Mediocre horrors fill theaters the weekend after Easter

It’s the week after Easter, but all hell is breaking loose at movie theaters with a comedic sequel of sorts to “Dracula,” a film loosely based on the exploits of the 20th century’s best-known exorcist, and another movie about a demon-possessed inmate all opening today.


Nicolas Cage in Renfield (Universal Pictures)

If the name Renfield rings a bell, you’re probably more familiar with Dracula lore than most.

The character dates back to Bram Stoker’s classic 1897 epistolary novel that introduced the King of the Vampires, and depending on the film, Renfield has played anywhere from a key to a minor role in Dracula’s evil machinations on the big screen for nearly a century.

In “Renfield,” which is a loose sequel to Universal Pictures’ 1931 “Dracula,” the bug-eating loon whom Dracula manipulates into to doing his day-time dirty work steps out of the shadow in the spotlight of this ultra-bloody comedy/horror/buddy cop movie.

As Dracula’s familiar, Refield (Nicholas Holt) suffers in a co-dependent relationship from hell that he is hoping to exit, but Dracula (Nicolas Cage) isn’t about to have it. Though he won’t admit it the Count needs his trusty man-servant.

In the 1931 movie, Renfield is a composite of two characters from the novel — Jonathan Harker and Renfield, both of whom fell under Dracula’s sway. The Renfield of this film is modeled off that composite character.

Aquafina co-stars as traffic cop who would like to move up the ladder of the police force, and she’s not above using her super-naturally powered new buddy Renfield to help her to do it.

Reviews claim the movie starts with a bang but fizzles in the third act when the buddy-cop aspect of the film takes over. Hoult and particularly Cage as Dracula get high marks for their performances and the interplay between their characters.

Interestingly enough, Stoker’s biographers describe the author’s working relationship with theater owner and actor Henry Irving as the possible inspiration for the Dracula-Jonathan Harker/Renfield relationships in the novel.
» Watch the trailer

The Pope’s Exorcist

Russell Crowe and Daniel Zovatto in The Pope’s Exorcist (Sony Pictures)

Russel Crowe plays Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican’s chief exorcist in what reportedly is a fairly weak retread of the 1972 classic “The Exorcist,” which was reportedly based in part on documented exorcisms. Crowe evidently gets in some pretty good one-liners between all the icky stuff, and the film directed by Julius Avery is credited for being paced well. However, the consensus of several reviews seems to be unless you’re just a completist in terms of possession films or movies starring Crowe, this is one you can miss.
» Watch the trailer


Sean Patrick Flanery and Cameron Arnett in Nefarious (Believe Entertainment)

Sean Patrick Flannery stars as a serial killer on death row who claims to be possessed. The central question of the film is whether Flannery’s character Edward Wayne Brady is actually possessed or is he just attempting to use that confession as a means of avoiding the electric chair?

Of the two possession movies opening this weekend, that’s the more compelling plot to my mind.

Jordan Belfri plays Dr. James Martin, the psychiatrist, who extensively interviews Flannery’s Brady to determine the killer’s actual mental state.
» Watch the trailer


Everett Osborne in Sweetwater (Sunset Pictures)

If you’ve seen “Air” and are still hankering for more hoops on film, “Sweetwater” might be the movie for you. It’s about Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton who broke the NBA color barrier in 1950 with the New York Nicks along with rookies players Earl “Big Cat” Lloyd with the Washington Capitols and Chuck Cooper with the Boston Celtics. Clifton, known as Sweetwater because he enjoyed soda pop, was the first black man to sign a NBA contract.

Clifton, played by Everett Osborne, was a star for the Harlem Globetrotters when he signed with the Nicks, and the movie details his ups and downs as one of the sports true trailblazers.

The film has an excellent supporting cast including Jeremy Piven, Kevin Pollack, Richard Dreyfuss, Jim Caviezel, Cary Elwes, and Eric Roberts. Former Arkansas Razorback and current Milwaukee Buck Bobby Portis Jr. also makes a cameo appearance in the movie.

» Watch the trailer

Mafia Mama

Monica Bellucci, Toni Collette, Francesco Mastroianni, Alfonso Perugini, and Eduardo Scarpetta in Mafia Mamma (Bleecker Street)

Toni Collete stars as Kristin, a woman who is facing a mid-life crisis, a cheating husband, and an unfulfilling job when her well-heeled Italian grandfather dies, and she is contacted not only to attend the funeral but also to take over the family business.

That sounds like a fun setup to me, but reviews are absolutely trashing the film. Comedy is highly subjective. What bores one can be hilarious to another. I may still go see this.

» Watch the trailer


Suzume (Aniplex)

“Suzume” is by far the best-reviewed film debuting this week in local theaters. The movie, released last year, is already the fourth highest-grossing anime of all time worldwide. The plot features the titular character, who can see super-natural forces that others can’t, on a quest to close mysterious portals that are releasing chaotic forces across the land. The fate of all Japan rests on her shoulders as she seeks to complete her mission.

» Watch the trailer

New in Local Theaters – April 14, 2023

Renfield (R) 1 hr. 33 min. (trailer)(AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne)
The Pope’s Exorcist (R) 1 hr. 43 min. (trailer)(AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne)
Nefarious (R) 1 hr. 36 min. (trailer)(Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle)
Mafia Mamma (R) 1 hr. 41 min. (trailer)(AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle)
Suzume (PG) 2 hr. 2 min. (trailer)(AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle)
Sweetwater (PG-13) 1 hr. 58 min. (trailer)(AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle)

Classic Corner – Dracula (1931)

Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, and Dwight Frye in Dracula (Universal Pictures)

Vampires have almost become ubiquitous in pop culture. From novels to movies, to TV programs and streaming, we almost can’t swing a cat without smacking one kind of bloodsucker or the other.

While Bram Stoker wasn’t the first author to breath life into a vampire in prose, his 1897 novel “Dracula” practically codified the vampire lore in a work that has fed the imaginations of writers and filmmakers ever since.

In playing Stoker’s Prince of Darkness first on the stage and then in the 1931 Universal Pictures movie “Dracula,” the Hungarian-born actor Bela Lugosi crafted an iconic image that’s as vital today as it was 92 years ago.

Whether Lugosi’s performance is imitated, mocked, or avoided, his Dracula remains in the forefront of every writer, director, or actor who attempts to place his stamp on the character.

In the new film “Renfield,” Nicolas Cage borrows greatly from Lugosi’s performance as well as from Christopher Lee who played the Prince of Darkness in nine movies, mostly for Hammer Films.

Todd Browning’s 1931 version was supposed to star silent-film icon Lon Chaney, but the actor known as “The Man of a Thousand Faces” was diagnosed with cancer just as the film was to begin production.

Lugosi stepped into the role. Though he knew very little English and spoke his lines phonetically, Lugosi made history in the part.

The movie itself is terribly dated and like most early talkies is rather stagey. Though quite atmospheric, the movie is unlikely to scare a modern audience.

However, Lugosi’s performance is still charismatic and effective. Dwight Frye, who played supporting characters in many other Universal horror films, is excellent as the bug-eating Renfield. His distinctive, staccato laugh made Frye’s mad henchmen memorable.

Memorable enough to spark the pseudo-sequel “Renfield” that is playing in theaters now.