Color, 1988, 93 mins. 4 secs.
Directed by Straw Weisman
Starring Elizabeth Mannino, David Gregory, Larry Bockius, Judith Mayes, Jerry Rector, Kevin Keraga
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Video Kart (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
Suffering from a blood phobia and nightmares about having her heart torn out, young Manhattan waitress and occasional prostitute Nora (Mannino) doesn't hesitate to accept an impulsive marriage proposal from patron John Henry Cox (Gregory). Off they go to his small town of Newbury where everyone reads Stephen King and he works as the local mortician out of his own house, which doesn't have clocks or a TV. John has some peculiar bedroom habits including a preference for a very cold bed and insisting Nora stay as still as possible, but that's just the beginning of the nightmare she soon uncovers after deciding to start snooping in the one room he declares off limits. As it turns out, John and some other visitors whose faces she can't see appear to be necrophiliacs who use his business as a cover for getting their kicks with dead bodies. Nora teams up with Evan (Rector), the grieving brother of a young woman who may be the latest in the line of dead playthings, to get to the bottom of the plot, and then... things get really crazy.
The final film produced by Lew Mishkin, son of infamous 42nd Street distributor William Mishkin and the money behind Andy Milligan's Carnage and Monstrosity, Graverobbers is a wild, colorful horror film with a quirky vein of humor including some off-the-wall dialogue and unexpected music choices. Director Straw Weisman (who wrote the legendary Fight for Your Life) evokes a strange, dreamlike atmosphere right from the outset, crafting a very low-budget (two pivotal crashes happen off screen!) but engaging film that feels like a cross between Parents and Dead and Buried. The actors don't exactly have to do anything overly challenging but acquit themselves well enough when it comes to looking terrified or spouting one liners, with Kelvin Karaga cutting the strangest figure as John's sinister hearse driver, Morley. It isn't a film for all tastes to be sure (and makes pretty much zero sense if you think about it for five seconds), but if you're in the right mood it's quite a blast.
Though shot on 35mm and handled by Mishkin's Films Around the World, Graverobbers was first widely distributed as a straight-to-VHS release from Prism under the title Dead Mate (complete with a memorable cover photo and the tagline, "Don't kiss me, I'm not dead... yet." It later turned up on DVD in 2003 from Video Kart paired up on a double bill with Monstrosity and made the rounds as a streaming title afterwards. None of those versions looked all that great, looking overly bright with dull colors and opened-up framing that gave it a cheap TV feel.
To put it mildly, the 2018 dual-format release from Vinegar Syndrome feels like a totally different and far more polished film courtesy of a new 2K scan from the original negative. The much richer appearance benefits from deep blacks and properly calibrated colors (the blood's red at last) while the 1.85:1 framing is much easier on the eyes throughout. It's a real beauty, and optional English subtitles (with some occasionally amusing typos) are provided for the LPCM 2.0 English audio. This is also the longest version to date, running at the correct film speed and clocking in at just over 93 minutes versus the 89m23s version that's been out before. Weisman turns up for a very brief optional intro (26s) before the film, an audio commentary moderated by Joe Rubin, and an interview featurette, "Digging Up the Past" (18m50s). Between the extras he explores his colorful career including film marketing stints at Cannon and New World (including Godzilla 1985 and The Last American Virgin), his gigs on sex loops including what sounds like writing the Kim Pope inserts for Penetration (Mishkin's phony X version of So Sweet, So Dead), his wife's role in the inspiration behind the story (not the way you'd think), the three-week shoot in upstate New York, the safe sex culture in '88 that inspired the most memorable line of dialogue. A long, rare, and very spoiler-crammed video trailer (3m30s) is also included.
Reviewed on June 22, 2018.