Thou Shall Not Kill... Except
Director - Josh Becker
Cast - Brian Schulz, Sam Raimi, Tim Quill
Country of Origin - USA
Discs - 2
MSRP - $29.95
Distributor - Synapse
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
The Film (3.5/5)
There is a (very) small sub genre of exploitation filmmaking that seemed to take hold in the late 70's/early 80's. The Vietnam Veteran Revenge subgenre. This subgenre can be seen to have taken root with the first Rambo outing First Blood, and the Paul Schrader scripted Rolling Thunder. Suddenly there were filmmakers such as James Glickenhaus (The Exterminator) and Buddy Giovinazzo (Combat Shock) taking up the gauntlet and making their own contributions.
And then we have Josh Becker and his contribution Thou Shall Not Kill… Except.
Josh Becker was one of the guys who worked on the crew of the Evil Dead going back with them to their Junior High School days when they were just a rag tag bunch of 8mm film making aficionados. So when Evil Dead got made, and a chance to make another film was a likely possibility Josh stepped out. Thou Shall Not Kill… Except would be his first feature would be based on a story he came up with a number of years before, but had fine-tuned with actor Bruce Campbell on the truck drive back from the Evil Dead shoot.
Yeah, this film has a pretty awesome pedigree.
The film follows Sgt. Stryker a Marine who finds himself home from the war after a raid on a village leaves him with a injured leg, and the limp that comes with it. Stryker soon reunites with both his girlfriend Sally (Cheryl Hausen) and 3 surviving Marine buddies. The reunions both start nice and fun until Sally is kidnapped by a Manson-esque cult leader, (Sam Raimi) who along with his cult of bloodthirsty maniacs have taken residence in the woods surrounding Stryker's cabin. This leaves Stryker and his VFW brigade to save Sally, with a handful of weapons that Stryker keeps conveniently in a trunk under his bed.
Simply put Thou Shall Not Kill... Except’s premise is the Manson Family vs. The Marines, and if that isn't a concept that sells you the movie, I don't know what will. It is rare that a film comes even close to being as fun as the concept on the package, and Thou Shall Not Kill... Except is definitely one of those films. It could be said the film isn't perfect, it's a bit slow in patches, and some of the performances aren't great, but this is exploitation territory, and that's to be expected.
That being said, the performances that are good, aren’t just good they’re over the top, and fun in every way you could want in a B-Movie of this caliber. Of course stealing the show is Evil Dead director Sam Raimi as the cult leader. Prior to seeing this I had only seen Sam act in Scott Spiegel's late to the party (but still supremely awesome) slasher Intruder, and was highly impressed by the talent on display. Is he some secret Sir Lawrence Olivier, no, but he knows how to get into a role, and have fun with it, and that is on display full force in Thou Shall Not Kill... Except. He doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, but Raimi shows a great penchant for really campy over the top physical acting.
Then we have Brian Schulz as Sgt. Stryker, a role originally written for Evil Dead leading man Bruce Campbell (He had just gotten his SAG card, and thus couldn't participate). You would think filling Bruce Campbell's shoes would be difficult to fill, but Schulz really does a fantastic job of it. Schulz' charismatic presence helps to make the role infinitely watchable, and a character that would be a cookie cutter war vet into someone worth rooting for.
Thou Shall Not Kill... Except was shot on a budget of roughly $20,000 and while it does show, every bit of it is up on the screen. The film starts out a bit slow, but when Becker amps up the violence quotient from the early scenes in Vietnam (err Rural Michigan), to the films blood soaked final 20 minutes, you will know exactly why you’re ass is in your seat, and your eyes glued to the screen.
Thou Shall Not Kill... ...Except is a rollicking splattery blend of films like Rolling Thunder and I Drink Your Blood. It is a low budget action horror film that although it was made by the team responsible for the Evil Dead has been under seen for far too long. It is a film that overcomes it's extremely low budget to become an awesome action horror hybrid that most horror fans should enjoy.
If you're an fan of exploitation and horror films then you know when Synapse Films picks up one of your favorites than it is in the best hands possible to offer the best looking home video editions, and that is definitely the case with the Synapse Blu-ray edition of Thou Shall Not Kill... ...Except. Synapse has presented the film in a fantastic looking 1:66:1 Pillarboxed 1080p HD transfer, and the results pretty accurately reflect the actual look of the film. Thou Shall Not Kill, will never be consider anything but a low budget 16mm affair, but the look of it has been accurately replicated on this disc. The presentation is cleaned up nicely with lots of detail present, flesh tones are accurate, and a healthy level of natural film grain throughout.
The audio is presented with solid DTS-HD Master Audio track. Which sounds as good as the movie looks. The sound effects, music, and dialogue are mixed well. I did not find any instances of any audio issues like pops or hissing on the track.
Synapse Films have put together a fairly epic package for their release of Thou Shall Not Kill... Except. The disc kicks off with 2 Audio Commentaries with first ported over from the old Anchor Bay DVD, and featuring Josh Becker and Bruce Campbell chatting over the film, the 2nd newly recorded for this release featuring Sgt. Stryker himself Brian Schulz in a commentary moderated by Red Shirt pictures main man Michael Felsher. We then have a Red Shirt produced documentary Made in Michigan : The Making of Thou Shall Not Kill... Except. This a really interesting short documentary piece interviewing the key players involved in making the film, and although it's severely lacking in the Sam Raimi department (he might be a bit busy these days), it's certainly got all the bases covered.
We then have the original Super 8mm short film Stryker's War remastered in HD from the original elements, and damn this is entertaining. This is the 45 minute blue print for the film that Josh Becker used to raise funding for the finished product. This is essentially the Within The Woods for this film, and it is really entertaining to see how Campbell would have played the part should he have been in the finished feature. This is followed up with a short interview with the Chin himself Bruce Campbell, and while some of the information here is mentioned in prior supplements Bruce himself manages to keep it entertaining. The disc is rounded off with with The deleted puke scene with optional commentary from Josh Becker, an alternate opening title sequence, and the original theatrical trailer.
Thou Shall Not Kill… Except is an awesome slice of horror action mayhem from director Josh Becker and the boys behind the Evil Dead films. Thou Shou Not Kill... Except is an under seen classic of the horror genre, that has seen a massive restoration from the awesome film restoration artist at Synapse Films. If you've never seen this film before this release is the place to start. If you've seen it before, you have never seen it look so good, or come with this many extra features. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.