Why 'Renfield's narcissistic rely suits completely into Dracula's movie historical past

Dracula is what you may name a bona fide cinematic icon. From Bela Lugosi’s official celluloid origination of Bram Stoker’s vampire in 1931 to Christopher Lee’s outings as Dracula within the Hammer Horror movies from the ’50s to the ’70s, the villain has enduring attraction. This comes because of some really good actors cementing his standing, to not point out numerous appearances all through film historical past, from live-action to animation.

Additionally integral to the OG vampire’s endurance is his canny capability to morph and alter, standing as a marker of our time, no matter that point occurs to be. Due to filmmakers imagining new methods to signify the social and cultural local weather of the period by way of him, we have seen the Prince of Darkness remodel from “the Monstrous Different” to “Darkish Romantic” — and now, on this 12 months’s irreverent horror-comedy Renfield, “Poisonous Narcissistic Boss” (performed, after all, by Nicolas Cage).

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“Dracula modifications a lot — he’s a shapeshifter,” Dr. Laura Westengard, an affiliate professor of English at Metropolis College of New York who makes a speciality of gothic literature, visible tradition, and queer research, advised Mashable. “He modifies with the intention to replicate the anxieties and wishes of the time and place… so we will actually study lots about tradition and society by trying on the evolution of the vampire figures that resonate.”

In Renfield, which screenwriter Ryan Ridley describes as a “fairly era-appropriate” adaptation, Dracula’s bug-eating acquainted (Nicholas Hoult) turns into the superhero protagonist attempting to flee his boss and their centuries-old, codependent relationship. “That is an period of numerous abuse of authority being uncovered,” Ridley advised Mashable. “What we’re actually speaking about is why we stick with individuals that are not excellent for us,” director Chris McKay added.

It is a recent take, however it’s grounded within the character himself.

In Bela Lugosi, the rely will get a glamorous makeover.

Bela Lugosi acts as Dracula, clutching the throat of Helen Chandler in a film still.

“Bela Lugosi was a heartthrob.”
Credit score: Common / Kobal / Shutterstock

For McKay, Dracula can be nothing with out Bela Lugosi’s seminal efficiency. “Whether or not it is Rely Chocula or the rely on Sesame Avenue, individuals have been influenced by Bela Lugosi,” McKay stated. “These motion pictures are an indelible piece of movie historical past and popular culture.”

Whereas Lugosi’s Dracula was the primary cinematic iteration to be made with sound, a silent providing got here first. Nosferatu, F. W. Murnau’s unauthorized German tackle Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, was launched in 1922 and positioned the Transylvanian bloodsucker as “the Monstrous Different” by way of Max Schreck’s Rely Orlok. He sported a hooked nostril, creepily lengthy fingernails, bulging eyes, and a bald head. It was an aesthetic that leaned into the antisemitic themes(opens in a brand new tab) from Stoker’s novel and mirrored the anti-Jewish sentiment in Northern Europe on the time. Orlok may need been nearer to the repulsive literary look of Dracula — minus the mustache — however when Hollywood received its arms on the movie rights, the rely received a glamorous makeover.


“Whether or not it is Rely Chocula or the rely on ‘Sesame Avenue’, individuals have been influenced by Bela Lugosi.”

– Chris McKay

Hungarian actor Lugosi fought exhausting to safe the eponymous position in Tod Browning’s 1931 Dracula. He was preventing towards the “concern of the opposite” of Common studio execs who wished an American actor to play the rely, even supposing Lugosi had impressed extensively on stage. Finally, the actor’s efficiency — and his thick accent, good-looking options, slicked-back hair, and caped uniform — set a brand new commonplace for the vampire.

“My college students are fascinated once I say that Bela Lugosi was a heartthrob,” stated Westergard. “He was debonair; he was elegant and wore these stunning tuxedos. He is probably not operating round in a cave.”

Set primarily in Victorian London, Browning’s Dracula performs on societal fears towards foreigners; on this case an Japanese European who penetrates Well mannered Society and refuses to stick to its civilized conventions of conservatism or repress his most base wishes. The movie can be, stated Westengard, indicative of “Gothic literature and a cinematic tradition [of the time] that allowed people to be excited and titillated by transgressive sexualities, monstrosity, and behaviors that have been utterly out of typical norms — so long as on the finish, they have been destroyed and the established order was re-established.” 

Dracula will not be allowed to win, however you are definitely allowed to lust over him.

Dracula rides the skinny line between concern and need.

Christopher Lee plays Dracula with blood running down his chin and a woman in the foreground.

Christopher Lee expertly went from charming to predatory in his many depictions of the rely.
Credit score: Hammer / Warner Bros / Kobal / Shutterstock

There’s an erotic aura to Lugosi’s efficiency that solely received extra specific with every new actor entering into Dracula’s cape. Christopher Lee within the Hammer Horror movies was a worthy successor; tall, darkish, and good-looking, he enticed audiences in 1958 with the primary of his 10 outings as Dracula. And he was quintessentially changeable; one minute well mannered and charming, the following blood-eyed and robustly predatory. 

“The best cinematic variations of vampires are those that may experience the skinny line between concern and need,” Westengard stated. “The Hammer movies have been capable of perform throughout the Hays Code [production guidelines that censored motion pictures] by way of amping up the horror and downplaying the sexuality to a level, however as quickly we get to finish of that period, we’ve this spike in eroticism within the late ’60s and ’70s.”

