Blu-ray Review: THOU SHALT NOT KILL... EXCEPT

J Hurtado, Contributing Writer
Synapse Films' Intruder was one of the finest Blu-ray releases of 2011, and they've followed it up with another of the films from the Michigan Mafia, Josh Becker's Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except. Becker was in charge of the lighting on Sam Raimi's breakout feature, The Evil Dead. That small core crew of people went on to make a huge impression on the low budget feature world. The group includes such exploitation favorites as the Raimi Brothers (Sam, Ted, Ivan), Becker (Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except), Scott Spiegel (dir. Intruder, writer Evil Dead 2), Bruce Campbell (Bruce Fucking Campbell), and producer Rob Tapert. Together they've done everything from the Evil Dead series, to Zena: Warrior Princess, to Spider-Man, to Alien Apocalypse and beyond. Truly one of the most fruitful artistic extended partnerships in the history of exploitation cinema.

Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except was Becker's first feature, and while it is extremely entertaining, it definitely shows a bit of an unsteady hand. I really enjoyed the film, based on a Super 8 short called Stryker's War starring Bruce Campbell, for what it was, a gory, bloody, over the top exploitation film on a nickel budget. There's no hiding the seams on this film, it looks and is very cheaply made. However, Becker's team help to make this film, in all of it's goofy shoestring glory, a rapid fire blast of exploitative fun.

The film opens on an Army team in 'Nam, they've suffered through some serious shit, but several manage to make it out alive, including Sgt. Stryker. Stryker is a bit worse for the wear, with nothing but a bum leg and a loyal dog to show for his work. He gets home and begins to try and put his life back together, including getting back together his girl from high school. Just when things are getting back to normal, his remaining Army buddies show up to shoot the shit, and some guns. When a local nutzoid cult leader kidnaps his girlfriend, the old soldiers are back on the hunt, and they won't stop until everyone responsible is dead.

I'm not going to say that the film is well acted, particularly well shot, or even well written, but it is definitely a lot of fun. If you can take your films with a grain of salt, you'll find a lot to love about Thou Shalt Not. The cast is pretty mediocre, and I must admit, I much preferred Campbell's performance in the original short to Brian Schulz's in the feature, but I've seen worse, and Schulz definitely does what he needs to to make the film work. What makes it work so well is the general insanity and over the top nature of everything, especially the action. 

There are numerous fight sequences that look like they were choreographed by a high school drama club, but none is so entertaining as a barroom brawl than occurs about halfway in. Ridiculous punches are thrown left and right, and very few even pretend to connect. There are a ton of wacky body-blow foley effects that made me laugh out loud and their preposterousness, and the action (choreography credited to co-star and "martial artist" John Manfredi) is so bad it's awesome.

If you can overlook the fact that it take two thirds of the film's 90 minute runtime to get into revenge mode, I think you'll be rewarded mightily. Sam Raimi, in an unrecognizably dubbed performance as a cult leader who thinks he's Jesus, is an absolute hoot in an unhinged performance for the ages. The action in the final third of this film goes so out of control, that there are times when it is hard to keep from giggling, but in that good way. There is no way that a fan of silly trash/action cinema won't find something to love about Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except, and I count myself among that number. Definitely recommended.

The Disc:

Synapse Films Blu-ray/DVD combo release of Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except rivals their very impressive release of Intruder from last year. The Blu-ray release was delayed a few weeks in order to correct some ugly inconsistencies in the HD transfer, and the wait was definitely worth it. This is among the nicest 16mm Blu-ray transfers I've seen. There is plenty of good detail and the fake blood's red comes leaping off the screen, very nice stuff.  The audio track is also very good, if mixed a little low, but very clean and listenable. I wish there had been subtitles, but I always wish that.

There are a boat load of extras on this disc, but there is one that trumps them all. Synapse have presented the entire Super 8 short, Stryker's War on the disc in HD. This is the 45 minute short starring Bruce Campbell that Becker shot in 1979. It looks great, and Campbell is impossibly young, but unmistakably Bruce. I almost preferred this version, but there is enough meat on the bones of Thou Shalt Not that it wins by a hair. There are also two commentary tracks, one vintage from Josh Becker and Bruce Campbell (who is always fun to listen to on commentaries), and one new with star Brian Schulz and Red Shirt Pictures producer Michael Felsher (who also produced the other bonus material on the disc). There is a new making of featurette with Josh Becker, a new video interview with Bruce Campbell, who is charming as always, a deleted scene, an alternate title credits roll, and a theatrical trailer.

Even if this were a bare bones disc it would be worthwhile for the high quality of the A/V, however, the inclusion of the original short and other supplements makes it a no brainer. Synapse Films has another winner in Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except. Highly recommended!
Special Features: - All-New High-Definition 2K Digital Restoration from the Original Negative - The Original Super 8mm Short film, STRYKER’S WAR Short Film, starring Bruce Campbell! - Made in Michigan: The Making of THOU SHALT NOT KILL… EXCEPT - Featurette - Two Audio Commentaries Featuring Director Josh Becker, Bruce Campbell and Star Brian Schulz - All-New Video Interview with Bruce Campbell - Deleted Scene with Optional Director’s Commentary - Alternate Title Sequence - Original Theatrical Trailer - Reversible Cover Artwork
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