Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Potato Sack Slaughter

I’m not a spiritual person, but if there’s one thing I firmly believe, it’s that every holiday--whether it be national, religious, historical, or commercial--deserves its own horror film. Nary an Xmas has passed in my life without a hot chocolaty viewing of Jack Frost or any of the Silent Night Deadly Night films (part 2 is my favorite, since it’s really two-for-the-price-of-one in flashbacks PLUS Garbage Day, my favorite non-holiday holiday). While I’m still waiting for a Severance-like take on Secretary Appreciation Day, it does bring me patriotic pleasure to report back from the Larry Cohen penned, William Lustig directed 1997 Uncle Sam.

In case the holographic cover art didn’t give it away, this is no Saving Private Ryan. If anything, Uncle Sam is like the grouchy old guy at the family reunion who sits in the corner and complains about kids today. Then he shoves garden shears into their eye sockets.

Quick Plot: When the news of Sergeant Sam Harper’s Desert Storm death reaches his sunny hometown, most of his family and those that knew the violent soldier with a mean sadistic streak are relieved. The exception is his America, Fuck Yeah nephew Jodi, a young boy seemingly poised to follow in Sam’s army booted footprints.

Of course, Sam isn’t quite dead (although that doesn’t stop the military from leaving his coffin in the widow’s living room, blocking the television and probably making dinner parties a tad awkward). All it takes is one gang of teens and their darned flag-burning ways to raise his rotting corpse from the dead. Before you can say George Washington, our undead soldier has commandeered a red, white, and blue Sam-suit from a peeping tom to bring back patriotism and slaughter those who stand in its way.

Draft dodgers, corrupt politicians, and even recreational drug users, be warned. This is not the kindly Uncle Sam that made you feel special by pointing in your face and demanding you die for the United States. Like some sort of distant relative to Angela Baker, this Uncle Sam wants to dispose of any and every citizen unworthy of celebrating July 4th with illegal fireworks or the apparently very complicated Star Spangled Banner. What Sleepaway Camp did for summer, Uncle Sam does for Independence Day.

Which basically means makes a fairly unscary, occasionally funny 88 minute movie that’s generally forgettable save for one major conceit (SC’s shocking WTF finale and the very presence of a homicidal undead Uncle Sam).

High Points
Sure, most of the deaths are predictable, but I’m not complaining when a flagpole is utilized in not one but two fairly deserved kills

A brief conversation about the human Sam’s brutal nature hints at a darker and almost intriguing aspect to the rather one-dimensional villain

Low Points
As direct-to-DVD (or video, as this was probably one of the last VHS stalwarts) horror goes, Uncle Sam is well made enough, but that doesn’t hold up when a name like Larry Cohen is attached. While there may be some underlying themes about U.S. military violence, the deeper intelligence of films like It’s Alive and The Stuff is nowhere to be found

The supporting cast is well-stocked with names like P.J. Soles, Isaac Hayes, and Robert Forster, but no one gets much of anything to do that’s worthy of their thespian or personality skills. The exception? Timothy Bottoms, the former Bush of That’s My Bush!, with an, in hindsight, ironic role as a former hippie-turned-unpopular schoolteacher

Lessons Learned
Playing with fireworks will blind, scar, and cripple you; other side effects include inspiring your mother to dress like Miss Piggy attending a 1950s tea party

Nobody can sing the national anthem without making a mistake

When mapping out the route for a potato sack race, locating the final bend around a steep cliff is probably not the best idea

Though it features a fallen soldier, Uncle Sam ain’t Martyrs. This is a breezily goofy B-horror that flies by without offensiveness. It doesn’t have the super creative charm of, say, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, but from its behind the scenes pedigree to the finished product, it’s more watchable than other fare like Rumplestiltskin or your average backyard filmed zombie flick. The DVD includes not one but two commentaries, with discussions by Hayes, Lustig, and the always entertaining Cohen. If you enjoy cheesily slick, nowhere near scary horror, then Uncle Sam is worth a guilt-free rental but it will most likely leave a less lasting impression than a temporary tattoo forced onto you by a five-year-old at a family barbeque or the hangover you woke up with July 5th.

1 comment:

  1. I love Uncle Sam! I saw it when it first came out on VHS and couldn't believe how terrible, and amazing it was.

    I kinda forgot about the film, then I put up the trailer on the blog for the 4th of July, and watching it again brought back a flood of great memories.

    If I remember correctly, there was a scene were a guy gets killed by a BB gun. A BB gun!? And the other thing is that blind asshole in the wheel chair. That's really all, I really need to see it again!