I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Uncle Sam

tn_unclesamwarning: I wanted to get this up in a timely manner so I have to throw it on here without re-reading it. Sorry.

Today is the 4th of July, where we in the United States celebrate our independence day. Partly the movie but mostly the historic event. There are flags and barbecues and shit, and fireworks. It’s not as involved as Christmas, but it’s a thing.

I am a fan of the holiday horror movies, so I’m happy that director William Lustig and writer Larry Cohen made this one for Independence Day back in 1996. Lustig was way past his prime and the movie kinda sucks, but I still like that it exists.

This was of course the same team that made MANIAC COP, and this is basically MANIAC SOLDIER. The maniac is Sam Harper (David ‘Shark’ Fralick), killed in a friendly fire incident during Desert Storm, not found until 3 years later. His burnt corpse is shipped back and sits in a flag-draped coffin at his widow’s house for the memorial service. But when his idolizing nephew Jody (Christopher Ogden) puts his box of medals inside the coffin for some reason that turns him into a vengeful zombie just in time for the town’s 4th of July celebration. (Also he pins the medals into his burnt flesh.)

Get it, the kid is his nephew, his name is Sam, he’s Uncle Sam. Also, he comes across a peeping tom wearing an Uncle Sam costume for the parade, he steals the costume and wears it for the rest of the movie.

A couple things about the costume: first of all, watching it for the second time I had the same feeling I did the first time I saw it years ago, that it’s a bummer he doesn’t keep the stilts. The peeping tom is on stilts but he just cuts the pants shorter. Can you imagine how enjoyable it would be if just one scene had him stalking somebody while wearing stilts? And he could attach knives to the end and step on people. It would be amazing.

Incidentally, somebody should use the clip of Uncle Sam spying on the naked lady for some kind of youtube video about NSA spying. A metaphor for our times.

Second, that mask kinda sucks. I don’t know why he has the expression he has. It doesn’t look like a real Uncle Sam mask or a scary one. The only time it really works is one shot where some guy says something ridiculous and then it cuts to Uncle Sam and the expression looks like “you gotta be fuckin kidding me.”

(The mouth hole might be cut that way just for the scene where he sticks his tongue through to lick the bloody cleaver.)

mp_unclesamMost of Sam’s victims are total assholes that offend him for patriotic reasons. There’s the asshole lawyer who brags about defending tax shelters, and later claims that the Star Spangled Banner sucks. Classic Cohen line: “Francis Scott Key. What else did he write? Nothing. Not a single other hit.” Also there’s a sleazy, opportunistic congressman (Robert Forster), some drunk kids who for some reason burn a flag in the cemetery (and piss in his open grave), their surviving friend who butchers the National Anthem and pulls his pants down in front of everybody, etc. Not so much unpatriotic, but deserving, is the asshole who’s too aggressive during the potato sack race.

That’s what makes the movie worthwhile to me, as in all low-grade holiday horror, is the incorporation of various things related to traditional holiday celebrations. He hacks somebody up with a hatchet belonging to a kid enacting the George Washington cherry tree story. He beheads somebody with a cleaver from the barbecue area, and puts the head in the smoker. He impales a guy on a flag, obviously. He ties Forster to a fireworks display (the crowd doesn’t notice at first, so there are shots of them smiling as sparks spray out of his mouth). They kill him with the world’s most powerful and fiery mini-cannon. My favorite is when he literally runs a dude up a flagpole. Nope, nobody salutes.

The tone is serious, which I appreciate. It doesn’t seem comedic, per se, but has some obviously intentionally funny dialogue. I like when the mayor tells the crowd after a butchering, “Now, we’ve had a little tragedy here. It’s all being looked after.” And after a bunch of bullet hits don’t phase Uncle Sam when little Jody says, “I don’t think that’ll do.”

