Uncle Sam (1996)

Uncle Sam (1996)

Uncle Sam wants you… DEAD!

Patriotic American soldier Sam Harper is killed in Kuwait by friendly fire and his body is sent home for burial. But when back on home soil, the burned-up corpse comes back to life as an avenging demon and declares war on ‘unpatriotic’ Americans.

 

Director William Lustig and writer Larry Cohen team up for the first time since Maniac Cop and bring you Uncle Sam, a film which would have found itself more at home in the 80s amongst the cheesy, straight-to-video slashers than it does amongst a predominantly self-aware post-Scream crowd. In a post-modern era, Uncle Sam looks dated, low budget and generally full of well-worn clichés which I’m sure would have been more widely-accepted and papered over had the film been released during the golden period of the slasher.

Uncle Sam has a daft premise which begs for a comedic approach but unfortunately the film plays it totally straight. The zombified corpse of Sam dressed up in an Uncle Sam outfit going around killing people is just gagging for some humour but there’s nothing doing, despite a few odd moments of unintentional laughter during some of the scenes. The audience isn’t taking the film seriously but at the same time, it isn’t fun to watch. There’s no sense of winking to the audience. I’m sure there is some hidden political satire lurking around – stuff to do with patriotism and post-traumatic stress, arguably more relevant today after wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but again they’re not really at the forefront of the film. Lustig and Cohen aren’t out to make waves in this respect and certainly lack the damning blows of some of their earlier work together.

You just get a bit of a feeling that Sam was an attempt to create another slasher icon so that a few more sequels could have been churned out. His look is certainly unique, he’s got that ‘undead’ angle going on and he’s handy with a variety of deadly weapons. But there’s nothing about the character which stands out. He’s just another crazy slasher, albeit in a more brightly-coloured costume. There are no quips or puns when he dispatches someone. Apart from the crazy get-up, there’s nothing here to distinguish Sam from any of the other mindless murderers of the 80s or 90s. So this seems like a missed opportunity more than a wasted one.

The other major problem with Uncle Sam is that it takes ages to get going as practically nothing happens for the first forty minutes. Well I guess this is the time when the film sets up the main cast of characters for Sam’s eventual killing spree. But does the film really need to spend so long in setting up a bunch of unlikeable characters who will not make it to the end? When ‘Uncle Sam’ finally declares war on unpatriotic Americans, the film picks up a little pace. Anyone from flag burners, tax cheats and people who ruin the national anthem are fair game when Sam is around. There are a few novel deaths including a new meaning to “don’t play with fireworks” but a couple of the kills happen off-screen or you simply don’t get a good look at what has happened. So the point of establishing these characters early in the film and then killing them, especially off-screen and in very quick succession, seems totally pointless. Isaac Hayes (‘Chef’ from South Park) makes a lame, boring appearance as an old army veteran.

 

Uncle Sam had potential to be sure fire camp hit – not the dud that it ended up as. It’s not like Cohen and Lustig don’t know how to make a great slasher (check out the awesome Maniac Cop and its first sequel) but maybe deciding to throw in some anti-war and political messages into a bottom-dollar slasher flick wasn’t their greatest call.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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