Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Brian Schulz, Robert Rickman, John Manfredi, Tim Quill, Sam Raimi, Cherly Hansen
Director:  Josh Becker
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Widescreen 1.66:1
Studio:  Anchor Bay
Features:  Commentary track, deleted scene, alternate title sequence, trailer
Length:  84 Minutes
Release Date:  October 24, 2000

Film **

Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except features one of the lengthiest and most gleefully violent climaxes of any movie I think I’ve ever seen.  While I was watching the action unfold, I realized two things.  Number one, the entire movie up to that point had existed only to propel us toward this violent mayhem.  Number two, it’s fairly obvious that the writers got their real jollies by inventing more and more ways to dispatch the cult members.  You can almost hear the production meetings now, with the rising excitement in their voices as each one reaches back for the newest topper.

To be honest, I don’t know how I felt about it.  The movie did a fairly standard job of letting us know that these cultists were bad, bad, very bad.  Earlier in the picture, we witness them crashing a teenage stoner party, populated by people who exist in the film for no other purpose than to be brutally slaughtered by these villains.  Then they kidnap the girlfriend of ex-marine Stryker (Schulz), who then gets to round up his buddies from Vietnam and go on a little huntin’ and killin’ spree.

I don’t have a problem with movie violence, mind you, but this picture kind of left me scratching my head.  We are treated in the opening to scenes of the men in Vietnam (and some of the worst staging of battle scenes you’re likely to see), and there’s this whole story about how the leader made a poor decision, causing them to lose the fight and Stryker to be injured enough to have to walk with a cane.  In the end, what was the point to all of this drama?  In a better film, there would have been much more development, but here, this is just exposition.  We need to know these men are Marine buddies, and are skilled at warfare.  Then we can buy into the bloody finale.

It just seems a bit weak to me to construct an entire picture as an excuse to show creative multiple killings.  There are some good deaths…I’ll give it that.  My favorite was the guy who slams back against a tool board, then collapses forward in a way where we can see that all the little garden tools are stuck in his back.  Still, as far as a war goes, it’s pretty one sided.  The cult members, like most movie villains, don’t shoot very well.  Our heroes never miss.

When the end credits rolled, I found myself asking…was I supposed to be entertained by it?  It was impossible to overlook the fact that nothing in the film attached to anything or had any real story significance apart from the killing scenes.  For one to say he enjoyed the film is simply to say he enjoyed the violence.  And far be it for me to criticize anyone’s taste if they do, BUT…the picture left me with a big moral question mark for a response.

BONUS:  Take a good look at the cult leader…it’s Sam Raimi, director of the Evil Dead movies, A Simple Plan, and For Love of the Game.

Video *1/2

I wish I could say something better about the video quality, but unfortunately, it’s pretty atrocious.  Given Anchor Bay’s reputation, I’d tend to fault the source material before I would their handling, even though they forewent anamorphic enhancement for this title, but no matter where you assess the blame, this is a bad looking disc.  Most of the opening shots are extremely grainy and soft, and there are moments where I had a hard time discerning what I was looking at.  Whereas I’d usually say about a transfer that it was mostly good but with occasional problems, this one gets the opposite:  there a few moments of stronger clarity, cleaner image and better coloring, but they are the exception, not the rule.  The print doesn’t appear to be in great shape…guess nobody thought to take better care of the negative.  It’s watchable enough, but very borderline.

Audio **

The 2 channel mono soundtrack fares a little better.  There aren’t any clarity problems, but the audio is still a bit thin and a bit shallow in terms of range.  It doesn’t help that most of the sound effects are really poor, too, from the sounds of gunfire to the impacts of kicks and punches and bodies falling.  It sounds like somebody getting a crack at the oldest Foley machine in the business for the first time.  It’s safe to say that no matter how you look at it, this is not a reference quality disc.

Features ***

My main interest in this disc was for the commentary track, which features not only director Josh Becker, but co-writer Bruce Campbell.  Campbell has delivered or taken part in three of the most entertaining and informative commentary tracks available (Evil Dead:  Collector’s Edition, Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness:  Director’s Cut) and I was looking forward to hearing from him again.  These guys make for a fun listen, though the track doesn’t have quite the same dynamism as Campbell and Sam Raimi shared on the Army of Darkness disc.  There is also a deleted scene, a trailer, and an alternate title sequence created when the film was still called Sergeant Stryker’s War.


Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except is a brutal, violent film that absolutely revels in setting up a bunch of one-dimensional bad guys to be slaughtered by a bunch of one-dimensional good guys.  There’s no other point.  Did I enjoy it?  I’m still struggling with that one, but I’ll concede at least that I was never bored by it.  Still, given that this disc is one of the poorer quality choices out there in terms of video, you might want to consider taking a pass on it altogether.