Dead Mate AKA Graverobbers (1988)

Don’t Kiss Me, I’m Not Dead…Yet.

Cover image to 1988's Dead Mate

Small town waitress Nora (Elizabeth Mannino, in her one and only acting role) suffers from recurring nightmares of violence that are so real, they can not be distinguished from reality. Perhaps sleep deprivation is to blame for her irrational decision to accept the marriage proposal of Henry Cox (bit actor David Gregory), a man that she has met only minutes before. They run away together to his hometown of Newbury, and are immediately wed in the funeral home that he owns, with a number of his oddball friends in attendance. Nora finds that life in Newbury is a bit different than what she’s used to. Everyone is friendly, but also secretive and just a little off. They’re all hiding something—something like a sick sexual desire for the dead, and she’s the next piece of meat to be passed around!

With solid low-budget effects and a memorable new wave soundtrack, DEAD MATE is a treat for the eyes and ears. It’s wacky, tacky, sick, twisted, and quite amusing, and won’t have mass appeal—but those who like it will probably love it.

DEAD MATE has such a perfect exploitation hook that I can’t believe it took until 1988 for someone to come up with it: An entire town of necrophiles? It’s solid grindhouse gold! The execution is somewhat different than one might imagine, however, and it may turn some people away. I, for one, loved nearly every minute of it.

The necrophiles from 1988's Dead Mate

Everything about this film is off-kilter, presumably by design. Action, dialogue, character motivation—it’s all filtered through a strange spectrum of dreamy atmosphere and nightmare logic. Is this scene real? Was that scene just one of Nora’s nightmares? Did any of this actually happen? Nora has difficulty separating reality from her dreams, and it’s not really made all that easy for us, either.

There’s also a dark, quirky sense of humor that crops up from time to time. For instance, when Nora is running for her life and struggling to find the proper key to her getaway vehicle, she still makes time to quip as if she were a game show contestant competing to win a new car. The most infamous moment, though, comes when Henry’s group is prepping for a little sex with the dead. “Best of all she’s safe,” he says. “It’s safe sex now, because we can’t get AIDS from dead people.” There are other examples, too, some of which may very well be unintentional.

Nora spying in 1988's Dead Mate

There are a number of good gore gags to be found here, too, all of them practical FX and straight out of the Italian Zombie Film Handbook. Keep an eye out for some gut ripping, some zombie biking, and a truly memorable death scene involving a bell tower. There’s so much fun to be had!

The FX were done by a team of men who had varying degrees of success. Tom Martinek appears to have taken the cake, though, as he went digital for Industrial Light & Magic and garnered credits on the 1997 rereleases of STAR WARS (1977) and RETURN OF THE JEDI (1979), TWISTER (1996), JURASSIC PARK: THE LOST WORLD (1997), PACIFIC RIM (2013), and scads of others. Talk about a big step up!

The soundtrack is comprised of punky/new wave tunes, a few of which are pretty amazing. “Die Young” by Shawn Casey O’Brien & the Cripples is the stand-out track, and one that I would likely listen to even out of context of the film.

O’Brien wasn’t just being uncouth when he named his band the Cripples. It’s a name he took from his own life experience, as he walks with crutches due to cerebral palsy. Their first hint of  success came with the song “I’m Your Cripple”, but their biggest break came from an unlikely source. O’Brien hitched a ride in a car that turned out to be driven by Bob Dylan, and Dylan passed a Cripples tape onto his manager Jerry Weintraub, who signed them on. They performed successfully for years, and saw their music appear in the Al Pacino film CRUISING as well as in DEAD MATE. After a run-in with a restaurant that was not following disabled parking guidelines, O’Brien decided to shift his energies to a more overtly political channel, becoming an advocate and educator. In the 1990s, he founded the Unique People’s Voting Project, which sought to give the disabled a voice both in and out of the voting both, and has recently published a book entitled For the Love of Longshots: A Memoir on Democracy.

Corpse relations from 1988's Dead Mate

DEAD MATE was written and directed by Straw Weismann, who worked on a few other scarcely-seen features in those capacities, but achieved a bit more success as a producer of the TOOLBOX MURDERS remake (2004), THE PUMPKIN KARVER (2006), THE ALPHABET KILLER (2008), and THE SOUND AND THE FURY (2014), among others. That’s all fine and good, but I wish he had delivered the sequel to this film, MORLEY’S REVENGE, that the closing credits promised, which would presumably focus on Henry Cox’s unstoppable limo driver.

Oh, how glorious that would be!


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