Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except
Director: Josh Becker
Cast: Brian Schulz, Robert Rickman, John Manfredi, Timothy Patrick Quill
Review by Brian M. Sammons
This is one of those movies I’ve always heard about and seen on the video store shelves back in the ’80s and early ’90s when I all but haunted such places. Yet I never bothered to watch it. I don’t know why. Maybe because I was a horror snob back then and if it wasn’t a horror flick then I wasn’t to be bothered? Yeah despite it having strong links to the crew that made the Evil Dead flicks, it’s not a horror movie. It is very much a throwback (even in 1985 when it was released) to ’70s action, exploitation movies. While I have grown to like such things now, at the time when I always saw this VHS cover everywhere, I wasn’t. So I was quite excited to get this new Blu-ray in for review, as I would finally see this movie after so long. But would I like it?
All the signs pointed towards yes, yes I would like it very much indeed. First, it was made in Michigan, just like me. Second, when I said it had strong ties to the Evil Dead guys, that’s an understatement. It was thought up by writer/director Josh Becker, who was one of the crew on Evil Dead, and by Dead star Bruce Campbell as the two drove back from Tennessee to Michigan after the ED shoot. In fact, the movie was written as a staring vehicle for Campbell. Unfortunately by the time the movie was set to start filming, Bruce was part of the Screen Actors Guild and could not be part of the non-union movie. Shame, it would have been wonderful to see Campbell in this part. But hey, you can still sort of see that on this new Blu-ray. More on that in the special features section of this review.
Easily the strongest connection between Thou Shalt Not and Evil Dead is that the director of the latter turns up here as an actor. Sam Raimi puts in a wonderfully over the top performance as a crazy cult leader. He chews through scenery like a woodchipper, rolls his eyes around like a mad man, spouts insanities, drools, dances, and totally loves every minute he’s doing it. He steals the show every time he’s on screen and makes this movie a must see for him alone. And the fact that he does all that while wearing one of the worst wigs in the history of movies is particularly impressive.
The story behind this movie is pretty simple. It’s about a small group of Marines fresh from the killing fields of Vietnam (ok the obviously Michigan woods – complete with pine trees – standing in for Vietnam) run into a group of Manson Family-like maniacs once they’re back in the US. Much bloodshed ensues. And well, that’s about it. While not a bad idea, this does bring up the only slight sticking point I had with this movie, there’s not much to it. At times it feels kind of long and a good chunk of it felt like padding. I mean, there’s a brief bit of Vietnam War action in the beginning, but after that not much happens until the hour mark in the film. That’s a long time to just have the four Marine characters driving around, going to bars, picking up chicks, trying to get back together with an old girlfriend, and so on. Now this movie does use that time to wisely flesh out the characters, and the group of Marines are a fun and likable bunch to be around. Still, I thought TSNK…E should either have been a bit shorter, or got to the action much sooner. However that’s a minor quibble, and because the characters were so engaging, it’s one that I didn’t mind too much.
What this movie gets so right is the trademark Raimi-esque humor. Or is it “Raimi-esque” at all? This is the second movie I’ve seen recently from someone in “that Evil Dead” crowd, other than Sam Raimi, to have that same kind of off the wall, almost slapstick style. That other film being grocery store slasher, Intruder, which Sam Raimi also acts in, by the way. So I really have to start wondering just how much of those silly sensibilities come from Sam Raimi, and how much they are a product of the group of goofballs as a whole. Well wherever it came from, I do love it so, and that sense of black humor is fully on display in here. In fact, it was easily my favorite part of this movie. Without it, this flick probably would have been a bit of a chore to sit through, but with it, it was a joy.
The new Blu-ray from Synapse films is a pretty impressive package. While the HD transfer of the film doesn’t look stellar, there is a ton of grain on the screen at times, the movie does look much better than I have ever seen it before. Being familiar with a bunch of previous Synapse releases and how O.C.D. they are when it comes to making a movie look as good as it possibly can, I can only assume this was the best they could possibly make it look. Or maybe it was a stylistic choice? I don’t know, and I really don’t care. I didn’t mind the grain, and actually prefer it in exploitation flicks like this. It somehow just feels right. But I thought I’d mention it for all the videophiles out there who cry if something is less than crystal clear on their TVs.
As for the extras and bonus features, there’s a nice collection here. First there is the double-sided cover. That gives you two options on how you want to display your movie. As a fan of the original movie poster, I really loved this and I wish more BD and DVD companies would do this. As for the on disc extras, there are more than a few noteworthy ones on here. There are two audio commentaries. One with director Becker and the man the movie was made for, Bruce Campbell. The other is with the actual star of the film, Brian Schulz and DVD extra guru, Michael Felsher. Both were well done, informative, and more importantly, entertaining enough to keep you listening. There is a 30 minute or so special called “Made in Michigan” about the creation of the movie. There is a short interview with Bruce Campbell on the movie he was almost in. An alternate title sequence, a deleted scene of someone puking, and a trailer are the usual special feature suspects collected here. Now all that’s very cool, but we’re not done yet. Hands down the best extra on here is the original super 8mm short film “Stryker’s War” in its entirety at about 50 minutes in length. This little film is a gem for Bruce Campbell fans as it stars him in the prototype that would become THOU Shalt Not Kill…Except. Hell, that alone is worth the price of this Blu-ray.
I really got a kick out of seeing this move for the first time. It was bloody fun, and at times surprisingly funny. It has a bit of drag to it in the middle, but it never really stops completely. Fans of grindhouse-like cinema should seek it out. Fans of all things Evil Dead should seek it out. Fans of silly, goofy, slightly gory action films should seek it out. Fans of historically accurate movie on the Vietnam war … should not.