As is sometimes the case, a limited budget ironically adds entertainment value to this outlandish production from William Lustig. The director of cult favorites 'Vigilante' and the 'Maniac Cop' series brings life to this socially-aware B-horror movie where a Fourth of July celebration turns into a massacre for not showing enough national pride. From the imagination of Larry Cohen — notorious writer and director of the mostly forgotten grindhouse features 'Q,' 'God Told Me To,' 'The Stuff,' 'It's Alive,' and 'Black Caesar' — 'Uncle Sam' is a movie comfortable with its preposterous and very farcical premise with not-so-subtle remarks on the justifications of war.
Killed by "friendly fire" during Desert Storm, the remains of Sgt. Sam Harper (David Fralick) are returned home to a mourning family. His nephew Jody (Christopher Ogden) aspires to be just like his uncle — a soldier and war hero — while his mother (Leslie Neale) struggles with telling him the truth about her brother. Sam's widow, Louise (Anne Tremko), also tries to move on with her life and forget the past. But when a group of rowdy, flag-burning hoodlums decide to party over his gravesite, Uncle Sam rises from the dead to wreak some havoc on the unpatriotic citizens of this sleepy town. Only Jody, with the help of his friend Barry (Zachary McLemore) and Korean War vet Jed (Isaac Hayes), can stop his vengeful anger.
Although light on blatant comedy cues, 'Uncle Sam' most definitely has a sense of humor. How else could we possibly watch a low-budget horror movie about a zombie in an Uncle Sam costume? Which by the way, he stole from a peeping tom on stilts. Later, he walks around town shaking hands like he's a presidential candidate, and no one seems to notice how creepy this guys looks, especially with a pair of rotting yellow eyes to match his outfit. And how can we not laugh when a new character, Barry, is suddenly introduced half way into the movie. He's a blind and scarred kid on a wheelchair, but everyone feels safe leaving him outside in the dark while a violent reanimated vet is on a killing spree. Unintentional or not, this stuff is outright hilarious!
Adding to the silliness is a well-known cast of bargain-bin schlock — or at least, familiar faces to those who enjoy their trashy movies. While Robert Forster ('Jackie Brown,' 'Avalanche,' 'Alligator') spends his cameo contemplating if he should wear sunglasses, I really wish William Smith ('Nam's Angels,' 'Red Dawn') had more screen time. Bo Hopkins ('Midnight Express,' 'White Lightning') is funnily creepier than the just-risen dead, and P.J. Soles ('Halloween,' 'Rock 'n' Roll High School') seems uncomfortable as an overprotected housewife. Isaac Hayes ('Escape from New York'), of course, steals the show as a wounded war vet, feeling responsible for filling Sam's head with heroic stories of battle. Like a class reunion of 70s cult memorabilia, the actors play their roles with such seriousness and sincerity that the 90 minutes almost seem to go by too fast.
On paper, the idea of an undead soldier killing people in his hometown for being unpatriotic is potentially interesting and sounds amusing. (It wasn't until eight years later with the "Homecoming" episode of 'Masters of Horror' that we see this potential put to good use.) While the final product clearly feels the pains of its low-budget origins, the plot allows for Lustig and Cohen to comment on the idea of patriotism itself. Everyone is equal in the eyes of this rotting war hero. Corrupt politicians are just as likely to meet their fate as those insolent teens disrespecting the flag and the national anthem. Then there's Jed Crowley and little Jody. Aside from ridding the town of walking corpses, they're both obvious nudges of the willingness to blindly follow orders.
The movie's messaging, of course, doesn't really make it particularly good, but the political atmosphere does add to its enjoyment. It also makes it surprisingly better in quality than say something like 'Gingerbread Man' or 'Jack Frost' — other DTV, B-level features that would be considered equal to 'Uncle Sam.' Lustig even throws in a bizarre, vague conclusion as an obvious homage to Lucio Fulci's 'City of the Living Dead' just for the heck of it. In the end, it's all in good fun, and as long as the viewer has a sense of humor to match the low-budget absurdity, the movie is also pretty darn funny to watch.
It's time to serve your country, and Uncle Sam wants you . . . DEAD!
I must admit Blue Underground is doing a pretty good job with their hi-def releases thus far, and Lustig's 'Uncle Sam' is no different. Granted, the 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer (2.35:1) is limited by its low-budget source, looking exactly like a direct-to-video production. But taken for what it is, the patriotic horror flick makes a surprisingly nice video debut on Blu-ray. Only, it feels a bit bland with contrast levels that range between average to pleasingly well-balanced, depending on the scene we're watching.
In outdoor sequences, the picture is crisp, with bold, animated primaries, but indoor shots falter somewhat, with a mellower palette and whites that tend to bloom with the daylight. Those same interiors at night show strong delineation in the shadows, and blacks are cleanly rendered and energetic while skin tones appear healthy and accurate. Frequently, the image is attractively well-detailed with excellent textures in faces and clothing. But again, this is more often the case in the exteriors than in any other parts. Overall, 'Uncle Sam' looks pretty good in HD considering its source — it just lacks a film-like quality.
Back when it was originally released on DVD, 'Uncle Sam' didn't sound all that exciting. And while this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is a definite improvement, the track never really offers an impressive soundscape and its about even with the video presentation. It has its moments, with some entertaining rear activity, but many of those discrete effects also feel artificial and easily localized. The front soundstage makes better use of the hi-rez codec with intelligibly clear vocals. This isn't a high quality sound design with much imaging, but dynamic range is spotless and roomy. Channel separation is also appealing and nicely balanced, and low-frequency bass is shockingly hearty and effective for those few scenes of action at the end. On the whole, the lossless mix won't compete with some better quality films, but this schlock-fest is an upgrade to previous incarnations and fairly entertaining.
For this Blu-ray edition of 'Uncle Sam,' Blue Underground ports over the same set of features found on the DVD release.
Full of unintentional humor and a silly premise, 'Uncle Sam' comes in to wreak true patriotism on draft dodgers, crooked politicians and flag burners. This William Lustig/Larry Cohen collaboration may not look like much, but it offers some good laughter, and its socially-aware subject matter makes it an easy watch on a lazy afternoon. The Blu-ray comes with a surprisingly good audio/video presentation, but it still looks the part of a DTV production. Supplements are the same found on the previous DVD release, but overall, the package is satisfactory considering its origins. This one is definitely for the fans of low-budget schlock.