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It's Fourth Of July Weekend, and the recently discovered corpse of Sgt. Sam Harper - killed by 'friendly fire' during the first Gulf War - is returned to his all-American hometown. But when Sam rises from the dead to punish the unpatriotic, only his young nephew and a bitter Korean War veteran can stop his red-blooded rampage. Draft dodgers, tax cheats, crooked politicians and flag-burners beware: Uncle Sam wants you... DEAD!
For more about Uncle Sam and the Uncle Sam Blu-ray release, see Uncle Sam Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on July 1, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: William Smith (I), P.J. Soles, Isaac Hayes, Timothy Bottoms, Bo Hopkins, Robert Forster
Director: William Lustig
» See full cast & crew
Uncle Sam Blu-ray Review
Blow this one up with some M80s.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, July 1, 2010
People who don't respect the American way of life deserve to have their butts kicked.
There's something to be said for off-the-cuff oddball Horror. Sure the usual suspects -- Michael, Jason, and Freddy -- make for a decent enough time at the movies; they know how to stalk teens, spill blood, and look really scary doing it, but at the end of the day, they're completely fictitious characters devised for film and with no bearing on real life, save for some Halloween costumes and pricy figurines that hit the market after the fact. It's when filmmakers exit that "mainstream" and take unassuming and benign family-friendly characters -- real or otherwise -- that the Horror genre takes a turn towards the truly bizarre. It's one thing to see Jason Voorhees slashing up some campers, but it's another altogether to watch someone in a Santa Claus suit hacking up the innocent or a snowman putting some folks on ice. Silent Night, Deadly Night (not to mention its flashback-happy sequel) and Jack Frost are two such examples of campy-good Horror movies catering to a specific back-of-the-video-store audience, and Director William Lustig's (Maniac) Uncle Sam fits comfortably into that same genre niche. It's just too bad the movie's pretty much awful in just about every way imaginable, but not so bad as to be unintentionally and uproariously funny, as is the case with Silent Night, Deadly Night and Jack Frost.
In Kuwait, a helicopter shot down during the Gulf War is found after a sandstorm revealed its location. One of the bodies inside is that of Master Sergeant Sam Harper (David Fralick) who, despite being burned and buried for all these years, is still alive, and he's not too happy with the idea that his chopper was brought down by friendly fire. He murders two U.S. servicemen, but nevertheless, word reaches home that his body has been recovered and it's being shipped back to the States. Sam's nephew Jody (Christopher Ogden) couldn't be happier; though his favorite uncle is no longer among the living, Jody's respect for his service -- and the military itself -- knows no bounds. With Sam's body back home, Jody's appreciation and desire to cling to anything and everything Sam only grows. Little does Jody know that his uncle isn't really dead. When Sam senses that the town is being overrun by flag-burners and amoral politicians and public figures, he rises from his coffin, dons an Uncle Sam costume, and proceeds to kill everyone he finds distasteful.
Uncle Sam is a Horror movie that tries to be bloody fun and make some kind of point by film's end, but it fails on both levels. As a straight Horror movie, it's fine at a base level. It's got a fairly creepy and equally fairly cool killer, but his methods and kills aren't all that unique. In fact, aside from a fireworks display that winds up being mixed with some blood and guts and a flag through the chest, it's all routine. The villain alone scores the movie a couple of points, but Uncle Sam should have been better than this. It's a case study in wasted potential; the filmmakers took a pretty neat idea and squandered it on a script that's much too sluggish out of the gate and with little value other than a few boring kill shots. Additionally, it's far too dependent on formula and genre cliché, not to mention that it's painfully slow and poorly acted. Truth be told, that's a laundry list that's par for the course for most any Horror movie of this kind. Nobody expects five-star greatness; after all, movies like The Shining only come around once or twice in a generation, and for a movie called Uncle Sam with a tagline that reads "I want you...dead!," it's hard to complain with the end result. It's an open-and-shut case of caveat emptor, and anyone with an inkling towards low-end Horror movies will know exactly what to expect from William Lustig's 1997 picture.
As to whether the movie works when it tries to make a point, well, it would have worked better if the point were a bit more focused or, better yet, absent from the film entirely. Maybe it's a case of a movie being too dull for it to really matter, but it's hard to pinpoint exactly what Uncle Sam wants to be: Slasher, cautionary tale, political diatribe, or what? The easy answer is actually "Gimmick Slasher" -- just like Jack Frost and Silent Night, Deadly Night. That's fine and Yankee-Doodle-Dandy, but focus on that rather than try and weave in some fledgeling message that only further pulls the movie down rather than in some way props it up. No doubt the end message behind the slaughter is in some way anti-military; the end scene reinforces that strongly enough, but what's the purpose behind it? Sam's mad that he was shot down by friendly fire; OK, that makes sense, but he's also mad at unpatriotic Americans, or Americans that are absent any real morals, who give him specific targets to kill. However, when the movie has to build up these targets to make them worth his time, it only takes away from the pacing. Here's a cheap-o Horror movie truism: it's much easier to kill random teenagers than it is to spend 10 minutes developing a no-good citizen for a ten-second payoff. The movie is definitely a story built around a gimmick rather than a gimmick maneuvered into a story, and that's why Uncle Sam doesn't work, and why its social commentary disappears into the ethers of the doldrums that define the experience.
