Nora Mae doesn’t really like her life as a waitress, so when a mysterious stranger comes into the diner and offers her a life of luxury in exchange for her hand in marriage, she promptly agrees. But her new husband John Henry Cox gets even weirder than his suggestive name; he owns a funeral home, and other than all of the dreadful activities a mortician has to engage in, Nora Mae also finds out that he kind of likes to have sex with dead people. And so does the rest of the town, because they all help set up untimely deaths for passersby and then partake in the necrophiliac orgies. Nora Mae realizes she’s the next victim, and she does not want anything done to her dead body. Nor does she want to be dead – I guess I should have started with that.
AKA: Dead Mate
Director: Straw Weisman
Actors: Elizabeth Mannino, David Gregory, Jerry Rector, Larry Bockius
Release date: 1988 (original) / 2018 (Blu-ray)
Straw Weisman’s 1988 horror film Grave Robbers, also known by its other moniker Dead Mate (which is actually a pretty good pun), is a strange film, and very few people would ever categorize it as a truly good watch. For starters, many won’t see the humor inherent in this film about having sex with dead bodies; necrophilia is a taboo subject that goes beyond just the sex, because rarely do we ever talk about death without a severe stigma attached to it. Grave Robbers takes death lightheartedly and also mockingly, and it’s hard to rectify that with Weisman’s fairly serious script. But once the viewer is in on the joke, the film becomes an enjoyable ride that really doesn’t stop even during its finale, often twisting the story until the conclusion leaves viewers without an inkling of what to believe.
Weisman starts things off with a very abrupt romantic meeting between Nora Mae (Elizabeth Mannino) and John Henry Cox (David Gregory) – basically, they get married right away and head off to Cox’s funeral home, where he gives Nora Mae all the pampering in the world and, occasionally, some rough kinky sex. From the beginning it’s clear that Grave Robbers has no real intention of operating with realistic dynamics; it also doesn’t help that Mannino is a pretty poor actress, delivering her lines with a lack of interest so perfect that it almost seems like she must be doing it on purpose. But these tone-deaf moments add to the film’s charms, and as the story gets stranger, Nora Mae’s lack of emotions becomes more hilarious at every turn.
Grave Robbers‘ plot is sloppy, and it rarely makes sense or explains its ideas in-depth. It centers around a town that seems to like having sex with dead bodies, going so far as to set up accidents to get a fresh supply. Sometimes it seems like Cox turns the dead into zombies, other times the film tries to showcase the weird sex antics that happen with these decaying beings; overall, it’s unclear exactly the kind of Herbert Westian experiments Cox is cooking up, but it doesn’t really matter: the main crux is that the dead are being dug up, abused, and sexually exploited, all potentially because they wouldn’t be able to transmit AIDS like a living person could.
The ending of the film seems to indicate that all of this may have been a bad dream, concluding with a documentary-esque wrap-up that gives a brief synopsis of what the characters went on to do. It’s sort of a cop-out, it’s could be considered a letdown, but ultimately it’s all in line with the absurdity that Weisman has introduced throughout Grave Robbers. Some could call it vapid or pointless, but this cult classic deserves to be seen – it’s funny, unpredictable, and politically incorrect enough to cater to everyone searching for the next tasteless film.
There’s not a lot of violence throughout Grave Robbers but there is a pretty hilarious beheading scene, plus a few live disembowelments. It’s all practical, bloody, and goopy.
Lots of pictures of nudity and sex in a book about sexual perversions that Nora reads, and then there’s a quick bath scene that gives just a peak of Mannino’s breasts. There’s also a fairly extensive look at a “dead” woman’s breasts on the morgue table.
- Elizabeth Mannino’s only credit.
- Straw Weisman wrote a lot of film taglines before writing and directing this work.
- David Gregory had quite a few bit parts in the ’60s before doing this film, and he didn’t act after it. Ouch.
• Region free Blu-ray/DVD combo
• Newly scanned and restored in 2k from 35mm camera negative
• Commentary track with writer/director Straw Weisman
• “Digging Up the Past” – interview with Straw Weisman
• Director’s introduction
• Original video trailer
• Reversible cover
• English SDH subtitles
Vinegar Syndrome has released Grave Robbers in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, and the video is a new 2k scan from the 35mm camera negative. The film looks quite good with a clear, crisp picture featuring a medium-heavy grain and a nice color palette. Clarity is high and detail is excellent; one notable aspect, though, is the tendency for bright lights and whites to take on a bleary, hazy quality. Otherwise, though, Grave Robbers looks great and I’m going to venture to guess that this will be the best release of the film we’ll ever get.
Grave Robbers gets a DTS-HD 1.0 mono track, which has no flaws despite a slight muffled quality to dialogue, and it’s entirely possible that this was always a problem with this low-budget release. The synth score sounds vibrant and this is a perfectly good audio track for this release. English subtitles are also included.
This release lacks a ton of special features most likely due to the lack of interest from the cast and crew, but Vinegar Syndrome was able to track down Straw Weisman to offer up a few new elements. He gives a very quick introduction to the film, about 30 seconds, that prepares audiences for what they’re about to view. He also has put together an audio commentary for the film, and then he provides an 18 minute featurette about his work in filmmaking (and briefly, porn) as well as some more in-depth discussion about this film. A video trailer is also included.
The package itself comes with reversible cover art and a limited edition slipcover for the first 1500 units. This is definitely a package worth checking out, especially just to see this lost cult film.