What a great exploitation idea: the Marines vs. Charlie Manson. The sentence alone should have grossed $50 million, right? Not in 1985. Not by a long shot. Yet, somehow Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except managed to sear straight into its audience’s brain cells to garner something of a cult following. Maybe it’s because the film was made from the same grindhouse Detroit gearheads that assembled The Evil Dead and Intruder. Whether through its B-movie violence or its backyard Super 8 “anything goes” styling, Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except and its message of violence on the home front resonates enough in 2012 to find its way onto High-Definition.
Riffing a bit on Chuck Norris in Missing in Action, Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except begins knee-deep in the tropical foliage of Vietnam. We’re talking 1969. For about 12 minutes of the film we are with a group of foul-mouthed soldiers who’ve become fast friends. In a sudden attack, Marine Sergeant Jack Stryker (Brian Schulz) finds himself wounded in the leg and sent back home to Michigan.
Once back home, there’s some drama with his girlfriend (Cheryl Hausen) because he doesn’t want to be seen as a cripple, but more importantly are the headlines concerning a sorta thrill kill cult. In a few short months, the whole military mojo reassembles as Michigan militants to take down the group of blood-hungry wack-a-doos, led by a natty-headed scenery chewing Sam Raimi, who shout their blood ritual nonsense to the heavens.
With a tiny budget that even a microscope couldn’t identify, director Josh Becker and his wrecking crew have created a cinematic bloodbath that is as ambitious as it is demented. There’s a good story kicking about in here – as muddy as it is – that gets sacked by cheesy effects and some awful acting. Easy to ding, right? Well, this is B-movie territory (maybe even C or D) and the subpar quality is to be expected. One either rolls with the ham-fisted punches are leaves the movie alone for another glass-wearing geek to discover.
Righteously grisly and seriously flawed, the movie is also a bit of a glorious mess of odds and ends that should give hope to any independent filmmaker out there scratching around to find his or her movie a budget. Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except might only be for gorehounds and meatheads who like their violence a bit on the slapstick side of things, but Raimi’s performance isn’t to be missed.
For what it is, Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except is pretty potent trash cinema.
MPAA Rating: this title has not been rated by the MPAA.
Director: Josh Becker
Writer: Josh Becker
Cast: Robert Rickman; John Manfredi; Timothy Patrick Quill; Sam Raimi Cheryl Hausen
Genre: Action | War
Tagline: When Violence Demands Revenge.
Memorable Movie Quote: "You can't shoot me. I am the Savior returned to Earth, The Messiah, come to lead the people to righteousness. I am Jesus Christ."
Distributor: Film World Distributors
Home Video Distributor: Anchor Bay Entertainement
Release Date: October 13, 1985
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: April 10, 2012
Synopsis: Jack Stryker took two bullets in the leg in Vietnam and was carried back by one of his men. When he returns he tries to live a peaceful life in his cabin and resume dating his girlfriend.
English SDH, French, Spanish (less)
English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German SDH (less)
Available on Blu-ray - April 10, 2012
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); DVD copy
Originally shot in 1985 on grimy 16mm stock film, Synapse Films has remastered the picture as best they can for its 1080p presentation. For a thirty year old film stored in super poor conditions, the transfer looks pretty sharp. In fact, the actual picture – grainy as it is - probably looks like it did during its short theatrical run. No signs of any artificial tweaking of the quality. No unnatural effects added; this is the original warts and all. There’s a limit to just how sparkling this grunge can look and, for those of you who want pretty, pretty pictures only, it certainly isn’t the best-looking blu-ray. It is what it is, you know? This is grimy grindhouse-type quality. The colors are a bit more saturated and pop with greens and red and the skin tones are a bit on the pale side of things. The cool part is that Synapse has cleaned the print free of dust and debris and any sort of damage to the actual film. There’s not a single scratch to be found here. Not one. It’s a good effort all around. The sound, presented here in a rambunctious two-channel mono Master Audio track, won’t rattle the house or cause hearing damage, but suits the film best to complete the experience.
- Two! Ain’t that grand! The first track puts director Josh Brecker with Bruce Campbell. Why? Because Campbell served as producer, writer, sound guy, and maybe editor on the film. Yeah, he pretty much did everything except act in it because of his SAG registration. Campbell and Becker are good together and take great pride in the film. They talk of the effects they swiped from The Evil Dead and training a dog with potato chips.
- The second commentary isn’t as interesting or as funny, but it does have insight from actor Brian Schulz and Michale Felsher. The two talk about being in the trenches during the Detroit film scene and what it was like on the location of the film. It’s interesting as a conversation and contains some golden nuggets of production anecdotes.
Synapse Films has, once again, outdone themselves with this release. After the two commentaries, they have included the original version – Stryker’s War – which starred Bruce Campbell. Hilarious and just as bloody, Stryker’s War is a good blueprint for Thou Shalt Not Kill….Except. If there is one supplemental feature you should check out, it should be this one.
The Making of Thou Shalt Not Kill is a half-hour retrospect anchored by great interviews from writer/director Josh Becker, co-writer/producer Scott Spiegel, and just about all of the main cast. Full of great information (including the original 200 plus page screenplay), this is a strong featurette. Remember, the film was made at the height of the Rambo craze, so the team was wanting to capitalize on its momentum. An interview with Bruce Campbell follows. It was originally recorded in 2007, but the material is good…even if you are familiar with some of his anecdotes. My favorite is next; a deleted puking scene. It is what it is; so gross it offended audiences and managed to get cut and somehow saved. Thank the lord.
- The Making of Thou Shalt Not Kill (30 min)
- Interview with Bruce Campbell (9 min)
- Deleted Puking Scene (1 min)
- Alternate Title Sequence (1 min)