For the last four years, Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson has hosted a late-night horror movie celebration called Terror Tuesday and if you are a lover of horror, both esoterically brilliantly and obscurely awful, this night was invented just for you. The Terror Tuesday Report will dissect the movie shown as well as provide a barometer for the audience's reaction; as many of these films demand to be seen with an audience, this proves a vital component to the evening.
This week's film: Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except, directed by Josh Becker, 1985 The Film
Vietnam War hero Jack Stryker returns to his simple, rural existence after being wounded in battle. He struggles to find purpose outside of uniform and to reconnect with girl he left behind. When his former squadron happens to pass through his tiny hamlet, a giant, drunken reunion ensues. But underscoring all this frivolity is a sour note of terror. A violent cult, under the leadership of a demented maniac, is making their way across the state butchering decent folks left and right in some kind of bizarre ritual. When the war buddies encounter a campsite held hostage by this lunatic and his wacked-out followers, they decide to put a stop to this cult's reign ofterror...with extreme prejudice.
Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except was an enormous surprise. I must admit I had little to no anticipation going into this evening. Last week's Graduation Day was an absolute chore and prior to that we had had a long run of classics that consistently brought down the house. I was concerned that last week portended the onset of a rut in which we would be stuck until a more recognizable title rescued us. Not only was I wrong, but had I come armed with prior knowledge of the story behind this film, I would have been insanely excited to see Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except.
So there was this movie released in the early 80's with which some of you may be familiar called The Evil Dead. While Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi are the two guys from that project that rose to prominence, the fact of the matter is that The Evil Dead was such an indie passion project that the entire production team became something more akin to a family than a crew. As such, when Evil Dead soundman Josh Becker decided he too wanted to make a film, both Raimi and Campbell leapt at the chance to help. Bruce co-wrote the film and offered his mother's house and surrounding property which became the principal shooting location. For his part, Raimi accepted the role of the bugnuts cult leader. So it's by the same people that gave us The Evil Dead, staring Sam Raimi, and shot at Bruce Campbell's mom's house? How could you not be excited?
It doesn't hurt that Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except, despite its complete lack of budget, is a solid film. One of my favorite things in the world is when a dirt-cheap, bargain-basement production gets it right. No, it's not the greatest horror film of all time and honestly is not even a great horror film at all. But it is entertaining, legitimately creepy at times, and features strong characters that we actually give a crap about which is often not the case with low-budget films of any genre. I also love the fact that the central conceit of the film is that the only force strong enough to contend with the Manson family, would have been the A-Team. These guys come to together to right a wrong, face ridiculous odds, and even have their own B.A. Baracus! I also love that the snare-drum-infused score is always two notes away from launching into a rousing chorus of the A-Team theme song.
Sam Raimi turns in an impressive performance as the cult leader who is clearly modeled after Charles Manson. He starts off the film playing it straight and exhibiting such a wanton disregard for human life that his subsequent presence on the screen is terrifying. Admittedly he does get a bit sillier as the film progresses, but you never lose the confidence that he'd just as soon stab you in the eye socket as look at you. My favorite scene is the one in which he is doing some sort of strange yoga to the delight of his tripping cult members. It's funny that the murderous cult member distinction is expanded to include any and all hippies in order to create a satirical antithesis for a group of Vietnam vets. More than that, it's just fun to watch drugged-up, dirty Satanists get blown to bits.
I think the word satisfying adequately encapsulates Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except. You will probably go into it expecting nothing and be pleasantly surprised or you will read this and the film will deliver just as I promised. Either way by the time you get to the blood-soaked finale with the creative, if cheap, gore effects, you will be satisfied. The movie is far better than it has any right to be without once straying into pretention. After seeing it, I immediately went home and ordered the VHS!
Zack returned this week to intro the film and get us all in the appropriate mindset for Thou Shalt Not KiII...Except. When Zack posed the question to the audience as to how many had seen the film, I heard maybe two responses. This may have been the most unseen film to ever play Terror Tuesday. It didn't fail to please and the reaction to the vengeful violence from the Marines was deafening. At one point, when we thought one of the characters had died, there was a collective moan from the audience as I had not heard since we realized Joe Piscapo was alive in Dead Heat. This was both the perfect palate-cleanse from Graduation Day and the prefect prelude to next week's even more entertaining Humanoids from the Deep.