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.