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Uncle Sam (1997)

Uncle Sam Wants You...Dead

Uncle Sam
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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 missed opportunities.

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 gruesome.

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.



(Out of 5)
July 4, 1997

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 office. "

William Lustig (Maniac Cop)
Larry Cohen (Phonebooth)
George G. Braunstein (Fade to Black)
Don Daniel (Slumber Party Massacre II)
Isaac Hayes Jed Crowley
Leslie Neale Sally Baker
Christopher Ogden Jody Baker
David 'Shark' Fralick Sam Harper
Bo Hopkins Sergeant Twining
Anne Tremko Louise Harper
Timothy Bottoms Mr. Crandell
Matthew Flint Phil
Tim Grimm Ralph
Robert Forster Congressman Cumminngs
Zachary McLemore Barry Cronin
P.J. Soles Madge Cronin
Tom McFadden Mac Cronin
Morgan Paull Mayor
Richard Cumming Dan
A-Pix Entertainment Inc.
Solomon International Pictures, Blue Underground
United States
89 mins R

The budget for Uncle Sam was around $2 million. It was shot in La Verne, California, which is outside of LA.
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.
Official Trailer
Uncle Sam Poster

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