This Is the ‘Dracula’ History Renfield, the Character, Is Drawn From
Renfield, which premieres on April 14, 2023, sets the focus on one of the lesser-known characters in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, R. M. Renfield. While Renfield has been appearing in Dracula adaptations for over a century, Renfield marks the first time he has appeared as the lead protagonist in a film. The film is meant to be a sequel to Tod Browning’s 1931 film, Dracula, which saw Bela Lugosi as Dracula and Dwight Frye as Renfield. Frye’s performance is one of the most well-known and best-received iterations of Renfield, but it remains to be seen if Hoult will be able to top it.
Renfield is a horror comedy that sees its titular character become fed up with his narcissistic and ill-tempered boss, Count Dracula (Nicholas Cage), after spending nearly 100 years as his loyal and devoted servant. After falling in love with a traffic cop, Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina), he musters the courage to try to leave Dracula, but it only results in Dracula becoming vengeful and threatening. The film is meant to be a bit of a campier take on Dracula and is filled with humor and lots of gore. However, it has also managed to reignite interest in the Dracula character Renfield.
Who is Renfield in Dracula?
Renfield was created by Stoker in his 1897 novel, Dracula. In the book, Renfield is a 59-year-old patient in an asylum who eats bugs and birds in hopes of acquiring their life force. Count Dracula manages to retain a hold over Renfield by supplying him with limitless bugs, including flies, moths, spiders, and even birds. He even expresses a desire to eat rats, cats, and dogs. Renfield believes that he’ll be immortal if he continues eating the insects and becomes the servant of Dracula, who grants him superhuman strength.
However, he ends up being struck by his conscience and goes against Dracula’s bidding to protect Mina Harker. Unfortunately, we never get to know what spurned this bit of consciousness, as he is subsequently killed by Dracula. The only accounts of Renfield come from psychiatrist Dr. John Seward, who is baffled by Renfield’s condition and believes him to be dangerous. Readers can’t help but wonder if a second perspective on Renfield could answered some lingering questions.
Back in the 1800s, mental health wasn’t understood in the way it is now, and treatment of patients in asylums was often even worse, as well. Hence, it raises the question of whether Renfield ever was a “madman” or if his mental illness and Dracula’s influence were simply misunderstood and misinterpreted.
The mystery surrounding Renfield may explain why he’s always portrayed differently in each film adaptation. In Dracula (1931), he takes Jonathan Harker’s place as the real estate agent who went to visit Dracula. Unfortunately, Dracula attacks him, which is the cause of his spiral into servitude. In other iterations, like Count Dracula (1970), Renfield (Klaus Kinski) is depicted as non-verbal, traumatized by his experiences with Dracula.
There are even some adaptations, like the 2013 Dracula series, where his mental health is left out and he’s simply a servant to Dracula. Most often, he’s depicted as a man whose desire to become a vampire led him to fall under Dracula’s influence and deteriorated his mental state.
Who is Renfield in Renfield?
Given that Renfield has been labeled as a direct sequel to Dracula (1931), it appears Hoult’s Renfield in the modern film is the same iteration that Stephen Frye portrayed. Given that Renfield and Dracula both died in that film, it isn’t exactly clear how Renfield will address this. However, this iteration of Renfield seems quite different than previous iterations.
While Renfield is the long-suffering servant of Dracula and is granted super strength by him, he seems very timid and soft-spoken and is even able to resist Dracula’s influence and stand up to his master. Hoult’s iteration is definitely a modernized take on Renfield that paints him as a sympathetic character who is forced to do bad things because of Dracula’s influence but could likely be a pretty good guy if he broke free.
(featured image: Universal Pictures)
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