Monday, July 18, 2011

Uncle Sam (1997)

Dead White & Blue

The name William Lustig is forever stored in the minds of horror fans worldwide. Originally directing pornography under the pseudonym "Billy Bagg", Lustig is renown for his 1980 serial killer classic Maniac as well as the unrelated Maniac Cop trilogy. What's bizarre is that aside from the aforementioned films and a few other random features, Lustig really hasn't directed a lot of movies, as his larger body of work consists mostly as the role of "producer" on video documentaries. His last feature film was 1997's ridiculously cheesy holiday horror, Uncle Sam, which most of you will remember seeing on video store shelves as it boasted the same lenticular 3D/hologram cover art as the equally cheesy Jack Frost films. You know what I'm talking about. As you slowly passed the box, the cover image would shift from a normal picture of Uncle Sam to one of him as a decaying zombie. Yeah, that one! Uncle Sam is one of those low-budget horror films of the 90s that was ultimately cheesy and terrible, but still scored points because it was shot on 35mm (back in a pre-digital age when it was cheaper to print) and had a professional look to it. But just like the 3D box art, once you get past the pretty view you'll see the nasty side of this schlocky horror film (and probably the reason Lustig hasn't returned to the director's chair in well over a decade).

Sam Harper was an abusive and disturbed man who joined the army to fight in the Gulf War due to his insatiable lust for killing. After his helicopter was gunned down in a bout of accidental friendly fire, the wreckage was lost in the desert and his body was never found. Years later, an army Sargent arrives at the house of Sam's wife, Louise (Anne Tremko, who you'll recall played Zack's original love interest in Saved by the Bell: The College Years) to announce that they have finally discovered his corpse and are going to return him home for a proper burial. Though Louise and Sally (Sam's sister) are relieved to finally have closure as they both suffered torment from Sam's abusive hands, his young nephew Jody is heartbroken. Jody never learned of Sam's horrid past and has therefore always looked up to him as a role model, vowing to join the military as soon as he's of legal age. After Sam's body is returned home in preparation for his funeral, a number of anti-American incidents lead to the return of his vengeful corpse who is out to kill flag burners, people who botch the National Anthem, tax evaders, crooked lawyers, war protestors, and the sheriff that's currently banging his wife. Only Jody, some blind kid, and a remorseful war veteran played by the late Isaac Hayes can stop Sam's patriotic reign of terror before it's too late.

Uncle Sam is cheesy to the core and it doesn't seem to take itself too seriously, which is a good thing because it's a laughable and entertaining film to watch. As previously mentioned, it's shot in 35mm so it has a completely professional and crisp appearance, but looks don't save it from terrible acting, cliché characters and the random nonsense that pollutes the entire film.

There are some laughably crafty kills, especially one that takes place during a potato sack race that the film's main teenage bully is taking WAY too seriously as he nudges and shoves both children and adults to the ground in order to win. There's also a pretty wicked peeping tom scene in which a fully nude girl shows off a wicked pair of tits while an Uncle Sam on stilts watches through her second story window. I'd also be remiss if I failed to mention a cameo by P.J. Soles (Halloween)!

I also get the feeling there's supposed to be an anti-war message floating in the ether throughout the film, but it fails to every be fully realized as the ludicrousness of the plot makes sure this propaganda won't see the light of day. The movie is obviously too busy firing canons at bad guys and having extremely poor dialogue to prevent any seriousness from escaping the script's original intentions, which could have actually added some depth to the cheap storyline.

Mediocre violence, perfect breasts, and murky social commentary aside, Uncle Sam is a silly holiday horror film that's best viewed maybe once a year (on the fourth of July, obviously) with a group of friends and a case of beer. The budget allows it to accomplish more than many low-cost films of the 90s, but with cheesy one-liners and a semi-sluggish pace, it's far from being the fireworks display you'd like it to be.

2/5 Stars

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