Thou Shalt Not Kill… Except (1985)
Director: Josh Becker
Writers: Josh Becker, Bruce Campbell, Sheldon Lettich, and Scott Spiegel
Starring: Brian Schulz, Robert Rickman, John Manfredi, Timothy Patrick Quill, and Sam Raimi

The Plot: Our story begins in the Vietnam war. After being battered several times while approaching a captured enemy territory, John Stryker finds himself as the highest ranking soldier in a platoon full of decent men. Stryker soon finds himself at odds with his new commander, who is relatively green when it comes to the battlefield. Not knowing the dangers of the area, this latest commanding officer sends Stryker and his team on a death march into enemy territory. Due to this erroneous mistake, Stryker is shot in the leg, but he is quickly carried off to safety by a fellow soldier. Stryker is then sent home, where he finds it difficult adjusting to normal life. He rekindles a relationship with his highschool sweetheart, and things do seem to be heading in a positive direction. Unfortunately, in this same rural area that Stryker now calls his home, a series of murderous home invasions have been committed. The perpetrators are part of a homicidal cult that are stationed within the woods, and it isn’t long before they target Stryker’s girlfriend. This proves to be a mistake by the cult, and that mistake is amplified when Stryker’s former squadmates come down to visit. With guns and ammo loaded up, Stryker is prepared to launch his own personal war against these lunatics.

The Review
Thou Shalt Not Kill… Except is one of those horror titles that immediately jumps out to audiences who are “fresh” within the world of cult cinema. With a pedigree of Evil Dead alumni behind the film, it is something that horror junkies have latched onto for years. Despite being an Evil Dead fanboy since my inception into the world of cult cinema, I had still somehow bypassed the movie. It seems that during my formative years, the film remained relatively obscure to come by. Not released by Anchor Bay until 2002, and then falling out of print shortly thereafter, I somehow never managed to cross paths with the movie. Due to a growing interest in foreign cinema, it seems that I missed several opportunities to discover Thou Shalt Not Kill. However, now, with a snazzy new release via Synapse, the world can finally enjoy this Scott Spiegel produced piece of insanity in its most pure form. The background for Thou Shalt Not Kill is almost as interesting as the movie itself. Starting off with a silly premise, described as the marines fighting the Manson family, the story went through many incarnations. With the Synapse DVD/BD combo, the wealth of special features included can explain all of this for audiences. However, what needs to be known is that Thou Shalt Not Kill eventually went from being a somber view of Vietnam vets returning home from the war, to becoming a nearly-slapstick affair that elaborates on gory special effects rather than heightened melodrama. Is it on the same level as The Evil Dead? Not likely, but it is a surprisingly entertaining backyard adventure.

Backyard adventure may be the best way to describe Thou Shalt Not Kill… Except. If viewers have seen the other Evil Dead-related horror title The Dead Next Door, then they can already imagine the sort of no-budget direction that this movie has. Standing out, amidst the many apparently cheap locations, is the Vietnam section of the film, which is easily the least realistic depiction of Vietnam that I have ever seen. From the guns, to the soldiers themselves, it is wholly apparent that this is a movie that doesn’t intend to get the logistics correct. However, despite the inaccuracies, this section of the film does do a great job in exposing everything that audiences can expect from the rest of the movie. Similar in style to what is seen during movies like Combat Shock, Cannibal Apocalypse, or The Exterminator, this is a general piece of exploitation made with a very limited budget. It truly goes without saying that if you are ready to be overly judgmental during the course of the movie, then it will be easy to see how cheap everything appears. However, certain things like innovation and originality count for a great deal with me as a viewer, and this is a movie that does a great job in showcasing these attributes.