For Jewelle Gomez, playwright, poet, activist, and writer of lesbian vampire sequence The Gilda Tales, Frank Langella’s efficiency in each the 1977 Broadway adaptation by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston(opens in a brand new tab) and John Badham’s 1979 movie Dracula typifies that lubricious evolution of the character. “He delivers a sensuality that basically underlies the facility of the determine,” Gomez stated. “His physicality is filled with energy, even in his stillness, and he has this wild factor he does together with his eyes the place they transfer/twitch in a mesmerizing means.” 

Langella’s rely is a real voyeuristic seducer intent on making the character of Lucy, performed by Kate Nelligan, his vampire bride, and the journey makes good on their palpable sexual pressure. Badham’s Dracula definitely paved the best way for Francis Ford Coppola to up the sexy ante together with his 1992 adaptation, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, starring Gary Oldman because the Darkish Romantic antagonist. It’s the closest cinematic rendering of Stoker’s narrative to this point, but additionally steeped with campy, homoerotic, and amorous visuals in addition to a love storyline that humanizes Dracula in a deeper means. 

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This rely in Coppola’s model is a Fifteenth-century lovesick warlord who blasphemes towards god after his woman love commits suicide. 300 years after turning into a vampire, he plots to take Mina (the reincarnation of his useless paramour) as his everlasting lover. She’s the repressed virgin, and as soon as Dracula regains his youthful look by way of feeding, he turns into a horny and unique insurgent with a bloodthirsty trigger.

Oldman, like Lugosi, Lee, and Langella, embodies Dracula as a fascinating display screen icon. “There’s the audacity of presenting a cisgender, white male with an outrageous fashion, method of talking, and depth,” stated Gomez. “On the similar time, we’re requested to see that he’s trapped, too. He is type of just like the bike dangerous boy in teen motion pictures — exterior the norm each in look and motion, and flaunting legislation.”

By way of shifting energy and views, the vampire endures.

Actor William Marshall wearing a cape and baring fangs in the movie

Actor William Marshall established the Black vampire onscreen.
Credit score: Aip / Kobal / Shutterstock

Thirty years earlier than Coppola’s model, there was director William Crain’s 1972 Blaxploitation movie, Blacula, during which actor William Marshall exemplified the tragic romantic vampire trope and established the Black vampire onscreen. Blacula added historic realism to traditional Dracula lore by grappling with the legacy of the slave commerce and having Marshall’s African prince enslaved into vampirism by the white Rely. It’s an iconic efficiency from the actor, however, as with the 1936 movie Dracula’s Daughter, starring Gloria Holden because the titular vampire, these substitute Dracula protagonists weren’t given the identical autonomy as the unique white, male character.

“Earlier variations which featured girls within the position or an African American confused some viewers as a result of the unique was lifting up the Victorian, white male because the grasp over life and demise,” famous Gomez. “Shifting that energy to the Different appealed to girls or individuals of coloration, however the writing by no means actually took into consideration (socially or politically) the shifting perspective.”

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Dracula’s urge for food for ladies within the authentic novel mirrored patriarchal attitudes of dominance and subordination greater than romantic intent, and Gomez lamented the dearth of movie variations which have really interrogated this misogynistic theme: “He took girls to be his ‘wives’ however they in the end have been a sacrifice to his life.”

Westergard agreed with this evaluation. “In earlier variations of Dracula, typically it is nearly taking a lady away from the opposite males,” she says. “It is probably not that Rely Dracula actually needs Mina or Lucy, however he needs to indicate the opposite males that he has energy over their girls. It is about management, energy, and ladies as tokens.”

Whereas 2022’s The Invitation, directed by Jessica M. Thompson and written by Blair Butler, makes an attempt a feminist reexamination of Dracula’s misogyny to combined outcomes, Renfield avoids gender politics in favor of a Dracula who’s “a supernatural, poisonous narcissist.”  

Nic Cage gives one other Dracula to recollect.

Nicolas Cage plays Dracula in "Renfield," with slicked-back hair, a white-painted face, and red lips, clutching a woman's hand.

“It is Nicolas Cage’s power, and that makes something OK.”
Credit score: Common Footage

Till Cage received the position, Renfield’s Prince of Darkness was going to be a straighter villain. “[Cage] flipped the chemistry so Dracula was the craziest, weirdest factor of the film,” stated Ridley. “Everybody wished to have extra scenes of Dracula, and I am positive at this level now, individuals want there was much more.” 

Cage is a magnetic actor who brings a rigorous theatrical power to Dracula. His efficiency is each grounded within the humanity of an egotistical, power-hungry man who can’t bear the concept somebody wouldn’t need to be his servant, and heightened by the fantastical realm that this timeless style narrative gives.

“When you notice, ‘Oh, this can be a weird Nicolas Cage character,’ there aren’t any guidelines anymore, something works,” Ridley stated of giving the actor free rein to make Dracula his personal. “He was enjoying the character scary; typically he is enjoying him comedic. Part of me questioned if all this was going to come back collectively cohesively — as a result of it is a totally different Dracula in each scene — however it’s all underlined by the truth that it is Nicolas Cage’s power, and that makes something OK. So, as unusual and eclectic because it was, all of it works as a result of it is by way of the vessel of his power and his personal iconography.”

Cage’s distinct actorly prospers may simply have secured his place as one other iconic Dracula to recollect. It definitely received’t be the final Prince of Darkness to grace our screens, however Renfield is proof of his malleability as a villain for filmmakers to prey on and discover audiences’ deepest fears and wishes.

Renfield is now in theaters. You’ll be able to learn Mashable’s Renfield overview right here.


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