If you enjoyed watching Independence Day on July 4, you might want to check out another 1996 movie that also has a patriotic theme: Uncle Sam, a film that doesn’t hide its satirical and humorous approach to horror. Its poster, featuring a creepy version of a military-recruiting ad, says it all: “I Want You… Dead.”
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Uncle Sam may not have a big budget, but it has some impressive credentials in the horror genre. It’s directed by William Lustig (Maniac and the Maniac Cop films) and written by the legendary Larry Cohen (It’s Alive, The Stuff, God Told Me To, Q: The Winged Serpent); its cast mixes unknown actors playing the main roles with familiar faces from B-movies (P.J. Soles of Carrie and Halloween; Robert Forster before Jackie Brown; and veteran character actors Timothy Bottoms, William Smith, and Bo Hopkins) who pop up for a few scenes. The standout performer, however, is Isaac Hayes, who delivers a surprisingly serious and ultimately heroic performance.
The movie explores the concept of heroism, but its main goal is (of course) to rack up a high and inventive death toll using as many symbols of America as possible—flag pole, barbecue tools, fireworks, George Washington’s cherry-tree axe. The movie starts with a helicopter crash in Kuwait, caused by friendly fire and leaving Sergeant Sam Harper (David Fralick) with a charred body. He should be dead but—he’s enraged by the “friendly fire” incident and he’s always been an angry person—he miraculously comes back to life and kills all the soldiers who come to investigate. Meanwhile, in a small town called Twin Rivers that could be anywhere in the USA, we meet Jody (Christopher Ogden), a kid who lives with his mom, Sally (Leslie Neale), and his aunt, Louise (Anne Tremko)—Louise is Sam’s wife and Sally is Sam’s sister, which makes Sam “Uncle Sam” to Jody.
Jody loves the military and worships his uncle; he’s the only one who’s sad when they hear about Sam’s supposed death. Sally, Louise, and Sam’s old friend, Sergeant Jed Crowley (Hayes), are all glad that Sam, who was a mean, violent jerk, is gone for good. But we know he’s still around, and it’s unsettling when Jody tries to open Sam’s coffin covered with a flag while it’s in Sally’s living room. That’s a creepy thing for a kid to do anyway, but the guy was a beast in life and death—keep him in!
Uncle Sam takes a while to get to the point we’ve all been waiting for, but finally Sam’s corpse gets up and starts killing anyone who’s been unpatriotic in the movie (teens who burn flags, Jody’s teacher who hints he dodged the draft, Sally’s lawyer boyfriend who cheats on his taxes, a shady military officer, a corrupt politician), which fits the theme, and anyone who crosses his path, which also fits the theme but ruins any idea that Sam has some twisted sense of justice. He’s aiming for his family eventually, and Jody finally understands that his idol is actually a monster—though he needs several people to tell him that, including Jed.
Uncle Sam has its flaws—besides its low-quality production values, the kid who plays Jody has to show a lot of emotions, and he’s not very good at it—but it has enough weird and funny moments that you can overlook its weaknesses. For every cheesy moment .