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April 10, 2012

Thou Shalt not Kill . . . Except

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Josh Becker - 1985
Synapse Films Region 0 DVD

I think for a good number of people watching this film, the thought will be that one of happiness that Sam Raimi pursued a career as a director. Made primarily with a bunch of friends and acquaintances, Raimi appears in the film as the leader of a gang modeled after the Manson family. Describing the performance as over the top is to put it mildly. Then again, Thou Shalt not Kill . . . Except isn't the kind of film that was made to be viewed with any serious intent. The ideal way to see this film is with some rowdy friends and a handy six pack or two.

Raimi had his feature debut, Evil Dead, under his belt but was still a few years before his career kicked in steady gigs. Other talent that can count on the film as an early credit include writer-director Josh Becker, Scott Spiegel and Sheldon Lettich. Bruce Campbell contributed to an early version of the screenplay, and would have been the star had he not been a Screen Actors Guild member by the time money was raised to shoot the film. Nobody says exactly how much the film cost to make by the time production was completed although through anecdotes, Becker spent under $30, 000 prior to post-production. So we're not talking Shadows here, but I've seen enough films by cast and crew with little or no experience that look a lot worse, and this includes films that had greater artistic aspirations.

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That the story can be boiled down to "Marines versus the Manson Family" pretty much tells you every thing you need to know. The main characters are a quartet of marines who survived Viet-Nam, and reunite near Detroit in 1969. A newscast pinpoints the time with the announcement of the death of Judy Garland. A gang of vicious hippie types barges into one house in Grosse Pointe, killing everyone including a baby. The gang also terrorizes a group of campers and kidnaps the girlfriend of the main character, Stryker, a wounded vet. Stryker and his pals go after the cult leader and his gang.

The entire film, including the scenes in Viet-Nam, was shot in the wilds of Michigan. And while the film wasn't made to be showcased at film festivals or win critical approval, you have to give it up for the filmmakers' tenacity in making a reasonably watchable film more or less designed for the outer edges of commercial cinema. I hadn't been aware of Thou Shalt not Kill . . . Except prior to the new Synapse release, but reportedly the film was successful both in a limited theatrical release, and as VHS release a few years later. The DVD includes interviews with several of the people involved with the making of the film, plus Becker's early version, shot in Super 8, with Campbell.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 10, 2012 09:09 AM