• Grave Robbers



    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: June 26th, 2018.
    Director: Straw Weisman
    Cast: Elizabeth Manino, David Gregory, Larry Bockius, Kelvin Keraga, Jerry Rector
    Year: 1988
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    Also known as Dead Mate, 1988’s Grave Robbers was written and directed by Straw Reissman (who was an associate producer on 1977’s notorious Fight For Your Life), and this movie is truly in a league of its own. Filled with the kind of dialogue bad movie fans can only dream of, this unbelievably wonky production tells the tale of a small-town waitress named Nora Mae Edwards (Elizabeth Manino). She’s a former hooker now working as a waitress at a diner. After waking from a recurring nightmare one morning, she heads to work just like she would on any other day. Shortly after her shift starts, she’s hit on by a creepy condom salesman but quickly brushes him aside when she’s wooed almost instantly by handsome John Henry Cox (David Gregory) … who she just refers to as Henry (she’s known too many John’s, she tells him!). Before you know it, he’s proposed, she’s said yes and they’re being driving in his limo to a small town a hundred miles or so up the interstate.

    Of course, Nora didn’t think to really ask Henry what he does for a living, where all his money came from or really much of anything. She was just tired of being lonely and broke so she jumped at the chance and, obviously, we soon learn there are consequences for such rash behavior. She’s greeted by most of the townsfolk – the local sheriff, the minister, a weird Edith Massey-esque woman who runs the diner and even the town librarian – but it doesn’t take her long to get a weird feeling about her new life. When she learns first hand the Henry and many of the others in town have a rather unorthodox relationship with the dead, she teams up with Evan Matthews (Jerry Rector) to try and expose the goings on and escape with their lives intact – but then there’s Henry and his weird chauffeur Morley (Kelvin Keraga) to contend with.

    The final film to have been produced by Lew Mishkin (a man responsible for a some of Andy Milligan’s later-era output) and show on location upstate New York, Grave Robbers is enjoyably goofy stuff. To be fair, the first time I saw the film I didn’t care much for it, laughing at it rather than with it, but re-evaluating the picture brings to light the fact that the picture is quite deliberate with its twisted humor. There are some minor pacing issues here and there and there’s a fairly drastic shift in tone that occurs in the last twenty-minutes or so of the film, but if you’re in the right frame of mind for it this is pretty entertaining. Don’t misunderstand, this is no masterpiece and it was clearly made with a modest budget, but Weisman’s picture does manage to hold our attention, even when it wastes too much time allowing out pretty heroine to simply wander around town meeting quirky characters we already know are out to get her.

    The performances are fun. Elizabeth Manino, who looks like a cross between Lara Flynn Boyle and Courtney Cox, does well enough in the lead. She plays confused well enough, and she’s fun to look at. More amusing is David Gregory as Henry. It’s not a shock to learn that he’s up to something, we know as soon as he walks into that diner that he’s up to no good, but he plays the part really well, turning his character into the type of weird, oddball guy you’d expect to have grown up in a funeral home. The real scene stealer here, however, is Kelvin Keraga as Morley the chauffeur. He’s a man of few words but he’s awesome in the part – especially in the film’s ridiculously over the top final chase.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Grave Robbers comes to Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome on a 50GB disc framed at 1.85.1 widescreen taken from a new 2k restoration of the film’s original 35mm negative, and it looks great. There are some faint scratches here and there and some small white specks pop up now and then but overall the picture quality is quite clean and very film-like. Detail is very strong throughout and color reproduction looks spot on. We get nice black levels with good shadow detail, important in the later parts of the film, and the disc is free of any obvious compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction issues. All in all, this feels very authentic and true to source – it looks great.

    The only audio option for the feature is a DTS-HD Mono track in the film’s native English. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. No issues here. The dialogue is pretty clean and clear. There are few muffled lines now and again but these likely stem back to the original elements. The score and off the wall soundtrack selections sound quite good. There aren’t any issues with hiss or distortion worth noting.

    Extras start off with an audio Commentary track with writer/director Straw Weisman moderated by Joe Rubin. The tracks starts off discussing the origins of the project, where the idea came from, how Mishkin came to produce it, budgetary restraints and how they impacted the pre-production and writing, the locations and more. He also talks about the different cast and crew members that he collaborated with on the picture, how the prick on Nora’s finger affects her decision to marry Henry, the elements of social satire that are in the film, the independent film scene of the time and what it was like being a part of that, the music that is used in the film, and how Weisman feels about his own personal style as a director, including how he deals with actors and how he preps for a shoot. At one point he even brings up porn actor Bobby Astyr! Lots of ground covered here, it’s an interesting track.

    From there, we get an eighteen-minute featurette entitled Digging Up The Past which is an on camera interview with Straw Weisman. Here the soft spoken filmmaker talks about how he got into independent filmmaking, how he came to New York in the early seventies and some of the projects he was involved with during that time, how he got into writing films, different people that he encountered along his career trajectory, working on ‘inserts’ for other movies, and quite a bit more. There’s a little bit of crossover here with the commentary but not much, and as such this stands as its own interesting piece.

    Outside of that we get a quick director's introduction, a lengthy video promo trailer, menus and chapter selection. As this is a combo pack release we also get a DVD version of the movie and the disc also comes packaged with some nice reversible cover art,

    The Final Word:

    Grave Robbers is screwy enough to work, thanks to a fairly absurd premise, some effective black comedy and a few appropriately weird performances. Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray release looks and sounds quite nice – and it’s a got a few decent extra features as well.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!