Unfortunately the overall feel is obviously not scary, but it’s also not really fun. It even has a weird ending where it zooms into the kid as he’s burning his GI Joes and his mother is watching proudly. It goes to slo-mo and the music turns scary… but nothing happens. Scariness is stylistically implied, but otherwise not present. Alot of the movie is puzzling like that. It’s kinda ugly and lacking in energy, partly because it takes a good 35-40 minutes to get going, without the skillful execution to pull that off. Maybe part of the problem is the weirdness of having a little boy as the hero in a movie for adults. I guess it worked for PHANTASM, but not as well here. The kid is pretty good, but kinda required to be a little shit by the plot, ’cause he doesn’t know his uncle molested his mom and beat his aunt. He just idolizes him because he plays with GI Joes and has military designs on his sheets and stuff. A little warmonger always talking up his dead uncle and bad mouthing people that just got murdered. Yeah, that guy was a tax cheat, but maybe “keep your opinions to yourself” on that, as mom says.

I’m not sure why Uncle Sam has a connection to the children. He tells Jody he came back because of him, he also approaches Jody’s blind, wheelchair-ridden, burnt friend (injured in a fireworks accident last year!) and promises to kill for him. It’s not until the end that the kids realize he’s an asshole and switch allegiances to Isaac Hayes, the one-legged Korean War vet who is still haunted by the war and by having filled young Sam Harper’s head with stories of combat glory.

There’s a lack of moral clarity here that maybe should be respected but I’m not sure it works. The victims are intentionally portrayed as assholes, but also the killer was a total bastard before he even went to war and died. There is a sense that yes, he was betrayed by being sent to this war by greedy assholes and left for dead, but maybe his revenge would have more meaning if he wasn’t also an evil psychopath beforehand. I’m not sure what that adds except a little bit of disrespect for the military.

But I do like that this is an anti-war movie from the era of Desert Storm. The voices against that war were barely heard or known to exist in the mainstream media, and I can’t off the top of my head think of another movie that criticized it. I wish they were more coherent in their message, but at least they tried. More effective (though overly serious for the movie) is an end credits war poem recital by the great b-movie actor William Smith (who also cameos in the opening scene). Other appearances by recognizable faces are Bo Hopkins, Timothy Bottoms and P.J. Soles. Also note that the editor is Bob Murawski, who went on to win an Oscar for the, uh, similarly themed HURT LOCKER.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, July 4th, 2013 at 1:40 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

25 Responses to “Uncle Sam”

  1. “Can you imagine how enjoyable it would be if just one scene had him stalking somebody while wearing stilts? And he could attach knives to the end and step on people. It would be amazing.” Well, at least we still have 5 ELEMENT NINJAS for that.

  2. grimgrinningchris

    July 4th, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    I actually saw this one when it first came out on video. The only things I really recall were the missed opportunity on the stilts, the ugly mask (both menti

  3. grimgrinningchris

    July 4th, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    Damnit. Both mentioned by Vern. Also a cameo from some Colonial themed Flipside Records punk band whose name escapes me and the super cheesy lenticular/morphing VHS box cover.

    All that and that despite the ridiculous premise, concept and mightily B movie cast (Forster must’ve have made this before Jackie Brown) that it was just really really dull.

  4. Seems like all the ingredients are here for a holiday classic… everything except strong filmatism. And a stilts-weaponization scene. Qué lástima.

    I’ve grown to hate fireworks in real life (They’re pointless, dangerous, boring wastes of decent explosive material, and they scare innocent pets.), but I do see & appreciate the rich cinematic possibilities.

    Surely we didn’t already peak with this material’s potential after the ending of SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO?

  5. It’s BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY on PCP!

    Man is this one dull and low-rent. Even the promotional materials that led me to by the DVD on release were mostly effective in conveying the mess that this thing is. There’s a lot to laugh at for sure, but I only enjoyed watching it on e with friends and a ton of alcohol.

    It would be easy to talk about missed opportunities, some occasional sparks of life with the kills, but it really just comes off as one of those early ’80s slashers that didn’t “get” why slashers of the time were fun (much less successful).

    It’s an oddity I enjoy having in my collection but even Vern’s review and today’s date can’t get me to rewatch it. Especially with INDEPENDENCE DAY on the proverbial burner!

  6. “Incidentally, somebody should use the clip of Uncle Sam spying on the naked lady for some kind of youtube video about NSA spying. A metaphor for our times.”

    LOL

    also, didn’t Desert Storm only last like two weeks? was there really a reason to be against it? Desert Storm 2: Legend of Saddam’s WMDs was fucked up sure, but the first seems like an example of the kind of war America should fight if it’s necessary, that is to say quick

  7. This appears to be on YouTube in LegoVision. Only just at the prologue and I’m already WTFing at this thing

  8. Griff, the American armed forces being used as mercenaries by the oil companies? I think it’s plenty to be against, even if it took only two weeks.

