Uncle Sam (1997)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2011-07-04 20:55

Written by: Larry Cohen
Directed by: William Lustig
Starring: Isaac Hayes, David Fralick, and Christopher Ogden

Reviewed by: Brett G.

I want you...dead!

By the time the 80s were over, just about every special day on the calendar was marked with blood. One day that escaped infamy was Independence Day; that is, until Bill Lustig and Larry Cohen got their hands on it in the 90s and created Uncle Sam, a 4th of July slasher extravaganza thatís as American as apple pie and meat cleavers to the face.

Sam Harper (David Fralick) is an American soldier whose helicopter was shot down by friendly fire in Kuwait. Years later, his body is found and shipped back home to his widow (Anne Tremko), who lives with her sister-in-law (Leslie Neale) and her nephew (Christopher Ogden), who idolizes his slain uncle. On the eve the townís 4th of July celebrations, a bunch of punks decide to desecrate Harperís grave, which causes him to return from the dead and savagely murder the unpatriotic citizens of his hometown.

Uncle Sam is basically Yankee Doodle Dandy meets Maniac Cop, only itís not as good as either. And though it took awhile for Independence Day to join the slasher ranks, this one could have easily cozied up besides its carnage-filled calendrical cousins on video stores in the 80s. It doesnít take itself seriously (meaning it misses the grim-faced menace of stuff like Maniac Cop), and its focus is on the splatter. Though it boasts the likes of Timothy Bottoms, Issac Hayes, Bo Hopkins, and Robert Forster, donít expect much characterization. The filmís through-line is Jodyís admiration of his uncle and his own skewed perspective of patriotism, but it all gets buried under steady helpings of red, white, and grue. You might expect a bit more from a Cohen, who has written some pretty sharp, satirical stuff in his career, but the message here is a bit muddled at best.

The filmís political slants are tossed in haphazardly, and your own political leanings might affect your perception of the it. On a surface level, an undead soldier returning to life to dole out vigilante justice to draft dodgers and disrespectful teenagers espouses ultra-conservatism; however, he also takes down slimy big business types and corrupt congressmen, which everyone can get behind. But then the flick reveals that good old Uncle Sam himself was quite the dickhead when he was alive, so you canít exactly side with him either. I think the filmís sympathies probably lie with Hayesís world-weary soldier who has seen the horrors of war and knows itís wrong to fill young menís heads full of lies about the honor and glory of war (or maybe thatís just me). Ultimately, the whole thing is about emasculating a big dick philosophy, undermining the male ego, and indicting an overtly violent military-industrial complex.

Actually, thatís a lie because Uncle Sam is truly about death and dismemberment, and it succeeds gloriously in that department. After a sweet opening sequence where Sam dispatches a couple of military officers, things slow down a bit until he finally rises from the dead. That leaves us with a bunch of characters who are either mopes or assholes, and we canít wait to see most of them eviscerated. Luckily for us, once Sam is resurrected, heís mightily pissed-off and wants the same thing, so we get hatchets to the head, decapitations, and a wicked fireworks display that would have pleased the then recently-deceased Lucio Fulci (the film carries a dedication to him). Sam himself is sort of interesting when Fralick gets a chance to show off his over-the-top, cackling personality. Lustig lets things get silly pretty often too, especially when the film rolls along to its delightfully stupid (yet awesomely explosive) conclusion, which sees Hayes teaming up with Jody and his wheelchair bound friend (an undead-slaying dream team if there ever was one).

When it wants to be, Uncle Sam is a blast and is a total throwback to the slasher flicks from the decade before; though itís a bit tongue-in-cheek, its satirical claws arenít taking meta-fictional aim. Itís a movie thatís got a completely stupid premise, knows it, and has a good time with it. The movieís been released a few times, but the Blue Underground release from 2004 is the way to go. The transfer is fine, if not unremarkable (much like the filmís cinematography itself), and the 5.1 surround track is a bit muted during quite moments, but itís solid enough. Special features include 2 commentaries; one features Lustig, Cohen, and producer George G. Braunstein. Thereís also a small feature on the filmís fire stunts, a theatrical trailer, posters, and a still gallery. I will say this about Uncle Sam: itís probably more fun than youíll have sweating your ass off at picnics and parades on the 4th. But if you do have to endure that, save some cold beverages for later in the evening and cap off your star-spangled celebrations with this one. Rent it!

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