Screenshots were taken from the DVD
1969. Sgt. Jack Stryker (Brian Schulz) and his band of roughnecks
have been "living in a world of shit" in the jungle and have been
going through 2nd Lieutenants like hotcakes. When their latest
CO, 2nd Lieutenant David Miller (John Manfredi), orders an assault
on a heavily armed VC-occupied village, Stryker insists that Miller
is not assigning enough men to the mission and that the resulting
operation would be a disaster. However, Miller refuses to listen
to Stryker and orders that the mission go ahead. Needless to say,
the operation goes badly and Stryker ends up being shot in the
leg. Now forced to walk with a cane, Stryker is sent back home
and tries to piece his life back together and patch things up
with his on-again, off-again girlfriend Sally (Cheryl Hansen).
One night, a couple of Stryker's army buddies (along with Lt.
Miller) spontaneously decide to visit Stryker at his cabin in
the Michigan woods, and the group has a good time drinking, shooting
the shit and admiring Stryker's impressive gun collection. However,
unbeknownst to them, there's a bloodthirsty cult roaming the woods
nearby, led by a crazed lunatic who fancies himself a new messiah
(played by Evil
Dead and Spider-Man director
Sam Raimi). When the cult kidnaps Sally after brutally murdering
her father, Stryker and his friends decide to take justice into
their own hands and show these dirty hippies why you never, ever
fuck with a marine.
Shalt Not Kill... Except
is the directorial debut of Josh Becker, who worked on the first
Evil Dead doing sound and lighting.
Rallying together several of his Evil Dead
buddies, including producer Scott Spiegel, co-writer Bruce Campbell
and even Evil Dead director Sam Raimi
in a rare acting role, Becker made Thou
Shalt Not Kill... Except
(originally called Stryker's War) on a shoestring budget.
When judged objectively, Thou
Shalt Not Kill... Except
is not a good movie by any stretch. The acting, fight choreography
and script are all amateurish, and the film's low budget frequently
shows, sometimes to a hilarious extent (for example, "Vietnam"
looks suspiciously like somebody's backyard in Michigan and Stryker
has different rank insignias on his uniform). But hey, whoever
said a "Marines vs. The Manson Family" movie had to be slick and
polished... or even halfway competent? The film is a deliberate
throwback to the type of '70s style drive-in fare that had gone
out of fashion even when the film was made back in 1985, emphasizing
blood, sleaze and even a bit of gratuitous nudity thrown in for
good measure. In fact, this may be the most purely "grindhouse"
film that Raimi and Campbell have ever been involved with! Another
plus is the gore effects are for the most part effective. (I guess
that's where most of the money went!)
biggest complaint with the movie has more to do with what it could
have been, rather than what it is. Originally, Bruce Campbell
was set to star as Stryker, but when Campbell joined the Screen
Actors Guild, Becker couldn't afford to pay him scale to be in
the film and they had to replace him with Brian Schulz. Schulz
is serviceable as Stryker, but that's all, and he doesn't possess
near the charisma that Campbell could have brought to role. (If
you need proof, just look at the short film starring Campbell
included in the extras.) Most of the other actors put in similarly
workmanlike performances, although Raimi gives a suitably bug-eyed,
over the top performance as the Charles Manson-esque cult leader,
spitting out his lines from beneath his ratty wig and blackened
teeth. Also, look for Sam's brother Ted Raimi in a brief but entertaining
role as the "Chain Man".
taken for what it is and viewed with the right frame of mind,
Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except is
an entertaining bit of retro (even for 1985) exploitation cinema.
Just be sure not to take it too seriously.
like their recent Blu-ray/DVD "combo" release of Intruder,
Synapse Films have done a fantastic job with Thou
Shalt Not Kill... Except. The film is presented in its
original 1.66:1 aspect ratio and considering that this was a very
low budget film shot on 16mm (or in the case of some of the stock
footage used, 8mm), the picture quality is understandably grainy
and a bit washed out in places. Having said that, Synapse has
done the absolute best that anyone could possibly ask for with
the film's HD transfer. Picture quality is consistent with no
noticeable color bleed or defects and the corn syrup blood looks
appropriately thick and red. While it certainly can't compete
with Blu-rays of recent, big-budget movies in terms of picture
quality, Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except
looks far better than a movie of its age and modest budget has
any right to.
only sound option is DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, and just like with
the video, one has to temper their expectations regarding the
quality. Dialogue and sound effects are clean and clear, although
the track seemed to be mixed a bit low in my opinion.
has gone all out with the extras, the centerpiece of which is
the inclusion of Stryker's War, a 48-minute short film
shot on 8mm that Becker used to raise money for the feature version.*
Bruce Campbell, coming fresh off the original
Evil Dead, plays Stryker here, and I dare say I enjoyed
the short almost as much as the final movie (in fact, the Vietnam
scenes are slightly more convincing here than in the final movie!).
The other big extra is Made in Michigan (32 min.), a making-of
documentary where the cast and crew share stories about the film's
production, from their constant problems with getting money to
the reason why the film was eventually called Thou
Shalt Not Kill... Except. It's an entertaining featurette,
although just like with the making-of doc included with Intruder,
Sam Raimi is conspicuously absent.
are two audio commentaries, one with Josh Becker and Bruce Campbell
imported from Anchor Bay's DVD release and a new one with star
Brian Schultz and Red Shirt Pictures producer Michael Felsher.
Of the two, the one with Becker and Campbell is the most entertaining,
with the two of them striking a good balance between being informative
and humorous and self-deprecatingly pointing out the movies flaws
and obvious low budget.
extras include a short video interview with Bruce Campbell, a
deleted scene with optional commentary from Becker, an alternate
title sequence and the theatrical trailer. The reversible cover
art is also a neat touch.
Not to sound like a broken record, but Sam Raimi REALLY needs
to release his Within the Woods short one of these days!