Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Deafula – review

vhsDirector: Peter Wolf

Release date: 1975

Contains spoilers

Deafula was the first and only, as far as I am aware, movie to be shot entirely with sign language. By this I don’t mean someone superimposed in the corner signing, I mean that each actor communicated only in sign. Later the producers added a voice-over track, but as sign has a different grammatical structure to spoken English they made it a literal translation and, I assume, also added the sparse soundtrack to the proceedings also.

The film is therefore quite different to anything else out there and the vampirism is just as odd. Things surround Steve Adams (Peter Wolf) a young man who flips between his daily persona of a preacher’s son (and trainee preacher himself) into that of Deafula… a vampire with a thirst for blood.

puppy munchingWe actually get scenes of his childhood. Of him listening to his father’s sermons (James Randal playing the preacher). Of the idea that he must be transfused monthly with his father’s blood and of him with a puppy. Now, forget the scene with the kitten in Count Yorga, Vampire, what we get here is much more disturbing – helped by the eeriness of the sparse to none existent soundtrack (there is, in fairness, a piano over this moment). We see a young Steve (Von Wechsberg), a blond haired child, with the cutest puppy the filmmakers could find. The resultant attack is quite disturbing.

The detectives with SteveWhilst this is going on a Detective (Lee Darel), who was a childhood friend of Steve, has been saddled with Detective Butterfield (Dudley Hemstreet), over from England. Now here we had one of my issues with the film, they had 27 murders and Butterfield (who seems to be a comedy relief character) is convinced it was a vampire. Why? Because he has dealt with such in England – he actually staked Dracula (Gary R Holmstrom). The problem is that the number of victims seems to shift, without any clear arithmetic logic, and Dracula is in America, albeit with a stake through the heart, and has been for some time it seems.

with the bikerThe film is weird, there is no doubt about that. Steve is an all round good guy, though he is very aware of what he really is. At one point he is attacked by a biker and turns into Deafula (he actually uses the name at one point). Now we note here the rather fake beard, the large fake nose, the unnecessary cape. It could all be a bit preposterous but, as this is meant to be a visual experience, it becomes clear that it is self caricature. Some mojo causes the biker to tie his gal to the bike, ride out until he finds a cliff and go over it. The sequence lasts quite a while and is all the more off kilter as there is absolutely no sound.

Steve and his dadSo why does Steve turn into Deafula (a vampire who can go out in the daylight)? His father only knows that Steve’s mother (Katherine Wilson) died during childbirth and that a friend, Amy (Played young by Cindy Whitney and old by Norma Tuccinardi), got the child to a doctor. The doctor and a specialist discovered he had a rare blood disease and the transfusions began from birth. Amy has recently contacted the preacher but his heart gives out before he and Steve can reach her. Steve goes alone.

Nick Tuccinardi as ZorkAmy has a servant, Zork (Nick Tuccinardi). Zork cannot speak – and in a world where speech is achieved through sign that means he has no hands. Incidentally I should mention that there are text telephones used in the film. She also has a ring, it vanishes when Steve turns into Deafula and reappears when back to normal. It seems her mother was carrying on with Dracula and Steve is the son of both the preacher and the master vampire.

Dracula in coffinSteve goes to find his father in darkness, unstakes him and demands to see his mother – which Dracula allows. However things do not go to plan and Steve restakes the vampire with his mother’s help – an act that causes her to crumble to dust (her life clearly only available through Dracula). However Butterfield is closing in on the killer, in other words Steve.

I am DeafulaLore wise I have mentioned mojo, staking and the need for blood. Holy items also cause pain and burn the vampire on contact. I should mention the death of Deafula as it is the only example of a vamprie dying by soliloquy that I can think of. Seriously, it involves a long speech and is actually a redemption level thing but, of course, made all the stranger as this long speech is in sign with literal translation for the voice over.

Peter Wolf as SteveSo is this a good film? Not really, the story is bizarre and not necessarily in a good way. The idea of the child effected by darkness, as laid out, is quite interesting and pre-empts other genre examples but the false nosed vampire is too silly. However there is something compelling. Perhaps it is because this is clearly a labour of love, perhaps it is because – as a hearing viewer – I was offered a glimpse, albeit surreally, into a world I am unfamiliar with. I don’t want to score this at less than 5 out of 10 because, whilst it is flawed there is that compelling aspect. Probably one, however, for completists and damn difficult to get hold of.

The imdb page is here.


Edna Sweetlove said...

Sounds good.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Edna said "Sounds good."I'll pardon the pun, as it were, and if you'll pardon one, good to hear from you Edna.