UNCLE SAM (1996) begins when an American helicopter in Kuwait is shot down by friendly fire killing soldier Sam Harper. Shortly afterwards, Harper’s body is recovered and shipped back home to Twin Rivers to receive a proper military burial. It’s here we meet Sam’s wife Louise and Sam’s nephew Jody. Louise decides to move on with her life and begins dating the local Sheriff even though she’s extremely uptight over the recent events. Jody, on the other hand, isn’t ready to move on as he was very close to his dead uncle.
Next we’re introduced to Jed Crowley (singer/songwriter Issac Hayes). Jed is a war veteran who threw himself atop a grenade during battle in order to save others, only to lose his own leg in the process. We learn that Jed regrets praising the rewards of military life to Sam as he later finds out about Sam’s unbridled anger issues. Also, the fact that Sam enjoys killing doesn’t sit well with the war veteran, nor would it with other military personnel.
So on the eve of the Twin Rivers Fourth of July celebration, Sam mysteriously rises from his coffin to unleash bloody hell on the flag burning, tax cheating, draft dodging citizens and anyone else foolish enough to stand in his way. As Jody learns of his uncle’s violent past and the townsfolk begin turning up dead, Jody, Jed and a wheelchair-bound boy must put an end to Sam’s reign of terror before it’s too late.
UNCLE SAM was clearly a direct response to the Gulf War in the mid-90s with its killer disguised in the titular American icon’s red, white and blue garb, acting as a metaphor for an aggressive American force waging war without purpose. There are obvious anti-American activities throughout the film punctuated by flag burning, tax evasion and draft dodging. If it weren’t for the inclusion of the character Jed who represents an honorably discharged soldier, UNCLE SAM could easily have been mistaken as an anti-American film. But underneath all the colorful, violent silliness is nothing more than your typical holiday-themed horror film. Despite its political subtext, UNCLE SAM turns out to be a very familiar 80s-style slasher flick. The film would have fared much better if it had been made a decade earlier.
Initially, UNCLE SAM takes its time introducing a variety of its characters. The relaxed build may make some viewers fidget in anticipation of the inevitable Fourth of July massacre. Once the mayhem does begin, the majority of the death scenes aren’t overly gory. The major exceptions are a spectacular decapitation and flagpole impaling highlighted with dangling entrails. UNCLE SAM boils down to a fun, undemanding holiday film plagued by an occasionally preachy script, slow pace, and a variety of unlikable characters, including the two leading ladies, the kid in the wheelchair, and quite frankly, Jody, the young protagonist.
UNCLE SAM was directed by William Lustig, written by Larry Cohen and filmed by James Lebovitz. It was originally released on July 4th 1996. Prior to UNCLE SAM, Lustig directed the genre classics VIGILANTE (1983) and the MANIAC COP trilogy (1988, 1990, 1993). He is best known for his seedy New York classic, MANIAC (1980) featuring Joe Spinell. Lustig is currently the CEO to Blue-underground, an entertainment company specializing in the release of obscure films. As a writer, Larry Cohen has 80 writing credits on his resume and has sat in the director’s chair a few times (21 to be exact). Some of his writing credits are BLACK CAESAR (1973), HELL UP IN HARLEM (1973), IT’S ALIVE (1974), Q THE WINGED SERPENT (1982) and most recently PHONE BOOTH (2002) and the remakes of IT’S ALIVE (2008) and MANIAC COP (2008). Prior to UNCLE SAM, cinematographer James Lebovitz worked with Troma studios shooting such classics as THE TOXIC AVENGER trilogy (1984, 1988, 1989).
Are you curious as to why Jody stares into the camera at the end of UNCLE SAM? This is a reference to Lucio Fulci’s CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) where John-John stares into the camera at the end of that film. As can be noted in the credits, UNCLE SAM is dedicated to director Lucio Fulci.
If you’re looking for a Fourth of July holiday-themed horror flick, I highly recommend UNCLE SAM as there are few to choose from. If you’re looking for something with a bit more bite, then you may want to look elsewhere. Still, UNCLE SAM is well worth sitting through as you ponder the impending 4th of July.
Contributed by: Mike Murphy