  9. so you’re telling me that one was about oil too?

  10. by the way, does anyone remember the VHS cover for this movie? it had this lenticular image that would change depending on how you held it, that seemed to be a trend around that time, there was another similar horror movie called JACK FROST (no, not the Michael Keaton one) that had the same thing, plus a great tagline (“he’s chillin’…..and KILLIN’!”)

  11. Yeah, the Saudis had gone against OPEC’s rules and overproduced oil. But somehow Kuwait got the blame. Saddam, who lost a lot of money because of this, and who already looked upon Kuwait as part of Iraq, decided to go in and set hings right. He claimed later that he got an OK for this from the Bush administration, but he could of course not prove this later. And the rest is history. But you’re right, from our point of view it was a short and victorious war. The enemy, who was our friend the day before, got weakened and we made billions. The usual story.

  12. the Bush sure love their Texas Tea huh? I shudder to think what would happen if Jeb got into office

  13. grimgrinningchris

    July 5th, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    Yeah Griff. I had mentioned the lenticular box artwork in my post. Definitely a trend at the time. I think the same “studio” released both movies. I recall thinking we might have a new Full Moon Entertainment on our hands and also thinking that JACK FROST was more entertaining, if not actually “better”. Didn’t it have a Shannon Elizabeth shower scene?

    And speaking of Full Moon…did they ever put anything more worthwhile on celluloid than Sherilyn Fenn and her RIDICULOUSLY well endowed friend’s topless chesticular areas in that Meridian Something Something werewolf “movie”?

    I miss USA-UP ALL NIGHT.
    Great gauge to check out whether a movie was clever enough and the girls good looking enough to warrant rental dollars for the real thing.

  14. grimgrinningchris

    July 5th, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    I want a little picture/avatar thingie. I remember someone explaining how to do that eons ago but can’t find it and I am computarded. Help?

  15. create a gravatar account

  16. grimgrinningchris

    July 6th, 2013 at 12:20 am

    So no, JACK FROST wasn’t released by the same distributor as UNCLE SAM, despite both being released the sane year, both being ridiculous holiday-themed slasher movies and both having very similar lenticular VHS box-covers. Coulda fooled me at the time.

    JACK FROST did have the Shannon Elizabeth shower (or tub, rather) scene but it sadly doesn’t show much. I did not recall that the snowman appears to be raping her though (with his carrot nose put into his dick-ular area for that purpose). Wow.

    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Av2oXFjTJmg

    Oh and thanks for the avatar info. I’ll get on that next time il on a real computer and not just my phone.

  17. Knox Harrington

    July 6th, 2013 at 2:36 am

    Holy shit, I remember that carrot-dick rape scene!

    Carrot-dick rape is something that I’m very much against in real life, but it does make for some memorable cinema.

  18. I’m surprised no one around the time UNCLE SAM and JACK FROST came out made a movie about a killer Nun titled BAD HABIT (tagline: she’s prayin’….and SLAYIN’!)

  19. grimgrinningchris

    July 6th, 2013 at 8:28 am

    Haha, Griff.

    That just reminded me of the rave-zombie-nuns in that movie, THE CONVENT. Not to be confused with THE COVENANT and its wi’atches.

  20. grimgrinningchris

    July 6th, 2013 at 8:38 am

    Can we rally for Vern to do a review series if movies with lenticular box covers?

  21. Now I want to see that killer Nun movie, damnit.

    I never saw Uncle Sam, but I did watch Jack Frost (non-Micheal Keaton edition). The carrot nose/phallic rape scene was memorable, I guess, if you want to use that term. I also remember a character who has his head chopped off by one of those sleds with the metal skis. This stuck with me because even as a kid I remember thinking those old wood and metal sleds looked incredibly dangerous.

  22. another tagline for BAD HABIT could be “Mother Superior is a MOTHER FUCKER!”

  23. grimgrinningchris

    July 8th, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    “Three Our Fathers and five Hail Scaries”

    No?
    Okay.

  24. This is a topic that’s close to my heart… Cheers!

    Exactly where are your contact details though?

    my webpage: Dragon Saga

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