The frame story of this Renfield-centered do-over of Dracula positions what we’re watching as a Creepshow-type comic book – though writer-producer-makeup effects artist-star Phil Nichols first wrote it as a stage play. In modern day Bayou City, which owes a little to Sin City (though the greenscreen backdrops are less stylised), bloody-mawed Rothschild Nathaniel Renfield (Nichols), who looks like Uncle Fester in a black trenchcoat, is feuding with undead Mina Harker (Roxy Cook) and her half-vampire son Quincey (Tyler Tackett) while apparently Welsh cop Cranston (Paul Damon) and coroner Bonnie Johnson (Keli Wolfe) delve into a series of vampire murders. Bonnie gets bitten and Renfield gives her a run-down of this version of the backstory, which owes as much to the 1931 film and Nosferatu as Bram Stoker. Here, as in the Universal film, it’s Renfield not Harker who journeys to Transylvania and, as in Nosferatu, the estate agent’s boss (Joe Grisaffi) is an agent of Dracula (in Nosferatu, he’s the Renfield figure).
At Castle Dracula, Renfield is bitten/enslaved – and, after a hurried precis of the rest of Stoker’s story, he ends up with Dracula’s skull, which other vampires want to get hold of so the master can be resurrected. The film runs on and on (111mins) and consists mostly of snarly speechifying and scrappy action, with plentiful bitten out hunks of red flesh – but that gets rather monotonous. The tone is somewhere between in-jokiness and serious revisionism, and few of the enthusiastic cast know what to do with what they’re given. However, it features perhaps the gnarliest fangs in the cinema and, rubbery though they may be, the vampire effects are well-conceived and executed.
Nichols does Dwight Frye’s whiny laugh, and gives Renfield a bit of a backstory involving a daughter killed by Dracula (offscreen) as payback for one of many betrayals. John Stevens may not be the best screen Dracula, but he’s one of the most startling apparitions – with some Max Schreck features, furry cheeks, talons and that godawful maw full of teeth … and he transforms into fangface creatures that are, if anything, even more ghastly to look at. The end credits promise Renfield II: Lucy the Un-Dead, but that doesn’t seem to have come along. With Andrew Adams as Jonathan Harker, K.R. Kretz as Van Helsing and Alison Phillips as Lucy Westenra. Directed by Bob Willems.