Castlevania: Who Is Varney?

Varney, the villain played by Malcolm McDowell in Castlevania season 4, is an enigma with a long history in vampire fiction.

Castlevania Varney
Photo: Netflix

This Castlevania article contains spoilers.

While Netflix’s Castlevania has always ultimately been about the heroes’ eternal fight against Dracula, the fourth and final season does introduce a few new villains to the mix. One of those baddies is Varney of London, a two-bit vampire who was once one of Dracula’s generals and has now made it his mission to resurrect his master. The only problem is that the foul-mouthed bloodsucker is kind of a joke, a has-been who even his vampiric cohorts don’t respect.

Voiced by the legendary Malcolm McDowell, Varney is leading a gruesome siege in the city of Targoviste, which he’d hoped to conquer and gift to Dracula before the vampire lord’s untimely death. The city lies in ruins, with the human survivors slowly starving to death in the streets while the king and queen hide underground. Varney is winning but for whom? No one cares about him.

But there’s more to Varney than what we see in the first couple of episodes of the season. Varney’s plan goes far beyond wiping out a city and killing Trevor Belmont and Sypha Belnades once and for all. He actually turns out to be the main villain, and the final boss, of the season.

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Castlevania season 4 drops its big twist in episode 9: Varney reveals that he’s actually the Grim Reaper, a vampiric being who feeds on the souls of the dead. His plan to resurrect Dracula and Lisa Tepes inside the Rebis is truly twisted. By combining their souls, which have been stuck in Hell all this time, inside one body, Death hopes to drive Dracula mad, which will cause the reborn vampire to go on a murderous rampage that will engulf the entire planet. This would mean an endless food source for the Grim Reaper. Fortunately, Trevor and his friends are able to stop this madness just in time.

Also known simply as Death itself, the Grim Reaper has been a staple of the video game series since the very start. Originally one of Dracula’s minions and a boss in 1986’s Castlevania for the NES, Death eventually became one of the main villains of the series. The Reaper’s plan to resurrect Dracula is also ripped right out of the games, especially 2005’s Curse of Darkness, which sees Death manipulate Hector and Isaac into resurrecting the Lord of Vampires. In the game, the Grim Reaper disguises himself as a priest named Zead, who aids Hector on his quest to kill Isaac. But secretly, the Reaper needs Hector to kill Isaac so that Dracula can posses the latter’s body and return to life. Like in the show, Death is ultimately defeated.

Meanwhile, although no one named “Varney” appears in the games, the character does have a long history in vampire fiction. Sir Francis Varney was first introduced in a series of penny dreadfuls titled Varney the Vampire; or, the Feast of Blood by James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett and published between 1845-1847. The series spanned 232 chapters and 876 pages, and while it isn’t remembered today as a must-read vampire story, it is responsible for many of the tropes later popularized by Bram Stoker’s Dracula and other horror classics.

Varney the Vampire was the first story to establish that vampires had fangs to puncture the necks of their victims. It was also the first story to name many of the powers vampires are known for today, such as the ability to hypnotize their prey and enhanced strength. Like Dracula, Varney likes to prey on sleeping women in the night. He’s also the source of the “sympathetic vampire” trope, a vampire who longs to be free of his vampiric curse. Examples of this trope include Morbius from the Marvel comics, Angle from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Barnabas Collins from Dark Shadows.

Unfortunately, Varney’s contributions to vampire fiction are largely overlooked these days, the character overshadowed by the much more popular Transylvanian successor he partially inspired. But at least for a few hours, Castlevania season 4 gives Varney one last chance at the limelight…even if he’s revealed to just be a disguise for someone much cooler by the end.

Castlevania is streaming on Netflix now.

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