If you’re a fan of Thou Shalt Not Kill… Except, you’re in for a big treat.  The sec­ond part of Schlockmania’s inter­view with Josh Becker is devot­ed entire­ly to a dozen ques­tions about this cult favorite, which is cur­rent­ly avail­able in a spiffy new blu-ray/DVD com­bo pack from the good peo­ple at Synapse Films.  Even if you’ve stud­ied the plen­ti­ful spe­cial fea­tures on that set, there is still plen­ty of choice info to be gleaned from the fol­low­ing Q&A ses­sion.  Many thanks to Mr. Becker for his kind par­tic­i­pa­tion in this chat — and spe­cial thanks to friend of Schlockmania Jack Perez for set­ting it all up.

If you missed out on Part 1 of this inter­view, click here to check it out.

You’ve been quot­ed as say­ing you prefer Stryker’s War, the orig­i­nal 8mm ver­sion of the Thou Shalt Not Kill Except sto­ry, to the fin­ished film.  Could you please explain why? 

JB:  Well, first of all it stars Bruce, who’s one of my favorite actors and a joy to work with; sec­ond, it was a new idea at the time in 1980 and we were all high­ly inspired to make it.  When I remade it four years lat­er it was out of sheer des­per­a­tion and we weren’t near­ly as inspired.  As always, my ambi­tions were much high­er than my bud­get, so I kept not get­ting the things I need­ed, like decent weapons and a ratio­nal look­ing Vietnamese vil­lage.  We did the best we could under the cir­cum­stances, but I would prob­a­bly have been much bet­ter off mak­ing “Lunatics,” which was main­ly two actors in a room, not that I’d writ­ten it yet.

On the com­men­tary track for TSNKE, you ref­er­ence the fact that you tried to make anoth­er film between the two tries nec­es­sary to launch TSNKE. Could you tell us any­thing about that film?

JB:  It was the fea­ture-length ver­sion of our short film, “Cleveland Smith Bounty Hunter.”  Scott Spiegel and I put a lot of work into the screen­play, which I still think is load­ed with good gags, then we spent two years try­ing to raise the mon­ey.  Alas, we didn’t pull it off.  But we had raised about $18,000, so we used that mon­ey to make TSNKE.

On that track, you also ref­er­ence how you ran out of cash after your first six days.  For the sake of giv­ing read­ers a cau­tion­ary tale, how did this hap­pen and how did you avoid hav­ing the same prob­lem again once you resumed the shoot?

JB:  We spent the first week shoot­ing all of the biggest sce­nes with the most extras, props, cos­tumes, etc.  Having mirac­u­lous­ly got­ten through that, Scott and I both went and begged our fam­i­lies for some mon­ey, which they gra­cious­ly gave us.  From there on out the sce­nes got pro­gres­sive­ly small­er, with less actors, less extras, less cos­tumes and every­thing else.  After a cou­ple more weeks we had most of the sce­nes shot, but we were still miss­ing a lot of the inserts, so we wrapped prin­ci­pal pho­tog­ra­phy and with a high­ly reduced crew – main­ly me, Scott, Gary Jones (the FX super­vi­sor), Paul Harris (the assis­tant edi­tor) and Bruce (the super­vis­ing sound edi­tor) – we picked up all the rest of the shots.

Your co-writer on TSNKE was Sheldon Lettich, who went on to a very suc­cess­ful career writ­ing scripts for Jean-Claude Van Damme films.  How did you two end up work­ing togeth­er and what did he bring to the table on TSNKE?

JB:  Sheldon also direct­ed a num­ber of the Van Damme films, like “Lionheart” and “Double Impact.”  Sheldon was one of the first friends I made in L.A. when I ini­tial­ly moved there in 1976.  Sheldon had served as a Marine in Vietnam and there­fore had all the first-hand infor­ma­tion about the war, the coun­try and what meant to be a Marine.  So when I came up with the idea of the Marines ver­sus the Manson fam­i­ly in 1979, when Sheldon and I were both fledg­ling screen­writ­ers, I nat­u­ral­ly pitched it to him.  His first respon­se was, “Wow, is that a stu­pid idea.”  He then called me lat­er that evening and said, “Hey, may­be it’s not that stu­pid after all.  Let’s write it.”  Sadly, the one draft we wrote togeth­er, enti­tled “Bloodbath,” was far too seri­ous for my lik­ing, and Sheldon had a lot of seri­ous, unre­solved issues regard­ing the war (he was there in 1969–70, so it hadn’t been all that long).  Not to men­tion the script came out to near­ly 200 pages.  I was very dis­ap­point­ed, and Sheldon imme­di­ate­ly moved on to anoth­er Vietnam war script and lost inter­est in “Bloodbath.”  I then com­plete­ly rewrote the sto­ry with Bruce as we drove back from mak­ing “Evil Dead,” and that’s essen­tial­ly what the film became.

