How does Jason discover his hockey mask? When does Freddy find his glove? And how soon can we get a cadaver dressed up as the personification of the American government? He stole it from Shelly Finkelstein. He made it himself in his boiler room. And around 39 minutes of so, give or take, in 1996’s Uncle Sam.
Directed by William Lustig (Maniac and the three Maniac Cop films) from a Larry Cohen script (It’s Alive, The Stuff, God Told Me To and around ten more movies on our shelves), this slasher film concerns itself with a soldier killed by friendly fire in Kuwait. Upon inspecting the damage, a commanding officer concludes that they should hush it up, at which point Master Sergeant Sam Harper rises from the dead to kill everyone.
Sam’s body is finally shipped home to his family — wife Louise, sister Sally and her son Jody, who worships the fallen soldier. He also has a great GI Joe collection which has stayed in great shape for 12 years or so, a testament to teenagers. My thought — he is actually playing with Sam’s old war toys as he dreams of joining him in the army one day. Sam’s commanding officer, Sergeant Twining even gives him Sam’s old medals.
During the funeral, Jody meets Sergeant Jed Crowley (Isaac Hayes, the singer of the Shaft theme, Chef from South Park and now dead Scientologist), who informs him that war is bad and that he should have never given Sam the idea to join the Army. Jody makes a big scene at the funeral and gets grounded from the fireworks the next day. Guess what? Fireworks suck. They’ve been the exact same since I was a child and fireworks technology has not advanced in forty years. You are missing nothing, Jody. Stay in your room and play with GI Joe’s like I still do at 44 years of age.
To celebrate the birth of our nation, Sam of course rises from the dead. First stop? Take his old commendations back. In a scene that makes little to no sense, the undead vet pins all of his medals to his zombie-like chest. Why wouldn’t he wear them on the front of his uniform? Why hide them? It’s gross, sure, and we like gross, but it also just seems thrown in there. Take note — this won’t be the last time that something ridiculous happens.
He then goes on a spree of patriotic butchery, including killing a stilt walking peeper pervert Uncle Sam (yes, this actually happens), burying alive two juvenile delinquents who burn a flag and desecrate the graves of veterans, cutting the head off the third of their gang who dares to scream the National Anthem, hacks a teacher’s face (Timothy Bottoms, who deserves better, because he was so awesome in Johnny Got His Gun and he’s the only actor to portray George W. Bush in three different movies or TV shows — That’s My Bush!, Crocodile Hunter the Movie and DC 9/11 and oh, while I have this run on sentence running, how about The Last Picture Show), shoots Sally’s lawyer boyfriend in the head and befriends a scarred up teen in a wheelchair who was hurt by fireworks.
Hold on — where the fuck did this subplot come from? Yep, everything that the Barry character does could have been Jody, but you know, how else would we be able to shoehorn P.J. Soles (Halloween, Rock & Roll High School, Carrie) into this film? Anyways, the party for the Fourth keeps going as Sam keeps right on killing, like blowing up a congressman with fireworks (Robert Forster from Jackie Brown) and impaling Louise’s boyfriend.
Here comes the big reveal — Sam wasn’t a hero, but an alcoholic maniac who physically and sexually abused his sister and wife, only joining the military to get a “free pass” as he loved hurting people — like the sergeant who dropped off his body, which is now in his coffin.
Jody and Barry join forces with Jed to take on Sam, who can’t be hurt by gunfire. That said — a cannon surely does the job. Cut to the next day and Jody burns all of his war toys and the screen shatters like glass in tribute to Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead (a “For Lucio” title follows directly after).
Let’s face facts. Uncle Sam isn’t very good. And unlike two of the examples I listed at the start, this film does nothing to set up why Sam has risen from the dead, what keeps him alive and what his motivations are. I’m not expecting to need to know everything, but this film just barrels along from set piece to set piece without ever giving us a real reason to care. It also feels like a movie from 1985, yet it was made over a decade later.
That’s infuriating because the concept of a soldier returning from his grave to destroy unpatriotic folks and people who are taking advantage of our country is ripe for reinvention. This could be the perfect film for the era of stolen valor and Trump. It’s also mind blowing that Blue Underground put out a blu ray of this complete with all the expected bells and whistles!