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Dracula: Renfield's Background Explained

Count Dracula is a character that has terrified, fascinated, and intrigued everyone, may it be readers, moviegoers, conspiracy theorists, or even clinical psychologists, for over a century. Of course, there are numerous iterations of the king of all vampires, from the genuinely terrifying original version from Bram Stoker's original novel, the more seductive versions of later movies, the bloody comic book versions, and of course, the Adam Sandler-voiced kids' character. But Dracula isn't the only creation from that original novel that has stood the test of time, as Van Helsing, Mina Harker, and others have seen life after Stoker.

Of course, one of the more underutilized characters from the noir classic is Renfield, who is seeing a resurgence today thanks to the theatrical release of the Nicolas Cage-led movie and Nicholas Hoult playing the titular assistant to Dracula. The movie subverts typical Dracula storytelling by turning the assistant into the film's protagonist, seeing him try to emancipate himself from his abusive boss.

While his name is not as popular as Dracula (who has been played by legends like Christopher Lee and Gary Oldman before Cage) or Van Helsing (played by Anthony Hopkins, Hugh Jackman, and Peter Cushing before), Renfield has a long history of his own. Here's a closer look at the character that Hoult brought to life in "Renfield."

He appeared in the Bram Stoker novel

While Nicholas Hoult's new iteration of the character finds the courage to stand up to Nicolas Cage's Dracula and defends people after downing some spiders, he is a bit different than the original character envisioned by Bram Stoker. He gets his hands dirty as he takes out droves of people in defense of Rebecca (Awkwafina). Cage told Collider, "There is a slight [Charlie] Chaplin-esque flavor to what he brings as Renfield in some of those sequences."

There are more differences than similarities, but one aspect of the character Hoult leaves in the movies is a fun throwback. When he eats the spiders before dispatching a slew of human villains, it is a callback to Bram Stoker's creation as the character appears as an inmate in an asylum, mostly eating bugs and other animals. Renfield is obsessed with immortality and believes that the blood of living things is the path to accomplishing it. While he starts with bugs and spiders, he moves on to bigger animals like rats, and he even asks for a cat at one point.

Hoult certainly brought his own flair to the film; while playing the 59-year-old mental patient diagnosed with zoophagous mania, he didn't trash the entire character as he brought the bugs to his performance. But of course, he isn't the only person to bring the character to life.

His film history is a century old

Technically, "Renfield" marks the 100th anniversary (actually 101 years), as the filmmakers of "Nosferatu" changed the names of the characters in 1922 to avoid copywriting issues with the Bram Stoker estate. In that film, Alexander Granach appeared as a character named Knock. He is reimagined as a real estate agent who unleashes the monster on humanity.

The character appeared again in 1931's Dracula, played by Dwight Frye. He is essentially a replacement for the character Jonathan Harker, who is the original person who met the vampire in the novel. It took almost four decades for the character to return to the big screen, and it did so in 1970's "Count Dracula," known for Christopher Lee's portrayal of the titular vampire. Klaus Kinski portrayed the character in a small but triumphant return.

Renfield would return nine years later in three films, "Nosferatu," 'Dracula,' and "Love at First Bite." While they were similar to the previous performances, they were very different films from each other. He later appeared in the most recent feature, "Bram Stoker's Dracula," which saw Anthony Hopkins, Gary Oldman, Keanu Reeves, and Winona Ryder retelling the masterpiece initially told in 1897. Nicholas Hoult's portrayal marks the first appearance of Renfield in just over 20 years.

There is a clinical illness named after him

Fans of gothic literature and horror films aren't the only people who are familiar with the character of Renfield, as he made his way into pop psychology. Psychiatrists started focusing on behavior they began calling clinical vampirism, eventually dubbing it Renfield's Syndrome. Richard Noll, author of "Bizarre Diseases of the Mind," suggests that the symptoms of those suffering from the condition resemble the Renfield character's quirks.

In his lecture given at Penn State University in 2013, Noll outlined the symptoms of someone suffering from the illness. While he spoke about some kind of trauma surrounding blood and sex before puberty, he focused on the person's struggle with consuming blood later in life. They even go far enough to consume the blood of animals, just like Renfield in the novel.

The character has a long and storied history that started in the 1920s and stayed relevant in the Dracula stories for a century. Of course, there is no way that someone could ever out-overact a character when teamed with Nicolas Cage, but Nicholas Hoult gives his all in his portrayal of the reimagined Renfield.