Renfield Director Chris McKay Drew Inspiration From The Classics (And Frank Langella's Disco Dracula)

Historically, the character of Renfield is known for doting on Dracula. So it's only fitting that "Renfield," the new film by Chris McKay starring Nicholas Hoult as the titular servant and Nicolas Cage as the world's preeminent vampire, loves all things "Dracula."

Dracula is one of the most consistently popular fictional characters, turning up in numerous books, films, TV shows, and other media since his debut in Bram Stoker's 1897 novel. While "Renfield," being a Universal Picture, is most reverent toward the original cycle of Universal Horror films (of which Tod Browning's 1931 "Dracula" is often considered the start), there is obviously a wealth of other Draculas that followed.

"Renfield" is not only well aware of these progenitors but McKay, Hoult, and Cage were eager to pay homage to as many of them as possible within their movie. These tributes run the gamut from acting as creative inspiration for certain sequences and moments in the film to Easter eggs for "Dracula" fans with sharp fangs — er, eyes.

'Renfield' honors the classic Draculas

If there was any doubt that "Renfield" would honor the original Universal "Dracula" from 1931, this TV spot dispels it, with Cage and Hoult appearing in a shot-for-shot re-enactment of scenes from the classic film. Additionally, the production of the film was announced by a picture of the movie's slate bearing a logo that is deliberately reminiscent of the '31 film's marketing.

McKay elaborated on his paying tribute to Browning's film during a recent interview with Nightmare on Film Street, stating that Dwight Frye's Renfield "is my favorite and Nic Hoult's favorite Renfield — we took a lot of inspiration from that." McKay also mentioned how "There's notes of 'Swan Lake' in our score," referencing the fact that a selection from Tchaikovsky's 1877 ballet was used as the opening credit music for the 1931 "Dracula," and used again for 1932's "The Mummy" and "Murders in the Rue Morgue."

Arguably the next most famous Dracula after Bela Lugosi is Christopher Lee, whose performance in Hammer Films' 1958 "Dracula" (known on these shores as "Horror of Dracula") is just as iconic, especially to star Cage. McKay explained how that film helped the opening of his movie:

"Cage was really influenced by Christopher Lee and 'Horror of Dracula' [...] We took a lot of inspiration from that, primarily in the opening of the movie. I wanted the opening of our movie to feel like the third act of somebody else's Dracula movie. So we took that end scene from 'Horror of Dracula' [...] Christopher Lee gets blasted by the sunlight and turns into a melted puppet. [...] We did a similar scene where the curtain falls and Cage is hit by the sunlight, and we did a little puppet gag."

Easter eggs for Francis Ford Coppola and John Badham's Draculas

While Lugosi and Lee are generally regarded as the best screen Draculas, they're far from the only ones. McKay sought to reference Francis Ford Coppola's lush "Bram Stoker's Dracula" from 1992, in which the Count was portrayed by Gary Oldman in a series of elaborate costumes designed by Eiko Ishioka. The reference to Coppola's film in "Renfield" is hidden inside another nod to "Dracula" 1931:

"Even the medallion that we made for Cage to use later in the movie which was kind of inspired by Bela Lugosi. Inside the medallion is a picture of Cage in the Gary Oldman Vlad Tepes costume."

After 1948's "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein," Universal first revisited the character in 1979 with "Dracula," directed by John Badham and starring Frank Langella, who had made a splash on Broadway playing the Count. While the film is set in 1913, the '70s vibes are apparent in the movie, no doubt helped by the fact that Badham's prior film was the disco hit "Saturday Night Fever."

McKay is especially fond of one striking visual moment:

"[...] the scene when Langella and Kate Nelligan are talking at the table and there's like a million candles. It's a fire hazard. It's an insane amount of candles that they're shooting through, so I tried to populate the set with as many candles as the fire captain and everyone else would allow me."

Overall, McKay wanted to make sure his movie included these homages, not for mere fan service but because of the affection he and his collaborators hold for them. "We all have a love for those movies and we wanted to shine a light on them because they're important to us," he stated. Obviously, there's a lot in "Renfield" that we "Dracula" fans can sink our teeth into.