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Reel Streaming: Nicolas Cage Goes to Extremes

By Laurence Lerman / New York City


Nicolas Cage is Count Dracula in Renfield
Nicolas Cage is Count Dracula in Renfield

If there’s any actor better suited to portray Count Dracula than Nicolas Cage, I can’t name him.

And it’s not just because the monstrously talented Cage is a well-known horror film buff and collector of vintage horror comic books and posters. Or because in 2018 he told Metal Hammer magazine that he regularly held horror movie nights with his late friend, guitarist Johnny Ramone. Or because he named rockers Rob Zombie, Kirk Hammett and Eddie Vedder as being part of his circle of “horror movie and music fans.”

No, I’m going to declare that after a 40-year career that has seen him appear in more than 100 films, Cage has more than proven that he’s worthy and, more importantly, game to take on any kind of role onscreen. And whether it be a crazy comedy (1987’s Raising Arizona), a serious drama (1995’s Leaving Las Vegas, 2006’s World Trade Center), an action-adventure yarn (1997’s The Rock, 2004’s National Treasure), an effects-driven fantasy (2010’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), a beloved romantic comedy-drama (1987’s Moonstruck) or a crazy-beyond-belief cult horror flick (2018’s Mandy), Cage has truly earned his shot at Dracula.


The trademark wild man histrionics that Cage frequently taps into for his films have occasionally proven to be a doubled-edged sword in his filmography (for every Face/Off and Wild at Heart, there’s also a Peggy Sue Got Married, right?), but how could he not deliver when taking on the role of the world’s most famous vampire?

Well, destiny stepped up for Nic Cage on April 14 when he donned the Count’s cape for the wide theatrical release of Renfield, a contemporary comedy-horror take on Bram Stoker’s immortal 1897 novel. A wacky, violent and ultimately quite fun mash-up, Renfield arrived in fourth place this weekend with $7.7 million from 3,375 screens. Falling short of analysts’ expectations, Renfield’s blood was drained by The Super Mario Bros. Movie at No. 1, followed by the new demonic thriller The Pope’s Exorcist and still-going-strong action shoot-'em up John Wick: Chapter 4.


The film co-stars Nicholas Hoult as the legendary bloodsucker’s titular tortured servant, the weary co-dependent R.M. Renfield, who has grown tired after centuries of servitude to his demanding vampiric overlord. Hoping to forge a new direction for himself in New Orleans, Renfield’s life becomes more complicated when he falls for a wisecracking traffic cop while also running afoul of some local mobsters. As if being forced to procure fresh-blooded prey for his possessive boss from hell (literally!) weren’t tricky enough!

The 59-year-old Cage is in the midst of a particularly busy period, having just starred as “actor” Nick Cage in last year’s meta-autobiographical The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent and the well-received mystery-drama Pig, among other movies.

Cage and Nicholas Hoult
Cage and Nicholas Hoult

But Cage was quick to answer the call when the team behind Renfield came knocking in Fall 2021—bringing with him the enthusiasm of both a horror aficionado and an actor looking to engage his chops.


“The concept of Dracula, in itself, is a challenge. It’s been done so many times already—it’s been done very well and it’s also been done not very well,” Cage told Total Film magazine in March. He also offered his take on the history of Dracula’s silver screen portrayals. “I certainly admire Christopher Lee and Frank Langella and Bela Lugosi and Gary Oldman. But I always wanted to see if I could bring something fresh to the character. And I also kind of always knew I had to so it at some point.”

The timing was right for Cage’s immersion, especially as the last decade has seen Universal Studios attempting to revive their legendary movie monsters of the Golden Age, from Dracula to the Wolfman to the Mummy and so on.

Cage in Vampire's Kiss (1988)
Cage in Vampire's Kiss (1988)

It hasn’t been all that successful, with 2010’s The Wolfman starring Benicio del Toro bombing at the box office and 2017’s remake of The Mummy also stumbling. The 2020 re-imagining of The Invisible Man with Elisabeth Moss has been the studio’s only commercial and critical success, ringing up a very-visible $145 million at the domestic box office.


Not that there haven’t been plenty of other possibilities bantered about. The last several years have seen the announcement of projects such as a Guillermo del Toro-directed version of Frankenstein; another Wolfman reboot, this one starring Ryan Gosling; and a Bride of Frankenstein story, possibly featuring Scarlet Johansson

There’s also been talk of The Invisible Woman, the inevitable follow-up to The Invisible Man, this one also starring Elisabeth Moss.

But at this point, Renfield has been the only project to survive the minefield of development, re-development, and production and make its way to the big screen in all its horrific, funny, action-filled and bloody glory.

Budgeted at $65 million, Renfield creeps into theaters with an impressive roster of talented actors sinking their teeth into the spectacle. It is based on a pitch by The Walking Dead co-creator Robert Kirkman and helmed by hot director Chris McKay, whose comedic Robot Chicken TV series (now in its 11th season!) and The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) both featured appearances by Dracula. The movie’s game supporting cast features Ben Schwartz, Shohreh Aghdashloo and Awkwafina, all of whom hold their own alongside Cage and Hoult, whose performance isn’t nearly as eccentric as Cage’s, but is sad, strange and silly, nonetheless.


Director Chris McKay and Cage on the set of Renfield
Director Chris McKay and Cage on the set of Renfield

From where I’m sitting, it’s still all about Nicolas Cage, who takes the plunge into a role that he had a kind of dry run for back in 1988’s Vampire’s Kiss. Beloved by some but forgotten by most, the cult horror comedy stars Cage, in one of his most unhinged performances, as a bad boy New York City literary agent who believes he has been turned into a vampire after he spends an evening with a sexy neck-biter.

This prompts him to purchase a set of plastic fangs, sleep all day underneath his couch and run around nighttime Manhattan shrieking, “I’m a vampire! I’m a vampire!”

But in that the film, Cage’s character only imagined he was a creature of the night and he ultimately came off like just another nutty New Yorker wandering the streets and talking to himself.

And finally—35 years, dozens of films and a slew of awards later—Cage has hit the screen as the original Prince of Darkness. Here’s to the very batty and very bloody Renfield making a little more noise in the theaters before it takes flight and lands on a streaming platform later this spring.

 

Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.



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