Blu-ray Review: Synapse’s New Release Of Thou Shalt Not Kill… Except

A new blu-ray/dvd combo release is on the horizon from Synapse Films and it’s something that excites me to no end.  The film is Josh Becker’s cult classic Thou Shalt Not Kill… Except.  This is a film that I’ve been dying to see for awhile now and honestly cannot believe it’s been given a blu-ray release, let alone a release with genuinely great special features.  Thou Shalt Not Kill… Except (we’ll just call it “Except” from here on out) has been on my radar for some time due to the fact that Sam Raimi plays the villain in the film and it’s directed by Josh Becker who was involved in creating one of my favorite horror films, The Evil Dead.

For those unaware of Synapse Films, it’s a company that releases digitally remastered films in the horror, sci-fi and cult genres on blu-ray/DVD.  They are rapidly becoming known for their quality work on their high definition transfers as well as the special features they provide.  They’ve released such classics on blu-ray as Maniac Cop, The Dorm That Dripped Blood, Frankenhooker and my personal favorite, Intruder, which was directed by Evil Dead alum, Scott Spiegel, and stars the likes of Sam Raimi, Ted Raimi and Bruce Campbell.  It’s an amazingly awesome 80’s slasher film set in a grocery store that I can’t recommend enough.  With Synapse’s various releases, they have proved that they are a reliable company that really have the fans in mind when they release each film.  After having watched the blu-ray for Except, I can definitively state that they do not disappoint with this new release.

Vietnam, 1969. War is Hell.  For Marine Sergeant Jack Stryker (Brian Schulz), however, Hell is just the beginning.  Trapped outside a Viet Cong village, Stryker takes two bullets to the leg.  Sent home from the war, he discovers his ex-girlfriend (Cheryl Hausen) has been kidnapped by a religious cult with a vicious Manson-like leader (Sam Raimi).  Stryker teams up with some marine friends to form an assassination squad and annihilate the gang of crazed killers.  

That’s the premise of Except, which was known at one point as Stryker’s War.  It’s an exploitation film that revels in its low-budget b-movie roots.  There are many elements of the movie that would fit really well into the so-bad-its-good category but the film rises above being just a crappy b-movie by being genuinely entertaining and endearing, oddly enough.  The characters in the film at first don’t seem terribly realistic but as the film goes on they develop personalities and you begin to enjoy seeing them interact with each other.  There are some really funny lines and gags in the movie.  There’s  a scene where a girl and her grandpa are being tormented by a group of bikers and three of the Vietnam vets confront the bikers and save the girl and her grandpa.  Before they kick the crap out of the bikers, one of them grabs the girl and says, “Go get your grandpa and get out of here.  We’ll kick ass.”  So to the point, I love it!  Sam Raimi also has some pretty funny lines and is completely over the top, in a fun way, as the cult leader.  Sam’s brother, Ted Raimi, has a small role in the film as the “chain man,” who literally is just a man wearing jeans with chains randomly placed over his body.  There is definitely a sense of joyous randomness to some of the proceedings and it makes Except stick out from other low budget films.  I really enjoyed the hell out of the film and look forward to watching it with friends.

The image quality on the blu-ray is rather fantastic given the source material.  For being over 30 years old and low-budget, I think the new high-def 2K digital restoration of the film (from the original negative) looks incredible.  I have no basis for comparison though as I never saw the film theatrically but I honestly don’t think anyone could be disappointed with it.  There is a healthy amount of grain, which is to be expected, but fine detail levels are pretty good and color saturation seems appropriate.  Contrast is also pretty consistent and black levels seem quite nice.  There are some sections of the film that utilize stock footage and they stand out from the the rest of the film but that’s to be expected.  The audio seemed nice and clear as well and it pumps out Joseph LoDuca’s really great score with confidence.

The special features on the disc are pretty damn awesome.  Specifically, the new behind the scenes featurette called Made in Michigan: The Making of Thou Shalt Not Kill… Except.  It’s amazing that a movie like Except can get bonafide special features when much bigger films that you’d expect to see great behind the scenes featurettes on end up just getting a trailer as the bonus feature.  It says a lot about Synapse that they go to the lengths they do to produce great content for us fans.  I certainly appreciate it.  Made in Michigan is my favorite special feature as you learn a lot about the making of the film through discussions with Josh Becker, Scott Spiegel and cast members.  It not only makes you appreciate the film even more but it provides some really great insight and funny stories regarding the production.  You also learn why Bruce Campbell didn’t star in the film as originally planned.  The original super 8mm short film, Stryker’s War, which does star Campbell, is provided here and you definitely see that the short was used as a blueprint for Except.  There is also a new video interview with Bruce Campbell recounting the events of the production.  Other special features include two audio commentaries, a deleted scene with optional director’s commentary, an alternate title sequence, the original theatrical trailer and reversible cover artwork.  The reversible artwork (pictured below) may be a small extra for fans but I love being able to choose what artwork I want to display, so it’s a most welcome feature.  I wish more companies would do that.

The blu-ray is available for purchase starting on April 10th and you can pre-order directly from Synapse here.  If you are a fan of exploitation films or of Sam Raimi and company, this should be an easy decision to add to your collection.  It’s a really enjoyable film that will no doubt make for a good time while watching with a group of friends and the special features make this an incredibly great value.  I really look forward to future releases from Synapse (I personally hope to see them release the cult classic Chopping Mall at some point if they are able to) and can’t wait to check out the copy of Intruder that I have sitting on my shelf.  Thou Shalt Not Kill… Except is highly recommended.

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