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Studio: Synapse
Year: 1985
Cast: Brian Schulz, Sam Raimi, Robert Rickman, John Manfredi, Tim Quill, Cheryl Hansen, Perry Mallette
Director: Josh Becker
Release Date: May 5, 2012, 7:52 pm
Rating: Not Rated for (adult themes, graphic violence)
Run Time: 01h:23m:00s

“I’m sick of sittin’ around here!” - Jack Stryker (Brian Schulz)

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I tried to watch this movie 10 years or so ago and simply couldn't get through it. Now, with Synapse responsible for this new Blu-ray treatment I'm more than willing to give the film another shot.

Movie Grade: B+

DVD Grade: A-

The little-known 1985 film, Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except holds a unique, special place in my heart when it comes to the history of my home video collection. Long story short, I randomly bought an old VHS copy of the film in the bargain bin at Kmart when I was roughly 13-years-old, and it simply sat on the numerous shelves I’ve had through the years, gathering dust. Amazingly, until this new Blu-ray disc from Synapse, I still had never seen the film, and somehow knew even less about it, as I grew up continuing to ignore it in favor of genre classics like A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Exorcist. Now, thanks to Synapse, it’s as if I’ve defeated a ghost in that I’ve finally seen Thou Shalt Not Kill..Except, and it turns out I was missing out on a whole lot of fun all along.

Sergeant Stryker (Brian Schulz) is doing a tour of duty in Vietnam, when a routine mission goes awry and many men are killed. It’s now 1969 and Stryker and the rest of his platoon have yet to fully recover mentally from the war and their misgivings. Stryker is almost homeless, instead living the simplest of lives in a remote cabin with his trusty dog and the memories of a love (Cheryl Hausen) that he hasn’t seen since he left her to go to war. It isn’t long after his war buddies come by to visit, that Stryker learns of a murderous cult who are going on a bloodthirsty, drug-infused rage essentially in his backyard. It isn’t long before Stryker has the proverbial band back together and they’re using their wartime skills and experience with weapons to make this group wish they hadn’t gone on the ultimate bad trip.

This is as low budget and over-the-top as bargain basement horror flicks got in the 1980s. It’s also up there among the funniest of such films, with this group of Detroit-based filmmakers channeling a bevy of possibly- unintentionally hilarious farcical methods to keep us laughing at each and every stabbing, unreasonably graphic shooting, or severed limb that we see. There are even some sequences that feature just enough zany war sequences and hilarious sound effects to warrant a reference to Hot Shots: Part Deux and similar ilk. By now, we know these filmmakers’ (mostly the same group responsible for the slightly-refined greatness that is The Evil Dead) general style and unique brand of genre-bending methodology, but I’d love to have seen an audience’s initial reaction to Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except back in 1985.

It’s difficult to talk about the acting here, since this group of amateurs (at the time) are pretty awful, with most of them delivering their lines is as wooden a manner as possible. There is one stand-out though, as Sam Raimi (yes that Sam Raimi) is over-the-top brilliant as the nameless leader of the killer cult, making Charles Manson look tame by comparison at every turn. It’s pretty hard to argue that director Josh Becker and writers Becker, Sheldon Lettich, and Bruce Campbell weren’t modeling their cult after the Manson Family, but it quickly turns into one of the best jobs of mocking that group’s pathetic existence that’s ever been put to film. While the last 20-minutes or so essentially turns this into a slasher film, like the best of that genre, it finds numerous, inventive, increasingly gory ways for each character to be picked off, one-by-one. Since modern, Hollywood horror flicks have clearly run out of ideas, they be hard-pressed to find a better film than this one to go to for a bit of murderous inspiration.

A phenomenal disc from Synapse begins to impress with its 1.66:1 video presentation, but if you’re looking for a sparklingly-beautiful collection of visuals then you’re definitely in the wrong place. This is extreme low-budget filmmaking, and, while an intense remastering job has been executed here, much of the grain and grittiness of the original theatrical presentation is thankfully intact. There’s also a nice, lossless, 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track that also preserves the sonic nuances of the original audio track, while giving us a flawless mix that’s always pleasing to our ears. The extras collection is simply outstanding, beginning with a pair of audio commentaries. One of these features actors Brian Schulz and Michael Felsher, and the other one has director Josh Becker, and, the man, the myth, actor Bruce Campbell. The latter is easily the better of the two, given Campbell’s participation, but they’re both quite entertaining and funny. There’s also a half-hour making-of piece, an alternate title sequence, a rather disgusting deleted scene, and an eight-minute interview with Campbell, which is simply brilliant stuff. Then, we come to the best supplement here, the original 8mm short film, Stryker’s War, which essentially spawned Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except. This 48-minute flick stars, you guessed it, Bruce F-ing Campbell as the title character in a story that’s very familiar, yet, arguably, much more effective, than the Blu-ray’s feature film. Rounding out this awesome collection is the original theatrical trailer for Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except, which is pretty great in its own right.

Chuck Aliaga May 5, 2012, 7:52 pm