Deafula (1975)

The first — and as far as I know only — horror film shot using American Sign Language, I’ve been looking for Deafula for a long time to see just how weird it is. The good news is that it’s totally strange and exactly what I hoped that it would be. In truth, it’s also the first ASL film ever made.

It was written and directed by — and stars — Peter Wechsberg, using the stage name Peter Wolf. As a student at the deaf-friendly Gallaudet University, he went on to be in the National Theater of the Deaf. In the world of Deafula, everyone is deaf.

Steve Adams (Wolf) is a theology student who starts to believe that he’s a vampire. His best friend, a detective, has hired an inspector who has already battled — and defeated — Dracula to discover who is behind the 27 murders that have already gone done.

Man, there’s so much weirdness in here that I barely know where to start. Steve has always been a vampire and his preacher father has been able to feed him with his blood until his heart gives way. Steve’s mother also left his father for Dracula and sleeps in his grave, while her mother’s best friend Amy — who disappeared many years ago — has a magic ring that tells her when Steve is a bat. Where has she been? Oh, she’s just been living with a handless servant named Zork.

This is the only movie I’ve seen where a vampire prays to God to forgive him.

While this movie was originally silent, they later dubbed it for hearing audiences, adding a really bad Bela Lugosi impression for Dracula.

Wechsberg signed an agreement with the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to receive twelve copies of the film to show it to audiences. They would eventually bootleg the movie and start sending out VHS tapes, so the creator of this film had to sue the U.S. government for stealing from him.

This is worth tracking down if only to see how a deaf creator sees vampirism.

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