Directed By Bill Lustig
Starring: David “Shark” Frailic, Leslie Neale, Isaac Hayes, Christopher Ogden
Back in the old days of horror and exploitation films the filmmakers weren’t just telling stories, they were also trying to get something out of there system. Dawn of the Dead was a great zombie movie, probably the best ever made, but it was also a comment on what Romero was feeling about consumerism in America at the time. Even the setting, one of the first large indoor malls in America, supported his statement.
Romero’s statement was perfectly rendered so that even if you didn’t agree with him you could still enjoy his movie. Exploitation films of the 70’s were never quite so subtle. They usually made the feelings of the filmmakers very apparent. It’s obvious that Bill Lustig, director of Uncle Sam is influenced both by Romero and by the grind house classics of the 70’s.
Uncle Sam tells the story of Sam Harper (David “Shark” Frailic), a victim of the Desert Storm conflict. He went missing and was presumed dead. A few years later his body was finally found and sent home just in time for a fourth of July celebration. His sister Sally (Leslie Neale) agrees to have the casket temporarily stored in her house until arrangements can be made. Sally’s son Jody (Christopher Ogden) looked up to Sam and even wants to join the military himself when he grows up. Sam’s wife has struggled to move on with her life, even though Sam wasn’t exactly the “perfect” husband. On the eve of the July 4th celebration Sam rises to destroy the evil doers, the commies, or the generally unpatriotic citizens of the small town.
For a low budget slasher flick Lustig takes his time getting the killings going. Sam doesn’t even rise from the casket until nearly 45 minutes into the film. Up to that point Uncle Sam is more about people’s feelings about soldiers, about war, and about dealing with loss. Larry Cohen (Phonebooth) injected the first half of this film with more than just standard heroes and victims. He wrote this story, and developed these characters to share his feelings about war, and about the military, and about patriotism in America.
The second half of the film, the post awakening of Sam Harper, becomes more of a by-the-numbers slasher flick offering nothing we haven’t seen many times before. The acting throughout the film is spotty with some cast members giving great performances while others fall completely flat. The victims are easy to pick out and the ending is predictable. But, if you’re a fan of the genre, aren’t most movies of this type predictable? On the upside the gore effects are quite good and so is the humor.
The thing that I appreciate is that the filmmakers tried to do a little something more with the characters than simply introduce tem and either kill them off or have them prevail in the end. There can be a lot of pressure just to cover people in blood and show some T&A to make a buck off a non studio low budget film. There’s definitely some gore and very minor amount of nudity, but there are some characters with real depth to them as well. I enjoyed Isaac Hayes as one of the heroes doing his best exploitation character since Escape fro New York. I didn’t however enjoy the blind kid in the wheelchair. Giving the blind character special abilities is a tired crutch used by way to many writers these days. Larry Cohen can do better.
The movie is flawed, predictable, and ridiculous, and a little in your face with its political views, but there’s some good gore, some good humor, and a surprising level of character for an independent horror flick. Uncle Sam is a step above most films in the independent horror category. Look for fun appearances by scream queen P.J. Soles (Halloween, Carrie), and Robert Forster (Jackie Browne).
The 1080p presentation takes the look of the film up a notch from what was a better than expected DVD version. The movie is only going to be so pretty because it was made with such a tiny budget. This presentation takes the best of the film and shows it off while unfortunately showing off some of the weaknesses too. Skin tones look great, black levels and colors are well rendered in exterior shots where there’s plenty of light. Inside when the lights get less consistent there are issues with murky black s ond blooming whites. Detail levels and contrast also look substantially better in exterior shots. This is no stellar presentation but it’s definitely servicable especially considering the age and low budget nature of the source material.
This DTS HD presentation is a nice step up from the DVD version of the film. The biggest problem with that version was that dialogue was often too soft. This release fixes that problem. As far as surround fx the few that are in the film feel more gimmicky than tools to make the film more immersive. The front channels do sound nice and clean and there’s even som bass from the sub woofer.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
I love the artwork featured on the cover. It’s a holographic replica of the old “I want you!” posters featuring Uncle Sam trying to recruit for the military.
There are two commentary tracks available, the first with director William Lustig and writer Larry Cohen and the second coming from the original Elite release by Lustig and Isaac Hayes. The second commentary is much better than the first as Hayes and Lustig speak at length about how different shots were accomplished on the low budget and they both share anecdotes from the shoot. The new commentary has some gems of information but mostly it features Cohen blathering on and on about his political views from the time and the current situation in Iraq. It is interesting to hear his views and how they effect the script but this commentary is supposed to be about the movie, not about politics.
There’s also a commentary from stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos focusing on the various fire stunts within the film. A poster and still gallery, the trailer, and a gag reel are also provided along with the theatrical trailer. Sadly there’s not much new here for this special blu-ray release.
Bill Lustig comes by his influences honestly, and he’s getting some of those great old films out on DVD through his company Blue Underground. He’s actually learning from those films rather than dismissing them as so many other filmmakers have in the past. This could have been just another slasher flick, but Lustig and Cohen brought more depth to the film than I had expected. Uncle Sam isn’t groundbreaking, but it is a refreshing trip back to 80’s slasher classics.
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10
The Movie 5/10
The Video 7/10
The Audio 7/10
The Bonus Features 6/10