Similar to Crimewave, and other various Sam Raimi related projects during the eighties, there was most certainly an aura around this movie that drew the attention of horror fans. The mix of broad comedy and excessive violence was something that felt fresh at the time. Sam Raimi was the “new guy” on the block, and anything associated with his cast or crew immediately became of importance to horror fans. Thou Shalt Not Kill… may not be as technically astonishing as Raimi’s own work, but it does still have that innovative feeling that Raimi’s work once did. The naive nature of these movies play a big part in their ability to still feel fresh. Audiences who are just now being introduced to the Evil Dead series, they can still look at Thou Shalt Not Kill… and inside of it find something that is wholly unlike anything else on the market. Thou Shal Not Kill… harkens back to that same sense of innovative goofiness that made the eighties such an important decade for horror cinema. It may be a movie that falters at times, but as the plot progresses, it turns into certifiable b-movie greatness. Similar to the low budget blitzkrieg of energy that was found in Deadbeat at Dawn, Thou Shalt Not Kill… is goofy fun that engages its audience within the first minute, and then never dares relent. There are brief escapades into the cutesy little love affair that Stryker finds himself focused on, but there is still a decent amount of wit to be found during these scenes. When the final thirty minutes takes hold, however, we move far away from anything remotely cutesy. Hell, we move far away from wit! The only things left are related to pure action and insanity. We have mayhem, shotgun blasts, stabbings, and wild hippie cult massacres galore! This is the way to end a movie!

Sam Raimi, even after all these years, remains a big part in why film fans should track this out. Not only does he have a large acting role within the movie, playing the cult leader villain, he is actually quite brilliant in his role. Dubbed over and taking things WAY over-the-top, he is either phenomenal or dreadful as a performer. A pretentious viewer might think him to be awful, but I was blown away by his ridiculously entertaining character. He goes absolutely bonkers while trying to emulate the evil hippies of cinema’s past, and he manages to make an impression without so much as uttering a handful of lines during the majority of the movie. Although this is not “his” film, his influence can certainly be felt. Director Josh Becker manages to create a visually compelling movie that resembles Raimi’s work, but is unique enough that it doesn’t seem to be a direct reference to anything Raimi had made up until this point. Surely fans who knew about The Evil Dead had to find the numerous familiar items in this movie to be rather endearing. Taking place around a cabin in the woods that resembles The Evil Dead, featuring props from The Evil Dead, a small uncredited cameo by Bruce Campbell’s voice, references to the Three Stooges, and the same peculiar sense of humor found in Raimi’s infamous trilogy, fans of The Evil Dead certainly had to be excited about this movie in 1985. Indeed, they still are excited about it, so that has to speak volumes in favor of the movie.

Impeccably remastered, this movie could have never looked this good. Coming in a BD/DVD combo back, the release proves to be the definitive version of Thou Shalt Not Kill… Except. The disc also features some very awesome special features. There are two commentary tracks on the disc, one featuring Bruce Campbell and director Josh Becker and the other featuring star Brian Schulz along with Red Shirt Pictures producer Michael Felsher (who produced the special features on the disc). There is also an amazing little 30 minute documentary on the disc that is called Made in Michigan, which is an extensive look at the creation of the film. Very entertaining stuff, no doubt about it. Along with this, there is also a deleted scene, alternate title sequence, and even some very cool reversible cover art for the case. The real cream of the crop for the disc, however, has to be Stryker’s War. The original 8mm short film starring Bruce Campbell is presented here in glorious fashion. This short was shot as a vehicle to get funding for a Stryker’s War feature film, in the same way that Raimi shot Within the Woods in order to get The Evil Dead made. It looks absolutely great for an 8mm film from so long ago, and proves to be an item worth holding onto for genre movie fans.

The Conclusion
Thou Shalt Not Kill… Except shouldn’t be classified as a genre classic, but just because it didn’t change the landscape of horror/action cinema is no reason not to acknowledge its entertainment factor. Extremely fun, this is a movie that audiences will find themselves revisiting numerous times. The Synapse set is an exemplary release and shouldn’t be passed up by any fan of horror or The Evil Dead lineage. I give the movie a hearty recommend, with a score of four out of five.

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