It's Memorial Day. How are you spending it? Me? Well, I'm finishing up David Morrell's "First Blood" and reviewing a movie called "Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except." Done with a budget of $20,000, many of the people behind "The Evil Dead" were involved, and the best way to describe it would be "Marines vs. A Manson Like Religious Cult."
Injured during the Vietnam war, Sgt. Jack Stryker (Brian Schulz) has come home. Getting together with an old flame (Cheryl Hausen) and having fun with his old war buddies (Robert Rickman, John Manfredi and Timothy Patrick Quill), it seems like things are going to be fine. That is, until a cult leader (Sam Raimi) and his brethren start to cause havoc, even kidnapping and torturing Stryker's girl. No, Jack and his buddies have to take out the cult and put an end to the leader's reign of murder.
Based on a Super 8 movie called "Stryker's War" starring Bruce Campbell (who also helped write the movie, and whose legs have a cameo since his face couldn't be shown due to SAG restrictions), "Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except" does have it's share of flaws-namely the fact that it kind of drags during the second act. However, what it does offer is tons of energy, enthusiasm, splatter and a warped sense of humor. Part of this is thanks to Raimi's performance, which is out there to say the least. He glowers, delivers one liners ("Don't you ever touch the sacrificial fluids...okie dokie?"), and chews scenery with pure abandon. The rest of the cast doesn't hold up to snuff, but considering that few of them were experienced, that's okay.
A good way to explain what the movie is like is that it is a movie that, when it gets going, is just plain great to watch. The third act in particular is awesome, with all kinds of gore gags (some of the "splatstick" variety), action, bent humor and all around mayhem ensuing. This is a movie made as a labor of love by people who clearly love 70's exploitation movies, and as a tribute, it works really well, and at times feels like the real deal. Also, it only occasionally shows it's budget (especially in the Vietnam scenes), as director Josh Becker works great within his budgetary restraints, and manages to pull off more entertainment than some larger budget movies. Add a fitting conclusion and a great score by "Evil Dead" composer Joseph LoDuca, and you've got good times ahead.
In the end, this is not a perfect movie. However, it doesn't need to be, and part of that adds to the charm. This is a warts and all, real independent movie, and for fans of action and exploitation movies, is a must see.