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Uncle Sam (1996) Review

Uncle Sam begins somewhere in Kuwait with the discovery of a helicopter shot down by friendly fire. The occupants are presumed dead, but one, Master Sergeant Sam Harper (David “Shark” Fraylick, Black Wood, Blood Pageant), reanimates long enough to snap the neck of the soldier checking his tags, grab his sidearm and blow away the major (William Smith, Invasion of the Bee Girls, Hell Comes to Frogtown) in charge. “Don’t be afraid, it’s only friendly fire” he quips before returning to the land of the dead.

Back in Twin Rivers Sgt. Twining (Bo Hopkins, Fertilize the Blaspheming Bombshell, The Wild Bunch) shows up to tell Sam’s widow Louise (Anne Tremko, Saved by the Bell: The College Years, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes) that his body has been found and will be coming home. She tells her sister Sally (Leslie Neale, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Twilight Man) whose young son Jody (Christopher Ogden, SLC Punk!, Pumpkin Man) idolized Sam.

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The thing is, Sam wasn’t exactly the kind of person you want as a role model. He beat his wife, sexually abused his sister, and joined the Army not to serve his country, but to be able to kill with impunity. And when a bunch of bored teens desecrates his grave, he’s going to show them that not even death can stop him from indulging that love.

Director William Lustig (Maniac, Vigilante) and writer Larry Cohen (Body Snatchers, Q: The Winged Serpent) seem to be trying to replicate the success of their Maniac Cop films. Both feature a man in uniform returning from the grave in time for a holiday and a parade. But where the Maniac Cop films were as much indebted to The Terminator as they were to Friday the 13th, Uncle Sam is a fairly standard slasher film.

Once Sam rises from his coffin around the forty-minute mark, Uncle Sam could as easily be called Uncle Jason as the undead GI hacks his way through those he considers to be disrespectful of American values. For the most part that means a host of disposable cannon fodder introduced just in time to die.

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Sam’s choice of victims has caused more than one writer to call Uncle Sam a right-wing film as a military man, undead as he may be, rids the country of corrupt politicians, flag burners, and even a leftover Vietnam War protestor. Others point to Sam’s lack of character as proof it’s meant to point up hypocrisy on the right, screaming about values while hiding the skeletons in their own closets.

Ironically, I think that may be illustrating what the script was actually trying to deal with, our perception of ideals such as heroism and patriotism. People perceive Sam as a hero and a patriot because he served in combat and died for his country. But as Sgt. Crowley (Isaac Hayes, Escape from New York, Truck Turner) says, “You never fought for your country, you just killed for the love of killing”. Can he still be considered heroic if he fought for the wrong reason? Does what he did before joining up diminish what he may have done for the country?

Stepping away from such thorny issues and back to more basic things, Uncle Sam does deliver as a slasher with several inventive deaths including one by way of fireworks, impalement with a flagpole, and someone being hung from a flagpole. Unfortunately, due to the low budget, many of the kills happen out of sight, with the viewer just seeing the bloody aftermath.

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There are also, apart from the ones already mentioned, several cameo appearances to watch out for. They include P.J. Soles (Halloween, Hanukkah), Timothy Bottoms (The Last Picture Show, Tar), and Robert Forster (Grave Intentions, The Black Hole) as a sleazy senator who becomes the unwilling star of the fireworks display.

While it’s not one of Lustig’s better films, and it’s nowhere near the top of Cohen’s amazing filmography, Uncle Sam doesn’t deserve the relative obscurity it’s ended up in. It’s a decent enough holiday slasher with a few jumps, some effective splashes of gore, and even some skin to help offset the film’s more serious ideas.

Uncle Sam is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Lustig’s company Blue Underground, as well as on Digital Platforms. And if you want more holiday horror, FilmTagger can suggest some appropriately themed titles.

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