Review: Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except (Blu-ray)

Synapse Films gives Josh Becker's low budget-exploitation gem Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except a top notch Blu-ray release!

  • Director: Josh Becker
  • Starring: Sam Raimi, Brian Schulz, Robert Rickman
  • Year: 1985
  • Runtime: 83 Minutes
  • Company: Synapse Films
  • Format: Blu-ray + DVD Combo
  • Discs: BD: 1 - 50GB / DVD: 1
  • Video: 1.66:1 - 1080p - AVC
  • Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0,  Dolby Digital 2.0
  • Region: All
  • Released: 4/10/2012

What happens when you reunite the majority of the The Evil Dead crew to tackle yet another down and dirty independent endeavor? You get one hell of a rough-n-tough low budget, exploitation romp by the name of Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except! Made by fellow Raimi and co chum Josh Becker in 1985 for practically peanuts, the usual Michigan suspects (including Scott Spiegel & Bruce Campbell) banded together, armed with a Z-grade budget (with generous donations from Becker's parents!) and a 16mm camera to create a mini war epic. While it's budgetary restrictions limit it to a degree, Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except's intentions succeed while also being a highly entertaining diamond in the rough that's been obscured for far too long.
After being wounded during a firefight in Vietnam, Sgt. Jack Stryker (Brian Schulz) returns to his small town home, shacking up in a secluded cabin in the woods for some much needed peace and quiet. Civilian life begins to look up as Stryker rekindles his relationship with Sally, an attractive old flame he left behind before touring in the service and a surprise visit from his platoon buddies that involves boozing, war stories and shooting up defunct outhouses. Stryker's happy return is short lived with the arrival of a crazed, cult leading maniac (Sam Raimi) rounding up and killing innocent townsfolk. Things get personal once Sally becomes the target of the deranged group, leading Stryker and his veteran troopers to arm themselves with a small arsenal and deliver a military wrath of ass whoopin'.
TSNK...E embodies the DIY filmmaking spirit, which is it's heart and soul. That charm elevates the film to a whole other level of enjoyability with much help from everyone involved who's sole purpose was to make a good, fun flick. The plot, a mesh of commandos versus a Manson-esque family is simply genius and hilarious. The shining highlight is Sam Raimi's completely straight and gonzo turn as a cult leader, chewing up and spiting out the scenery that will leave you howling with laughter. The backyard approach and tone of the setting lends itself to some wildly outrageous moments and a shoot em up, side splitting finale that will plant a giant grin on your face.
It's a shame this film has eluded me this long. I worship at the altar of Sam Raimi and do my best to subject myself to all of his works and associations. Upon learning of the existence of TSNK...E, needless to say I was shocked and overjoyed. As a film fan you try to scour the Earth for any and everything. The classics, the underrated, the loathed & the obscure. Without fail, you'll always miss something. There's no greater feeling than exposing yourself to something you've somehow overlooked that turns out to be essentially a neglected classic in your eyes (Scott Spiegel's Intruder comes to mind) and instantly adoring it. Thou Shall Not Kill...Except is exactly that kind of film for me.Thankfully with Synapse's new and pristine release, this film can now get the proper attention and admiration it deserves.

  • Video
Getting it's Blu-ray debut thanks to cult video titans Synapse Films, Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except is presented uncut in an all new 2K HD transfer from the original negative and goddamn does it look phenomenal. With that in mind, understand that this was shot for peanuts independently decades ago and can only look so good given it's production roots. Synapse, thanks to masterful AV wizard Don May Jr, has made this film look stellar despite those limitations. Shot on 16mm with a small amount of stock footage throughout the beginning which looks expectedly rough due to it's age, overall the transfer is gorgeously filmic without any mastering muckery present. Colors (particularly reds) pop off the screen and close up shots reveal a great deal of detail. Grain is absolutely present, proudly displaying it's age which at times leads to some spotty scenes but it never distracts. While not demo worthy, this disc is technically flawless all things considering and was certainly worth the wait.
  • Audio
The discs English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, like the video quality, does it's best given the source elements. Dialogue is always clear throughout, but sometimes is overshadowed by effects cues that sound like they were recorded in a tin room. Much of the audio is exercised from the center channel with, which really impresses during the gun heavy scenes. A teeny bit of background noise is present but it's hardly distracting, this is whithout a doubt TSNK...E will ever sound.

Bonus Features
  • Audio Commentary - Director Josh Becker & Bruce Campbell
Director Josh Becker and deadite killing legend Bruce Campbell are a total delight to listen to, firing off tons of behind the scenes trinkets that only they would know which makes this must listen material. Campbell helped conceive the story but couldn't reprise his role from the original short film due to being a SAG member, reducing his time on the film to supervising sound editor and a foot cameo. I could listen to these guys and any other Evil Dead alum ramble on for hours.
  • Audio Commentary - Actor Brian Schulz & Michael Felsher
  • Documentary - "Made in Michigan: The Making of Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except"
Clocking in at about half an hour, this truly excellent retrospective doc (made by the equally and always excellent Red Shirt Pictures) assembles most of the films major players (sans Sam Raimi, sadly) to discuss Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except. A wealth of hilarious, informative and downright entertaining information is dished out about the film, concerning the origins and filming to the acting and the overall do-it-yourself production. Everyone associated with the film was completely gun-ho and embraced the low budget aspect, with much praise going towards Sam Raimi's gonzo & infamous turn as the cult leader. Once again Synapse & Red Shirt Pictures set the standard for how bonus features should be produced.
  • Short Film - "Stryker's War"
Made for a grand total of $5K and shot on Super 8 years before THSNK...E, this is essentially the holy grail of this release. Stryker's War was shot to help raise funding for the eventual feature and shares many similarities to what would become Thou Shalt Not Kill. Most notable is that actor Bruce Campbell stars as the leading man, a role I wish he would have been able to reprise. I dig Brian Schulze as Stryker in the feature, but Campbell would have nailed it with his one of a kind on screen charisma. 
  • Interview - "Actor Bruce Campbell"
Shot in 2007, the "Chin" himself gives some great but brief behind the scenes anecdotes about the films production.
  • Deleted Scene
This :40 second "Puke Scene" was deleted due to people walking out after seeing it, which lead to Becker cutting it. An optional Audio Commentary track with director Josh Baker is included as well.
  • Alternate Title Sequence
A quick animated logo of the films' original title, Sgt. Stryker's War is included.
  • Trailer
The film's original theatrical trailer has been remastered in HD and is presented here as such.
  • Reversible Cover Art
The quite iconic halo & bandana adorned skull original poster that also served as the cover art for the Prism VHS with the tagline, "When Violence Demands Revenge" is available as an alternate cover art. It's classy as hell and my preferred choice of artwork. 
  • DVD Copy
Last but not least, a damn fine DVD copy is included for those who haven't made the superior jump to BD yet. 

(NOTE: These screen captures represent the included DVD, not the BD.)