Your Daily Dracula – Deafula (1975) Gary R. Holstrom
A unique oddity, Deafula is a low-budget, black and white vampire movie made by deaf director-writer-star Peter Wolf in Portland, Oregon. It’s in Sign-o-Vision – characters use sign language with the audio equivalent of subtitles (voice-over which doesn’t emanate from onscreen actors – though the dub for Dracula at least tries a Lugosi accent). The alternate title Young Deafula suggests a Mel Brooksian spoof and the title character looks comical in stills: boasting not only fangs and a Demon King goatee but an enormous false nose on a par with The Brainiac. However, it’s not a comedy. You can tell because it has a comic relief character, a bumbling British policeman (Dudley Hemstreet) imported to America because of his expertise on vampire cases. He isn’t very funny, but his scenes are clearly supposed to be lighter than the angsty, brooding business he interrupts.
White-wearing, hirsutely blond Steve Adams (Wolf) periodically transforms Jekyll-and-Hyde-style and bites upwards of twenty-seven people to death. The curse affects his teeth, hair colour, nose and clothes (he sprouts a cape). In an origin close to Marvel Comics’ Blade, Steve’s mother (Katherine Wilson) was bitten by Count Dracula (producer Gary R. Holstrom) while pregnant. Deafula — he even calls himself by his nickname, which is more than Blacula did — is torn between two fathers, a minister (James Randall) who signs his sermons and the arch-vampire.
To cope with his problems, Steve consults Amy (Norma Tuccinardi), an unhelpful witch whose cringing minion Zork (Nick Tuccinardi) has tin cans instead of hands (in a signing world, the equivalent of having his tongue torn out). Scotland Yard’s Inspector Butterfield teams up with a moustached cop (Lee Darrel) to trap the killer. The detectives don’t suspect their good friend Steve – though they have a long (signed) conversation about his habit of eating peanuts in their shells, later a significant clue. Dracula, for some reason, is interred in a nearby cave, where Deafula has a primal confrontation with his evil sire and his resurrected mother. After that, Deafula is overcome by religious décor in his father’s church (cf: Taste the Blood of Dracula) and lies down dead (but purged).
Wolf stretches thin resources and tries for expressionist effects, but that papier mache nose and evil beard keep dragging the film to the level of Dracula, the Dirty Old Man. It’s sincere in its commitment to the deaf community, even indicating in the end credits which of the cast and crew were hearing-impaired. Of course, Wolf couldn’t hear the soundtrack and so can’t be blamed for flat line readings (proper subtitles would have made more sense) and intermittently ominous piano score. Some action scenes – including the death in a hypnosis-induced crash of a bad biker – run silent. It’d make an interesting double bill with the even cheaper all-deaf British werewolf movie Night Stalkers.
Extract from Kim Newman’s Video Dungeon.
Great review. I quite like this film, and I’m glad to see more articles being written about it recently. 🙂
I am also interested in the British film “Night Stalkers” that you mentioned at the end of this article. Do you have any more information about it? I tried to look it up in Google, but all I see is information about the recent Netflix documentary series (which I assume is not what you are referring to). Can you point me in the right direction?
Here are two brief pieces on Night Stalkers – which may not have been seen since its one-off screening at the NFT (now BFI Southbank) in 1995. I believe the director Wayne Hargood now works in Australia/New Zealand, organising tours for the deaf.
NIGHT STALKERS (LONDON DEAF/SHAPELONDON; UK) 70 mins
Quite apart from the singularity of being made by an all-deaf team in sign language, this shot-on-video werewolf movie may, at a cost of £500, be the cheapest full-length horror film ever to get a public screening. In the near future, private eye heroine Drummond investigates a murder and learns that the victim was a werewolf, one of a secret cabal of creatures that has always owned London and which includes her hot-tempered boyfriend (Mason). Effects are limited to a single, briefly-seen mask — which is worn by two characters — and the exigencies of low-budget shooting mean, for instance, that the hero has to send someone else to the heroine’s bedside for a final declaration of love (presumably because the actor was absent the day the scene was shot). Conceptually, the film is quite ambitious, but it runs out before it can tie up all its loose ends. Considering the conditions of its making, its lack of professional qualities hardly matters.
d/p/s/c Wayne Hargood lp Petra Drummond, Michael Mason, Tyron Wolfe, Colyn Walden, Fiona Garfield, Paula Garfield, Eric Collier, Shainal Vasant, Ilan Dwek
NIGHT STALKERS (UK, 1995). At an NFT screening of this bizarre effort, someone asked director-writer-producer Wayne Hargood how much it cost and he replied ‘£500′. The audience assumed that was what it cost to arrange the screening, but Hargood corrected the impression and admitted that £500 was the entire budget of his feature-length film. Shot on video with borrowed equipment, with an all-deaf cast and subtitled dialogue in sign language, it’s about a cabal of deaf werewolves who secretly rule London and a deaf female PI who intervenes in a lycanthropic power struggle. Hargood financed the film out of his social security girocheques. By any professional standards, it’s an extremely ropey effort but taken as an entry in its genre, it is more entertaining and effective than, say, Howling VII: Mystery Woman or The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! Those movies might seem low-budget, but Hargood’s film – made on the equivalent of two weeks’ wages – demonstrates just how low you can go. Other examples of British-made, minimal finance horror film are Niall Johnson’s Bristolian vampire movie Dawn (£7000) and Enda Hughes’s Irish The Eliminator (shot on film for £8000).
Elizabeth Russell Miller
I’m always amused at the endless reworkings of a famous name . In addition to “Deafula”, we have “Bunnicula”, “Blacula”, “Spermula” – and countless of others, I’m sure. But my favorite title of all is a Frankenstein spinoff: “Frankenhooker” – with the tag line “A Tale of Sluts and Bolts.”
Frankenweenie from Tim Burton.
All not very Popula.
Wonderful! May I borrow it some time?
I’m not sure if it’s a good thing to admit, but I’ve seen those films.
‘Frankenhooker’ is actually really good when compared to many of those larger budget ones.
Then again it is from the guy who made ‘Basket Case’ and ‘Brain Damage’.
there was also the British 1960s amateur work – Return of dRACULA, DEAF-STYLE