I first learned about this movie while watching an episode of Jonathan Ross's "Incredibly Strange Film Show," which profiled the career of Sam Raimi. It's actually not a Raimi film, though he stars in it as the rotten toothed leader of a hippie death cult that's marauding a backwoods country side. It was years before I found a VHS copy of this movie, and a little longer before I watched it. Frankly, I only bought it because it had Raimi in the role of the villain. I was skeptical going in, but within mere minutes I was fuckin blown away. I'm not gonna lie to you good people, shoe string would be far too generous a descriptor when it comes to production value. But never mind the scant budget, "Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except" is a wildly entertaining film, and a testament to director Josh Becker's ingenuity. Filmmakers routinely fail in spite of having millions of dollars in their pockets on a regular basis. Still, to succeed with a remarkable budget has never impressed me as much as someone who succeeds with nothing. Becker has eternally earned my respect with this particular movie.
After Jack Stryker gets turned gimp by a Vietcong bullet, he returns to his rural home to resume his life and the romance he'd been drafted away from. In the background, the country side has been seized by a nihilistic, Manson-esque cult of hippies on a thrill kill spree. At the same time, Stryker's old army buddies are on their way for a surprise visit. Eventually, these extensions of the establishment collide with the counter culture spree killers in a wildly entertaining finale that truly explores the concept of insult to injury.
Stryker's war buddies and their relationships with one another are both dynamic and realistic for this type of film. In fact, they are not straight good guys, but rather shades of grey. The horrors of war have warped them into complete degenerates who could never possibly be model citizens. In fact, if this were a different sort of film they could very well wind up being the villains. However, Becker has actually given the returning heroes a real threat to dismember: flower children.
The characters, their relationships, and the politics of the situation elevate it beyond its budgetary constraints to make for a compelling film, intellectually. Yeah, I said it, this is actually a very smart film. Its wit is only augmented by the satisfying wave of violence it builds toward. As I said, this is really a study of insult to injury, and it's so gratifying. Not only do people get mauled, but each death is punctuated with a violent icing that's almost hilarious because it is so excessive. Seriously, I could probably write several chapters on how profound and amazing this movie is, but really, you just need to treat yourself to this viewing experience. Find a VHS copy, or order it directly from Becker's site. You'd probably be better just ordering the DVD unless you can find a Prism copy though, as the Starmakers release is pretty rough.
Trailer courtesy DeaditeVideos.