Unpatriotic citizens beware...Uncle Sam is back...with a vengeance! And he's roaming the streets of small town USA looking for you! Muwaahhhaaahhaa! Bill Lustig, head honcho over at Blue Underground, who is currently known for bringing some of the true greats of exploitation cinema to DVD, was also, once upon a time (not so long ago) a filmmaker himself. Not only did he direct titles like Maniac (which many revere as one of the most vile of horror flicks) and the Maniac Cop Trilogy (which are all great fun), but he's also responsible for this little gem of a flick from the late 90's called Uncle Sam. With the directing power of Lustig and the written words having spewed forth from the pen of Larry Cohen (Phone Booth, Q, It's Alive) Uncle Sam proves to be a heaping slice of ambitious (if not contrived) indie horror filmmaking.
Sam Harper (David Fralick), the most unlikable war 'hero' ever, dies while fighting for our country during the Gulf War. His body isn't found for quite some time, and the news hits home just in time for his hometown's 4th of July celebration. Sam's body returns home in a flag cloaked casket, and sits in the living room of his sister Sally (Leslie Neale) and nephew Jody's (Christopher Ogden) home. In the mean time, Sam's wife Louise (Anne Tremko) mourns in her own way, as it comes to light that she and Sam shared a sordid past of their own. With the holiday approaching, the negativity flows, and the only one's who seem to truly understand the patriotic spirit are Jody and an old war 'buddy' (using the term loosely) of Sam's named Jed Crowley played by Isaac Hayes (Shaft, South Park).
Midnight on July 4th, Sam Harper rises from the dead and begins his reign of terror. He slices and dices his way through those who burn flags, cheat on their taxes, or piss on veteran's graves. Sam dons a dime store Uncle Sam costume, 'borrowed' from some poor peeping tom, in a ridiculously executed scene. Ultimately, carnage ensues. It all culminates in an indie filmmaker's wet dream of a fiery and explosive climax in which Jody and Jed (along with a blind, wheelchair bound, burned kid - hey, you can't make this stuff up!) must put an end to Sam's evil yet oh so patriotic ways, once and for all!
The quick and easy answer would be to write Uncle Sam off as horror pap, only to be returned to the bargain bin, never to be spoken of again. However, I'm not in the mood for easy answers just now. The fact of the matter is that Uncle Sam does indeed have a lot going for it, the problem is that it just doesn't know exactly what to do with what it has half the time. The film opens, not necessarily as a horror film, but as a comment on society and its perceptions of war and war hero's. How the family unit deals with these issues of their loved one's involved in war and society's outlook as well. It's a good 45-minutes into the film, not only before Uncle Sam even comes back to life, but before anyone is even murdered by the vengeful zombie soldier.
It's at this point, when Sam actually begins his murder spree that things turn cliché. For example, early on, we learn that a teacher was a draft dodger during an extremely well executed scene of show and tell in class. However, a half hour later, when said teacher goes back to his class to pick up an axe, it comes as no surprise that the axe will wind up splitting his face at the hands of Sam (and don't even ask me why he needs to get a real axe from the classroom to begin with). When a crooked politician rolls into town, we know that it won't be long before he gets his as well. Let's just say that the bad guys don't share a lot of screen time with Sam, or anyone else for that matter, these throwaway characters are given the least amount of development. Still, one can't be too dismissive in a case like this, because there are thousands of examples in the horror genre that give you far less to grasp onto, and what would a slasher flick be without the characters that have got to be slashed? I just wish the two halves of Uncle Sam would've gelled better as a whole, because as it stands now, it does almost feel as if two films had been tied together in the center.
Still, Uncle Sam has its charm, partly because of its ridiculousness and also because I'm a sucker for holiday themed horror films. It doesn't matter if it's Valentine's Day (My Bloody Valentine), Christmas (Silent Night, Deadly Night) or The 4th of July, I love a fun holiday themed horror flick, and Uncle Sam fits the bill. It's great to see stars Isaac Hayes, Timothy Bottoms (Invaders From Mars, That's My Bush)), Robert Forster (Jackie Brown) as the aforementioned crooked politician and PJ Soles (Carrie, Halloween) hamming it up for director Lustig. And while the film is not overflowing with gore there are some gruesome bits toward the tail end, including a policeman impaled on a flag and the infamous potato sack race/severed head bit. God knows how I love a good bit.
As far as A/V quality goes...well, this is a Blue Underground release after all. The fact that Lustig shot Uncle Sam, not only on film, but scope to boot adds another bit of legitimacy to the whole affair. The 16X9 widescreen presentation looks simply solid, and filled my widescreen set quite nicely. There was nary a spot or blemish to be found. Audio is included in a 2.0 and 5.1 mix, and I'm glad to say that the newly revamped digital mix serves the film quite nicely.
Extras include a still gallery, trailer, and behind the scenes segment on the films' fire stunts with stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos. Also included are two audio commentaries. The first was lifted from Elite's previous non-anamorphic disc and features William Lusitig and Issac Hayes while the second, a new commentary features William Lustig, Larry Cohen and producer George G. Braunstein. While not for all tastes, Uncle Sam is an ambitious indie horror film effort, the kind that would've surprised you as a fun, blind VHS rental in the late 90's - time to be surprised again.