|Uncle Sam Wants You...Dead
If you're a true horror fan, chances are you associate just
about every major (and often minor) holiday with a particular
horror movie. I know I do. During the Christmas holidays,
cook me up some Black Christmas with a side of Silent
Night, Deadly Night. For Halloween you can say just
about any horror flick and people will nod their head, but
the first one to come to most minds is...Halloween.
St. Patrick’s Day? Leprechaun of course. Easter?
I can't think of a good one off the top of my head, though
you really can't go wrong with the giant mutant rabbits
of Night of the Lepus. While it's hard to top killer
rabbits, when I think of July 4th and America's independence,
I'll always think of that wacky renegade soldier-turned-zombie
called Uncle Sam.
Three years after the first Gulf War, Sgt. Sam Harper's
corpse has been discovered in the deserts of Kuwait, his
death a result of his helicopter being hit with friendly
fire. For reasons that are vaguely hinted at, Sam rises
from the dead upon his body's return to his hometown. After
dispatching a peeping Tom on stilts and taking his Uncle
Sam costume, Sam brings his own vigilante justice to the
town's depraved and unpatriotic citizens. Among some of
Uncle Sam's victims are a few flag-burning teens, a draft-dodging
teacher, a tax-evading lawyer, and a slimy politician. It's
up to Sam's nephew, Jody (Christopher Ogden), and a Korean
War vet (Isaac Hayes) to stop the deadly rampage.
A zombie soldier in an Uncle Sam costume going on a July
4th killing spree sounds like a genius concept to me (so
I’m easy to please). If executed correctly, you have
an idea destined for cult status in the likes of Jack
Frost (the one with the killer snowman, not the cheesy
Michael Keaton one). Yes, that Jack Frost. An absolutely
ridiculous, over-the-top story of a snowman serial killer
that will have anyone with a pulse laughing their ass off.
Uncle Sam could have been such a classic, but sadly
it falls dangerously close to complete obscurity.
How can such a unique concept be ruined? By taking itself
too seriously. Larry Cohen's (Phonebooth, Maniac
Cop) screenplay for Uncle Sam is quite possibly
the worst of his prolific career. Worse than the Maniac
Cop sequels and worse than It's Alive III. The
entire film is played fairly straight, with a few minor
sidetracks into humor. Much of the problem can be leveled
at the near forty minutes of initial build-up to Sam's resurrection,
in which virtually no action, humor, or anything of interest
occurs. Not only do you need an iron will to resist falling
asleep, you’ll have to endure several assaults by
an anti-war message that has all the subtlety of a jackhammer.
I'm baffled that the original motivation that we're given
for Uncle Sam's actions are, in a warped way, somewhat noble.
He's fighting against those that do not live within the
perceived American ideals. He wants to destroy those who
defile his American ideals. These motivations are at least
unique, and ripe for comedy. But, by the end of the film,
we know find that this vengeful zombie's actions are caused
by nothing more than a simple "mean streak". In
an effort to really hammer it home that this soldier is
just plain evil, the film gets bogged down into serious
subject matter of molestation and abuse and things that
you just don't care to laugh about. Now, not only are Uncle
Sam's motives not funny, they're very clichéd. It
would certainly fit right in amid all the 80s slasher flicks,
but it just doesn't live up to late 90s standards.
If that's not enough, there are some other glaring problems.
Why is some antique cannon still in working order, and so
easily accessible? Why is school still going on in July?
Why is the blind kid that was hurt in the fireworks accident
confined to a wheelchair? Why is everyone so nonchalant
when someone dies at the town's July 4th celebration? Again,
these things wouldn't be an issue if the film's tone wasn't
so earnest. Had Cohen's script just loosened up a little
more and played up the outrageousness of the story, this
could have one very, very fun movie. The death scenes were
primed for some great one-liners, but ended up mostly as
Despite the misfiring script, William Lustig (Maniac,
Maniac Cop) manages to push the film up a level or
two with his directing. Here, complaints are few. It's generally
well-shot, well-edited, the sets are good, and the opening
sequence is done very well. For the relatively low budget,
the production value looks great through the entire movie.
They managed a few good explosions at the end and when the
mask finally comes off of Uncle Sam, the makeup is fairly
Isaac "I'm going to make sweet love to ya, baby"
Hayes (South Park) is the bright spot in this whole
thing. Hayes is perfect for this kind of role. While it's
great to see Robert Forster (Jackie Brown), his talent
is mostly wasted on a bit part. The rest of the casting
is surprisingly well done. Timothy Bottoms ("That's
My Bush!") does a fine job as Jody's teacher and it's
nice to see Halloween's P.J. Soles make an appearance.
Ultimately, good acting and good directing cannot save Uncle
Sam from tripping up on its own far-too-serious script.
Uncle Sam is very much like buying a batch of generic
fireworks from a cheap roadside stand. They all look really
cool and the anticipation of satisfying your pyro tendencies
is palpable. When you finally start lighting 'em up, you
get just a few that work great and end up exploding in your
neighbors yard nearly setting it on fire. Some of them blow
up in your hand and give you third degree burns. The rest just
fly off into the grass and do nothing while you stare at them,
waiting for them to go off...but they never do.
FOR DVD REVIEW
(Out of 5)
|July 4, 1997
|DEAD KEV'S ADVICE
|Despite the fact Uncle Sam is a shell of
what it could have been, it's still probably one of
the better "bad movies." If you're a fan
of them, give it a shot. I would make sure to watch
it with friends though, as watching it alone won't
be nearly as satisfying.
|1. During a potato sack race, don't stray from the
course, lest you risk a grisly death.
2. When bullets don't work on a zombie, up the ante
to a cannonball.
3. Watch out for low limbs when stilt-walking.
|-"Look, I'm too old for this crap. Cut it out!"
-"I hope you got an eyefull"
-"Now where's the cleaver?"
-"The way you shoot, you should get a job at the post
|William Lustig (Maniac Cop)
|Larry Cohen (Phonebooth)
|George G. Braunstein (Fade to Black)
|Don Daniel (Slumber Party Massacre II)
|David 'Shark' Fralick
|A-Pix Entertainment Inc.
|Solomon International Pictures, Blue
|COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
| The budget for Uncle Sam was around $2 million.
It was shot in La Verne, California, which is outside
|Then ending was meant to be a homage to the late
influencial director, Lucio Fulci, who had passed
away in 1996.
|Continue to watch after the credits of the film
to see a quick blooper.
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