Despite being aimed at technophiles, the blu-ray for­mat is also pro­duc­ing a lot of impres­sive mate­ri­al for fans of exploita­tion film­mak­ing.  Indeed, high-def­i­n­i­tion video has made it pos­si­ble for b-movie buffs to see films known for a bat­tered and bruised visu­al style in a whole new light.  Synapse Films is one of the best com­pa­nies when it comes to pulling off this sort of video mag­ic, as they have proven in the last few years with great-look­ing trans­fers of films like The Exterminator and Frankenhooker.  Their new blu-ray/DVD com­bo edi­tion of Thou Shalt Not Kill… Except is per­haps their best achieve­ment yet in this area.

The blu-ray is the disc that was watched for this review and sim­ply put, it’s a rev­e­la­tion. Like many a low-bud­get indie gen­re film, Thou Shalt Not Kill… Except was shot on 16mm film and lat­er blown up to 35mm for the­atri­cal release.  Thus, the VHS ver­sions of this title always had a grainy look and even the improved Anchor Bay DVD suf­fered visu­al­ly due to a non-anamor­phic trans­fer.  Synapse went back to the orig­i­nal neg­a­tive to cre­ate a new high-def­i­n­i­tion trans­fer and the results are stun­ning.  Image qual­i­ty is sharp as a tack, with bold col­ors and a lev­el of detail that jumps off the screen.  The results retain the film’s low-bud­get charm but allow the view­er to appre­ci­ate how skill­ful­ly shot this film is.

The audio por­tion of this trans­fer sticks to the orig­i­nal mono sound­track but the results have got­ten a loss­less upgrade that is pret­ty impres­sive.  It deliv­ers an up-front, aggres­sive mix: no stereo sep­a­ra­tions here but the effects and Joseph LoDuca’s impres­sive musi­cal score come through nice and clear.

This set also includes an impres­sive amount of bonus fea­tures, the major­i­ty of them pro­duced espe­cial­ly for this set.  The pack­age begins with two com­men­tary tracks.  The first pairs director/co-writer/etc. Josh Becker with Bruce Campbell, who served as sound edi­tor here but was the star of the orig­i­nal Super-8 ver­sion.  The two have the cama­raderie you’d expect from two peo­ple who have sur­vived the low-bud­get trench­es togeth­er and they cre­ate a wit­ty, action-packed track that gives you a detailed his­to­ry of the film.

It’s tough to nar­row down the high­lights on this track: you’ll learn why Campbell was in the 8mm ver­sion but couldn’t be in the fea­ture ver­sion, the com­pli­cat­ed gen­e­sis of the film, how Becker coped with run­ning out of mon­ey ear­ly in the shoot, Scott Spiegel’s fetishis­tic mania for vin­tage prop place­ment and why one sol­dier wore a wig dur­ing the shoot.  Since Campbell did the sound effects, this allows him to point out where par­tic­u­lar­ly sounds were bor­rowed from The Evil Dead and some Three Stooges shorts.  In short, this track is end­less­ly infor­ma­tive and some­times fall-down fun­ny.  Any stu­dent of low-bud­get gen­re film­mak­ing should give it a lis­ten.

Synapse also pro­duced a new com­men­tary track for this set that pairs actor Brian Schulz with extras pro­duc­er Michael Felsher.  This is a real coup for fans as Schulz doesn’t appear any­where else in the extras and is rarely heard from.  Schulz dis­cuss­es how he end­ed up in the film, how it was rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent from any of his pri­or act­ing work (up to this point, he was a stage actor who did a lot of musi­cals) and the unique chal­lenges of play­ing such a macho, larg­er-than-life role.  Felsher engages the actor with ques­tions that ensure a steady stream of chat­ter, includ­ing a lot of dis­cus­sion about Schulz’s thoughts on the oth­er actors and how he relat­ed to them.  The end result is a pleas­ant lis­ten that will fill in some knowl­edge gaps for the film’s fans.

This set also fea­tures an excel­lent new mak­ing-of fea­turet­te from Felsher: “Made In Michigan” cov­ers the film from its gen­e­sis through its release and incor­po­rates inter­view with Becker and a few crew mem­bers as well as sub­stan­tial input from actors Tim Quill, Robert Rickman and John Manfredi.  Becker is typ­i­cal­ly frank and self-dep­re­cat­ing about his work in ways that gen­er­ate laughs while the actors and crew dis­cuss their work with great fond­ness, reflect­ing on how this lit­tle low-bud­get quick­ie became one of the best expe­ri­ences of their var­ied careers.  Felsher paces the set with a judi­cious use of clips from both ver­sions of the film as well as clips from a stu­dent short by Becker.  It all adds up to a fun, infor­ma­tive addi­tion to Michigan exploita­tion flick lore that will be appre­ci­at­ed by any­one in the Raimi/Spiegel/Campbell/Becker fan­base.

Elsewhere, the disc fea­tures a short inter­view with Bruce Campbell in which he reflects on Thou Shalt Not Kill… Except’s devel­op­ment from an idea dis­cussed after the shoot of The Evil Dead to a full-fledged movie.  Other, short­er extras include a delet­ed scene with option­al com­men­tary from Becker on why it was cut, an alter­nate titles scene and an amus­ing trail­er with hard-boiled nar­ra­tion that real­ly plays on the bib­li­cal con­no­ta­tions of the film’s release title.

All of the­se extras are impres­sive but the biggest draw here is Stryker’s War, the orig­i­nal 8mm ver­sion of Thou Shalt Not Kill… Except with Bruce Campbell in the lead role.  It looks sur­pris­ing­ly good despite its age and offers a lot of insight into how the film devel­oped from its hum­ble ori­gins: sev­er­al fight sequences and shots are car­ried over ver­ba­tim to the fea­ture ver­sion but key plot ele­ments and sce­nes would be reworked to stronger effect in the lat­er ver­sion.  It’s as excit­ing and bloody as its big-screen coun­ter­part and its pres­ence here is anoth­er big treat for long­time fans of Bruce Campbell.

Simply put, the qual­i­ty of trans­fer and the boun­ti­ful extras make this set anoth­er high-def win­ner from Synapse.  It’s unlike­ly that any­one will ever pro­duce a bet­ter or more infor­ma­tive edi­tion of this title so fans should pick it up with­out hes­i­ta­tion.

To read Schlockmania’s film review of Thou Shalt Not Kill… Except, click here.