Maybe that's being too harsh on poor old Sam; after all, the movie shows some real plusses, even through the abysmal acting; sloth-like pacing of its first two acts; and dubious plot developments, such as the sudden introduction of a blind, burned, and wheelchair-bound sidekick for Jody. William Lustig proves himself a capable director in Uncle Sam. No, there's nothing groundbreaking here, and truth be told, most of the more "artsy" shots can be found in most any other midlevel Horror movie, but his competent, if not generic, direction is actually a step above what's found in most of these sorts of movies. The makeup effects are solid, too; while the burned skin on Jody's friend's face isn't at all convincing, the Uncle Sam makeup looks fantastic. It's raw, ugly, slimy, and there's plenty of detail on the face and hands, enough, even, to make this worth a watch for those interested in prosthetics and movie makeup. The gore effects aren't bad, either. Sure, some of the death scenes are borderline ridiculous, but the more involved shots -- an ax to the forehead and a decapitated body -- will satisfy the gore hounds in the audience. Still, these few plusses -- as important as they are to a Horror movie -- just can't make up for the film's lack of thematic resonance (not because a Horror movie demands that, but because Uncle Sam tries and fails to incorporate it into the movie), painful pace, dull acting, and oddball plot developments.
Uncle Sam Blu-ray, Video Quality
Oh, say can you see Uncle Sam in 1080p high definition? You can on Blu-ray, and while Blue Underground's 2.35:1-framed image isn't spectacular, it's a good, stable transfer that should please most fans. The transfer's most prominent feature is an aggressive sharp-around-the-edges look that doesn't really lend to the movie a natural film-like definition. Nevertheless, the image is bathed in a moderate level of grain, and the high definition treatment has yielded a fair amount of fine object detail across the board, particularly noticeable on both the texture and stitching of military uniforms in close-up shots and in the intricacies of the film's strong Uncle Sam makeup effects. Unfortunately, the opposite holds true, too; viewers will note the rather phony looking scarring on the blind boy's face. Colors are stable, never particularly vibrant but rarely dull, either. A few random speckles and a bit of dirt are evident on occasion, but the image is generally free of such intrusive elements. Black levels are stable and fair, and flesh tones, too, never appear excessively ghastly or overly red. Though not a reference-level transfer, Blue Underground's work on Uncle Sam more often than not impresses within the context of what one could reasonably expect of a low-budget, mid-1990s film.
Uncle Sam Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Uncle Sam stalks Blu-ray with a full-fledged, all-American DTS-HD MA 7.1 lossless soundtrack. More often than not, Blue Underground's 7.1 mixes that accompany decades-old Horror films lack all that much in the way of punch and surround information, but 1997's Uncle Sam manages to squeeze out quite a bit of each. It's certainly not demo-worthy material, but fans should be pleased with the end results. The rear channels spring to life from the film's first seconds as a creepy, mood-setting wind blows around the soundstage and creates a chilling atmosphere for the Kuwaiti desert where Sam's chopper has been unearthed. Additional surround elements are not sparse, but they're not found in abundance, either. The track engages the back speakers to fine effect when necessary and leaves them be when the material can acceptably be handled by the front half of the soundstage. The film's music -- and the opening title's rendition of John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" in particular -- blares into the listening area with a good, positive, and strong posture; it's not the most crystal-clear and seamless of presentations, but fans of the picture's patriotic music should enjoy the added benefit of the lossless encode. Several gunshots and more aggressive cannon fire at a few points in the film feature acceptable power. Dialogue, too, is consistently clear and never lacking in any area, with echoing words over a speaker system at an outdoor Fourth of July festival providing a fairly honest and realistic surround experience. Uncle Sam isn't going to compete for "Blu-ray soundtrack of the year, 2010," but it's just fine for what it is and needs to be.
Uncle Sam Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Blue Underground brings Uncle Sam to Blu-ray with a few extras, the collection headlined by a pair of audio commentary tracks. The first features Director William Lustig, Writer Larry Cohen, and Producer George G. Braunstein. The track is fairly basic; it's affable and informative, with the trio demonstrating a good camaraderie as they discuss a wide range of issues both pertinent and only loosely related to the film. Track two once again features Lustig, this time accompanied by the late Isaac Hayes. This one retains a similar light and friendly tone that covers some of the same information as the first but still makes for a decent listen. Fans can't go wrong with either track. Fire Stunts (480p, 9:45) is a behind-the-scenes look at the picture's pyrotechnics and special effects with forced audio commentary by stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos. Also included is a deleted scene (480p, 0:51), a gag reel (480p, 0:38), the Uncle Sam theatrical trailer (1080p, 1:33), and poster and still galleries (1080p).
Uncle Sam Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
It's a surefire sign that Blu-ray has arrived and is here to stay when a movie like Uncle Sam sees the light of day. Yes, the movie is terrible in every sense of the term, but God bless Blue Underground for cranking these things out and giving fans of off-the-beaten-path cinema something that's up their alley to watch on their HDTVs. Anyone with an inkling towards these low-budget campy Horror flicks owe it to themselves to at least give a movie like Uncle Sam a try; chances are even hardcore genre fans will be disappointed at the wasted potential, but for as bad as it is, it could have been much worse. Blue Underground's high definition release of Uncle Sam isn't half bad. It sports a decent enough 1080p transfer, a stable and surprisingly aggressive lossless soundtrack, and a fair assortment of extra goodies. With the 4th of July coming up, why not give this one a rental or gift a new copy to that Blu-ray fan who's going to be slaving away at the grill all day long?
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Uncle Sam Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Blue Underground Announces Uncle Sam Blu-ray - February 27, 2010
Uncle Sam wants you – dead! Blue Underground has set a June 29 date for the Blu-ray release of the 1997 horror movie Uncle Sam, directed by William Lustig (who also directed Maniac and the Maniac Cop trilogy), about a soldier killed in action who rises from the ...
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