Sam Raimi stars as the vil­lain, appear­ing between direct­ing The Evil Dead and Crimewave.  How did he become involved in act­ing capac­i­ty?

JB:  Sam acts in all of my ear­ly films, usu­al­ly as the bad guy.  Sam’s a scenery chew­er from way back, so I nev­er thought of any­one but him for Manson.  Personally, I think he’s great in the part (both times), although the New York Daily News in their year-end film awards gave Sam “Worst per­for­mance by a direc­tor,” which I still think was very unfair.

It’s also worth not­ing that he gives a tru­ly wild per­for­mance.  How much of this was your direc­tion and how much came from him? 

JB:  It all came from him.  The only direc­tion Sam need­ed was “Action.”

You also worked with actor Ted Raimi on this film, some­one who would you go on to work with a lot in the years that fol­lowed.  What’s the actor/director rela­tion­ship like when you two work togeth­er?

JB:  We nev­er stop laugh­ing.  Actors like Ted, Bruce and Sam bring so much with them to the part, as well as amaz­ing ener­gy, that they don’t need much direc­tion, oth­er than “Here’s your mark.”

The finale of TSNKE offers an impres­sive set of set­pieces that blend ultra­vi­o­lence with a dark­ly-humored kind of slap­stick.  How much of this was in the script and how much was actu­al­ly worked out dur­ing the shoot­ing?

JB:  It’s all in the script.  Scott helped me work out some of the vio­lence gags for “Stryker’s War,” then he and I rewrote my script for the short film into a fea­ture and added every­thing else.

One of the best ele­ments of TSNKE is Joe LoDuca’s score, which has a rous­ing main the­me wor­thy of Jerry Goldsmith.  It was also the most expen­sive ele­ment of the film.  How did LoDuca become involved, what made it so cost­ly and how did you get the mon­ey?

JB:  Joe had already scored “Evil Dead” and I was high­ly impressed with his work.  He and I became good friends and still are (I just had lunch with him an hour ago).  My Mom and Dad put up the fin­ish­ing funds, which is why they get exec­u­tive pro­duc­ers cred­its.  The rea­son that the score was expen­sive was that Joe put togeth­er a 65 piece orches­tra with a 5 piece eth­nic accom­pa­ni­ment.  He knocked out the record­ing of the score in a day, but that’s still a lot of musi­cians.  And I still think Joe’s score is the sin­gle best thing about the film.

A lot of peo­ple first became aware of TSNKE when it was released on home video.  How did it do dur­ing its ini­tial video release and were you able to turn a prof­it?

JB:  Unlike any oth­er film I’ve ever made, TSNKE had an 18 city the­atri­cal release with 25 prints.  I nev­er saw a cent from that, but it con­vinced Prism Video to pay $50,000 for the video rights.  It moved 90,000 copies on VHS, then it was sold to Good Time Video and moved anoth­er 100,000 copies.  I didn’t actu­al­ly go into prof­it on the film until the next video sale to Anchor Bay in 1995.  Anchor Bay repur­chased the rights for anoth­er 5 years, and now Synapse Films has the rights and is releas­ing the Blu-Ray.  One way or anoth­er that film has stayed in release for 27 years, which is a bloody mir­a­cle.

On your web­site, there is a pic­ture of a 42nd street mar­quee where TSNKE was shown.  Did you attend any of those screen­ings and, if so, what was the expe­ri­ence like?

JB:  I did not attend any of the 42nd St. grind­house show­ings, although I did go to many of the the­aters where it was show­ing here in Detroit, and some of them were pret­ty dis­rep­utable.  It played well with that crowd.  It played at one Detroit dri­ve-in for over two months.

What are the most impor­tant lessons you learned about film­mak­ing, both as a craft and a busi­ness, while mak­ing TSNKE?

JB:  A. That I could make a fea­ture film; B. that freak­ing out on the set wasn’t going to do me the slight­est bit of good; C. that each actor needs to be han­dled indi­vid­u­al­ly; D. that mak­ing mon­ey with indie films was a lot more dif­fi­cult than it seemed; E. it was time to move on to my next film.