Interest in Thou Shalt may be higher than ever — Raimi being an A-list director (the Spider-Man trilogy), Campbell on a popular cable series still going strong (Burn Notice) and Spiegel … well, he just did Hostel: Part III — so Synapse Films’ Blu-ray/DVD combo-pack release represents fine timing. But viewers’ expectations should be adjusted; the movie’s current IMDb rating of 5.8 is pretty much on-the-nose.
Also known as Stryker’s War, the film by Josh Becker (who co-wrote with Campbell) opens in South Vietnam, 1969, just long enough to depict cigar-chewing Sgt. Jack Stryker (Brian Schulz) being injured in combat. Back home that same year without a hero’s welcome, a now-limping Stryker retrieves his dog, Whiskey, and shuffles off to live a fairly quiet, mostly solitary life in the woods.
Unfortunately, a Charles Manson-esque murder cult alters his plans. Led by a delusional freak (Raimi) who thinks he’s the second coming of Jesus Christ, they kidnap his old flame (Cheryl Hausen), turn a pal into a target for lawn darts, and generally wreak havoc. Thus, Sgt. Stryker assembles a squad for another war, this time on home turf.
It sounds like more fun than it is. The script and its characters are ill-developed, if at all, making it difficult for us to latch on to anyone for the haul; Evil Dead’s Ash, this Stryker fellow is not. The sound effects in the action sequences — budda-budda-budda Vietnam prologue included — lean toward the cartoonish, which mitigates the movie’s hope of seriousness. Dialogue among the amateur cast is awkwardly timed, although on occasion, it offers a fun but essentially meaningless line: “Hey, Sarge, ya gotta any guns? … Let’s go blow the shit outta somethin’!” At least the effects are good.
Thou Shalt wears Becker’s Super 8 roots on its camouflage sleeves, but while his ambition is appreciated, the end result is not. He does his best with the low budget, but a lack of money is not the problem; it’s the story, stupid.
This is evident from the original short film made four years prior, starring Campbell instead of Schulz, which appears in the extras and was made to attract investors. Sad to say, but the bonus features’ lengthy conversation with Becker and his cast and crew makes for a far more enthralling, entertaining tale than the actual film. —Rod Lott