Director – William Lustig
Cast – William Smith, Christopher Ogden, Leslie Neale, Bo Hopkins, Isaac Hayes, David ‘Shark’ Fralick, Matthew Flint, Anne Tremko, Timothy Bottoms, P.J. Soles
Release Year – 1997
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Uncle Sam is a film that I used to see on the DVD shelves of a local rental store back when I was a young lad, and despite its sweet cover I never gave this one a chance and always went for another R-rated effort that I needed to convince my mom to rent for me. I had honestly completely forgotten about this piece (despite being a big fan of both William Lustig and Larry Cohen) and thanks to Netflix I incidentally came across this film and immediately jumped on the opportunity to right my wrong roughly 15 years ago. From the mind of Larry Cohen(It’s Alive, Q, The Stuff, God Told Me To) and directed by William Lustig(Maniac, Maniac Cop), Uncle Sam is a zany and very cheesy effort that comes with numerous flaws, but in the end makes for a mostly-enjoyable effort for those who enjoy these types of crappy films.
When word comes through that his uncle Sam has been killed during Operation Desert Storm, young Jody Baker is devastated that his only hero has been taken from him, but uncle Sam is far from dead. Soon after arriving in town for his funeral during July 4th weekend, uncle Sam rises from the dead to kill the unpatriotic residents of his hometown.
Leave it to Larry Cohen to give us a whacky story such as this one, which I will admit is something that I have never before seen used in the genre. Sure we have been given films where someone “comes home” and kills off the locals, but I had never seen the story of an Army vet killing off those who disgrace the country he fought and “died” for, so I found the idea an interesting one for that reason. Some may think that this sounds like a propaganda film, but it is far from that and simply a horror/comedy heavy in satire and with loads of cheese. The story is simple and requires little attention to get through, leaving us to enjoy numerous kill sequences that I found quite funny although personally wished would have been more frontal to the viewer, but this is also a low-budget piece that suffers budget woes. We get quite a few characters written into this film, and while some played heavier roles than others they were all worthwhile and positively written to move the film – some by living, others by dying.
Uncle Sam marks the last full-length directorial effort from William Lustig, and sadly it is not near as good as this guy is. Low budget woes aside, the look and feel of the film was far from the quality of his usual efforts, and had me thinking that this film was a bit of a rush job that the filmmakers did not take too seriously. The usage and look of the killer was cool and we were given some fun and decently gory kill sequences at times, but his direction left a lot untold as far as our killer goes, with most of the kills suffering from editing tactics that left the good stuff off-screen and only showed the aftereffects. The acting performances were mostly poor (although Isaac Hayes did well in his role), but I found little fault with them because I expected such from a low-budget effort from two of horror’s wackiest and sleaziest filmmakers. The pacing is OK, with the kills keeping things interesting during the slower bits, and while Cohen’s screenplay won’t win any awards for this I really felt that Lustig’s direction is what held this piece back from being a really solid horror effort and not just a borderline-positive flick that I was quite forgiving toward.
Overall, Uncle Sam is a fun and quirky but flawed effort from the Cohen/Lustig duo that has the potential for some great results but instead falls a bit flat due to just decent direction from a great director. The cheese is high and there are numerous kills but the execution of the kills and the rest of the film left me longing for more, and not in the “good” way. In the end Uncle Sam may be worthwhile to fans of these filmmakers, but you must go into this with a forgiving mindset to achieve just the borderline-positive rating it received.