has never been afraid of taking the most difficult or silly roles but always enthusiastically embraces his characters.
I don’t know if he is a method actor, but he seems to live inside the skin of the people he plays. When I say he was a bit subdued in this movie, I mean subdued by his standards, so it is both menacing and playful.
Renfield is not a film to set the world on fire, but for an hour and a half (remember those short films of yesteryear?), it delivers plenty of blood and guts and quite a few belly laughs. This movie is entertaining and very silly. Three out of five stars.
Renfield is showing at most major cinema chains.
Marcus Kelson is a Canberra critic and writer.
Original Article published by Marcus Kelson on Riotact.