William Lustig’s last shot to date as director, Uncle Sam is a satirical zombie/slasher take on do-or-die patriotism. The movie opens in Kuwait during the Gulf War, with Master Sergeant Sam Harper’s corpse about to be pulled from the wreckage of a downed helicopter when the crisped corpse lurches to life, offing his rescuers with a snappy “Don’t worry, it’s only friendly fire.” Cue titles.
The scene then switches to Twin Rivers, US of A, where Uncle Sam Harper’s nephew has a dream about the soldier. Sam’s wife is informed of the discovery of her husband’s body, who she appears to have been afraid of when he was alive and in the house. The nephew, Jody, can’t wait to grow up, enlist, and unquestioningly follow the orders of the President (who can do no wrong in his eyes). The Fourth of July rolls around and that’s the cue for the ultrapatriotic Sam to revive and go slaughter all those jagoffs being disrespectful to the stars and stripes.
Screenwriter Larry Cohen is known for injecting sociopolitical satire into his genre scripts, and Uncle Sam is no exception, throwing flag-waving patriotism and post-Gulf War trauma on his bonfire of pulp irony. Lustig directs with his customary conviction and eye for composition, but the film is far too leisurely in its setup, taking over a third of the running time until we finally see Uncle Sam in action.
There are, however, compensations. Halloween alum P.J. Soles appears as the mother of a boy blinded and burnt by a fireworks accident with whom Uncle Sam appears to connect with. Robert Forster shines in a brief role as a dirtbag politician. And Isaac Hayes is brilliant as a vet with a less than stellar view of the Gulf War. Some of the kills are fun, with one snot-nosed kid who deliberately butchers the national anthem at the July 4 celebrations being butchered himself during a sack race. Another victim meets his end as the centrepiece of a fireworks show, one decapitated with his head dumped on a barbecue grill, and a further victim is impaled on an American flag. The makeup on the titular character is detailed and grotesque, though hidden behind an Uncle Sam mask for a portion of his screen time. To top it all off, Lustig kicks into high gear for another fiery finale (he seems to enjoy setting people on fire).
Though it never truly lives up to the promise of its premise, and is in some ways a retread of the plot of the Lustig/Cohen Maniac Cop, overall Uncle Sam is a minor but fun indictment of slaughter in the guise of patriotism and the film has the courage of its pulp convictions. It would make a fun double feature with Bob Clark’s Deathdream (1974, also known as Dead of Night), a Vietnam allegory crossed with The Monkey’s Paw about a soldier killed in action that returns home as one of the undead.
In spite of the fact that Uncle Sam went direct to video, it was actually photographed for a theatrical release. Blue Underground’s 4K UHD disc boasts a new restoration of the film, scanned in 4K 16-bit from the original 35mm camera negative, and the results are superlative. Deep, vibrant colours abound in this wonderful transfer.
- Audio Commentary #1 with Director William Lustig, Writer Larry Cohen, and Producer George G. Braunstein – Recorded in February 2004. Bill Lustig is always great to listen to and shares many anecdotes on the making of the film although he admits that he hadn’t seen Uncle Sam in seven years. Cohen and Braunstein kick in their share of stories and comments, making for a highly entertaining track.
- Audio Commentary #2 with Director William Lustig and Star Isaac Hayes – Lustig amazingly seems to come up with different anecdotes than the first commentary, and he’s joined by velvet-voiced Hayes. With the obvious camaraderie between the two this is a delight to listen to.
- Fire Stunts with Audio Commentary by Stunt Coordinator Spiro Razatos (10 mins.) – A brief vignette on the impressive fire effects.
- Deleted Scene (53 s.) – Extremely brief extra scene, shown with multiple takes. Disposable really.
- Gag Reel (40 s.) – Nothing much of anything.
- Theatrical Trailer, Poster & Still Gallery
Though Lesser Lustig, Uncle Sam is a fun, satirical shocker that gets a stellar 4K upgrade from Blue Underground.