Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except (a.k.a. Stryker’s War) (1985) – By Duane L. Martin

This film starts out in 1969 in Viet Nam. Seargeant Jack Stryker (Brian Schultz) and his team have lost several lieutenants and their attempts to take a nearby village have been thwarted repeatedly. Now they have a new 2nd lieutenant, and he thinks he has a brilliant plan to finally take the village. Stryker tries to warn him that it won’t work, but the lieutenant won’t listen, and the mission ultimately falls apart and leads to Stryker getting shot in the leg. He’s ultimately rescued by one of his buddies and ends up being sent home because of his injuries.

Fast forward to Stryker back home at his crappy ass little cabin in Michigan. He now walks with a cane, drinks a lot and with the exception of his dog Whiskey and his friend Otis, he’s pretty much a loner who drinks a lot. One day, when Otis brings him out some booze and groceries, he mentions his granddaughter Sally, which dredges up some old feelings. Stryker used to date her, but when he got sent to the war, she broke up with him because he couldn’t go to the prom with her. Now, years later, she’s matured and so has he and they begin to re-kindle their romance. Unfortunately, this is cut short by the appearance of a death cult whose insane leader, played by a really crazy looking Sam Raimi, thinks he’s Jesus reborn, and will bring death and retribution to whoever they meet. Their killing spree is mentioned in various news reports, but Stryker’s television in his cabin gets really crappy reception, so he doesn’t really know what’s going on.

Stryker’s friends from the war, now back home on leave, decide to pay him a visit. While they’re there, they discover that the death cult has invaded Otis’ home, brutally killed him and then kidnapped his granddaughter. Now Stryker and his friends are on a mission of a different sort. To find the death cult so they can dish out a little retribution of their own, and hopefully save Sally and the other people the cult has taken hostage in the process.

I had never heard of this film before I received it to review, but knowing that Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell were involved, I knew it was going to be good. In fact, I had no doubt in my mind. Bruce Campbell wasn’t actually in this film. He was in a 40 minute short, also included with this release, that was used to attract investors for the full on project. He played Stryker in the short, but not in the actual film, and he was one of the writers of the film as well. Sam Raimi however, as the crazed cult leader, appeared in both the short and the full on feature, and I have to say, he was brilliant. People like to think of Sam Raimi as a great director, but his acting ability is not to be overlooked. He’s a great actor as well, and in this film, he was just psychotic as hell, while still managing to be somewhat amusing with his scraggly hair and bad teeth. I had actually reviewed a film called Intruder recently in which he played a side character. He really is a good actor, and should be commended for his great character work in this film.

I make special note of Sam Raimi, but in fact, everyone in this film did a good job with their characters. The good guys were likeable, the bad guys were vile, and the whole thing totally worked as a "go kill their asses" revenge story.

The Viet Nam scenes were believable despite the low budget of the film, and the great thing about this segment of the film right at the beginning is that it really does a great job of establishing the characters and their relationship. This carries over to the bond they have when they see each other again later and start hunting down the cult members.

All in all, especially considering the budget, this was a well written and well made film. People get shot, stabbed, sliced and diced, and the gore and squib effects all look good and work quite well. This restored version of the film using a 2k transfer is…well, it’s grainy. The grain is very noticeable throughout the film, but the thing is, the film looks really quite good thanks to the restoration. I’ve read in other reviews that the original film had parts that were quite bad, but you’d never know it by looking at this transfer. The sound and visuals are both quite good, and considering how good the new transfer makes the film look, you can live with some grain. It really becomes sort of like background noise after a while and you don’t really notice it. I haven’t seen the original materials, but I’m sure this version is vastly superior visually after the restoration process.

This blu-ray + DVD combo pack release from Synapse includes the following special features:

An all new high definition 2k digital restoration from the original negative.
The original super 8mm short film, Stryker’s War, starring Bruce Campbell.
Made in Michigan: The making of Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except.
Two audio commentaries featuring director Josh Becker, co-writer Bruce Campbell and star Brian Schultz.
An all new view interview with Bruce Campbell.
Deleted scene with optional director’s commentary.
Alternate title sequence.
Original theatrical trailer.
Reversible cover artwork.

This is another amazing release from Synapse, a company whose name has become synonymous with quality. This is definitely one you’ll want to have in your collection.

Before I wrap this up, I also want to mention that this movie has one of the best lines ever in it. Sgt. Jackson is laying in the backseat of their SUV with a hangover after a night of drinking and fighting with a motorcycle gang. The guy in the front seat asks him how he’s doing, and he’s all…

"My head hurts, my teeth itch, my feet stink and I don’t love Jesus."

I actually rewound that part several times and watched it over and over it was so funny. Do yourself a favor and grab yourself a copy of this release. You won’t be sorry.

If you want to find out more about this release, you can check out its page on the Synapse Films website here. If you want to order a copy for yourself, you can order it from Synapse directly, or from Amazon here.