Uncle Sam wants you… dead!
One of the best tag lines ever for a horror film! It’s also one of the most memorable posters and VHS boxes to ever grace Blockbuster shelves in the 1990s. In a time where the confluence of a genre reinvigoration by Scream and the decline of the VHS format created a Wild West of what may or may not be waiting in the horror section, the guys that brought you Uncle Sam were already mavericks.
Uncle Sam was penned by the great Larry Cohen (It’s Alive, The Stuff – our review, Q: The Winged Serpent) and directed by William Lustig (Maniac – our retro review, Maniac Cop franchise – our retro review, Vigilante). They were both at the forefront of the burgeoning VHS market in the early 1980s with films that video store patrons would put into their top loader VCRs and be blown away by the visceral creativity that was popular at that time… hard to watch but impossible to look away from.
The Fourth of July was not just the last remaining holiday that needed a slasher film associated with it, although Uncle Sam isn’t just a slasher film. It is peppered with crazy kills that make it exceed the minimum slasher film cred, but just like all Larry Cohen films, there’s some subtext below the surface.
On a Fourth of July weekend, the body of Sgt. Sam Harper (Drew “Shark” Fralick) comes home to lie in repose. He was killed in a friendly fire incident during the Gulf War, and his sister, Sally (Leslie Neale), and widow, Louise (Anne Tremko), come to terms with finally knowing what really happened regarding his death. They also deal with the bittersweet feelings they have in dealing with their loss and finally being free of his abusive and violent ways. His young nephew, Jody (Christopher Ogden), idolizes him for all the wrong reasons and becomes infatuated with his medals and his coffin that sits in the living room downstairs.
Sam doesn’t plan on staying dead, however. He rises back up to avenge any un-American act such as flag burning, desecration of public property, and crooked public officials. The interesting arc is that he isn’t a sympathetic character. The heart of the film is Sgt. Jed Crowley, a fellow veteran from the Korean War, portrayed by the legendary Isaac Hayes. He makes reminds the audience that enduring the horrors of war and serving one’s country is something very different from enjoying the killing and atrocities that go with it.
Watching it again made me realize that Uncle Sam can be an interesting comparison to Bob Clark’s Deathdream. The cast is stellar and includes Timothy Bottoms (The Last Picture Show, The Shed – our review, Invaders from Mars), Isaac Hayes (Truck Turner, Escape from New York), Robert Forster (Alligator, Jackie Brown), Bo Hopkins (The Wild Bunch, American Graffiti), William Smith (Red Dawn, Conan the Barbarian), and P.J. Soles (Halloween, Carrie – our retro review).
Blue Underground is William Lustig’s company. He is always setting the bar for gold standards of deluxe cult cinema restoration. Uncle Sam never looked better and even has a variation from the cover from original VHS box that shows a normal Uncle Sam and zombified version when you tilt it. How cool is that?
The extras include the following:
Audio Commentary with William Lusting, Larry Cohen, and producer George G. Braunstein
Additional Audio Commentary with William Lustig and Isaac Hayes
Fire stunts with Audio Commentary by stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos
Poster and Still Gallery
Happy Fourth of July! For more July 4th horror films, read our list of films here.