Uncle Sam
U.S.A. / 1997
Directed by William Lustig
Starring
Isaac Hayes
Christopher Ogden
Bo Hopkins
Color / 90 Minutes / R
Format: DVD (R0 - NTSC)
Blue Underground
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
5
    8   10 = Highest Rating  
During the 1991 Gulf War a U.S. Army helicopter is accidentally brought down by friendly fire. When an American major (Fast Company's William Smith) arrives at the crash site to investigate, he and another soldier are shot and killed by one of the chopper's dead crewmen. You see, Sgt. Sam Harper (David "Shark" Fralick) possesses a dedication to duty that extends beyond the grave. Being dead can't stop him from destroying the enemy... his enemies, not necessarily those of his country. In life he was a mean bastard, cloaking his love of violence and control beneath a veneer of patriotism. So it's with a sense of relief, and not grief, that his wife and sister learn that Sam's body has been recovered and brought to their idyllic small town for burial. While growing up, sister Sally (Leslie Neale) was sexually accosted by him; spouse Louise (Anne Tremko) lived in constant fear of physical abuse. The sordid reality of Sam's true nature is unknown to his 11-year old nephew Jordy (Christopher Ogden), an earnest lad who idolizes his Army hero uncle. Not knowing the real story, he's resentful that his mom and Aunt Louise don't show more remorse.
    Sam's casket is brought to his sister's house to await burial. (Doesn't this town have a funeral home?) As various people come to pay their respects, Jordy notes who among them is insufficiently mournful or is flippant about Sam's supposed love for flag and country. Jed Crowley (Isaac Hayes), a disabled Korean War vet who regrets filling Sam's head with exaggerated tales of military glory when he was a kid, tries to dissuade Jordy from growing up to be like his dead uncle. That night, July 3rd, Sam awakens for a personal search-and-destroy mission, killing some teenage punks vandalizing a graveyard and burning a flag. Procuring an Uncle Sam costume worn by his next victim (a peeping tom using stilts to spy on a naked gal through her second floor window), the zombie soldier intends to make the morrow's Independence Day celebration one his hometown will never forget...
    Even with a lot of things going for it slick, surehanded direction, a solid cast, a script by TV and film veteran Larry Cohen (Bone, God Told Me To) Uncle Sam's parts are far greater than the whole. Individual set-pieces, such as the stilt chase and the sack race, really stand out amid the general ho-hummery of the story. Part zombie film, part slasher, neither is emphasized over the other to the ultimate dilution of both. As director William Lustig freely admits in one of the disc's commentaries (see below), the slow pacing of the first 40 minutes proves detrimental. It's commendable that a B-grade horror movie would take the time to firmly establish its characters but the majority of the audience for this kind of fare isn't likely to be patient; they want to get to the slicin' and dicin' in fairly short order. This Lustig handles with skill and verve when Sam finally does rise from his flag-draped coffin to mete out 'patriotic justice'... it just takes our villain nearly half the film to get motivated. And speaking of motivation, just exactly why Sam's corpse is reanimated is never explained. There's no exposure to some classified Army chemical weapon, no ancient medallion he picked up in the Kuwaiti desert nothin'. We're just supposed to accept it and move along. (Perhaps he was just too mean to die.) It's hinted that Jody's strong emotional bond with Sam is a factor in his supernatural resurrection, but it's all purposefully vague and doesn't lend any credibility.
    Even so, there are a lot worse slasher-type films out there and Uncle Sam is very well put together for what it is. If patient, gorehounds have something to look forward to in the second half (I found the severed head sizzling in the barbeque grill the most icky), while others may find merit in Cohen's cynical, semi-satirical skewering of those who wear their patriotism on their sleeves.

Since director William Lustig is also the head honcho of Blue Underground, Uncle Sam is treated with a respect not usually afforded low budget films. Yet this is nothing really new for BU regardless of who directed the picture as the company continues to maintain its track record of consistently fine DVD releases.
    There's a bit of grain here and there in the nighttime scenes but otherwise this is a near-flawless widescreen transfer, sharp and colorful. (Naturally it's anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 screens.) Viewers can choose between a newly mixed 5.1 Surround audio mix and the film's original Dolby. 2.0 stereo track. Both are terrific, with the edge going to the new mix if your sound system is capable. Among the bonus features offered are the tongue-in-cheek theatrical trailer, a substantial image gallery of promotional and behind-the-scenes photos, and a 10-minute featurette called Fire Stunts, which showcases the pyrotechnic special effects used in the explosive, fiery climax. Two separate audio commentaries are included as well. One from 1998, ported from the long out-of-print Elite DVD, features Lustig and Isaac Hayes having a jolly time discussing the film, while the second (recorded for the BU release) teams Lustig with writer Cohen and producer George G. Braunstein. Understandably, some of the same ground is covered in these tracks but the newer commentary goes into even more detail about the film's concept and production. It's obvious that Lustig & Co. had a fun time making the movie, and while they aren't reticent in pointing out its numerous flaws, their enthusiasm for Uncle Sam remains undampened.
7/04/04

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