Uncle Sam isn't one you can avoid renting for too long if you're the type who spends any amount of time in the horror aisle at the video store. It's pretty tough to resist when the cover art features a decaying corpse in an Uncle Sam costume. Just as stupid as any typical 80s slasher flick, this one was made in 1997 with a better budget. The added funds didn't allow for anything too great, but one thing I really liked about this flick was the lighting. Most of these films are kept so dark, you can barely tell what's going on. They'd say it's to create 'ambiance', but really, when you're making monsters out of whatever twenty bucks can buy you, they're probably gonna come out terrible. Keeping things dark masks bad effects. The monster in Uncle Sam is actually pretty decent looking, so we're afforded a much better view of the action. Of course, in a movie like this, that's not necessarily a good thing.
I'm not going to rip it apart on the whole because I didn't rent it expecting - or even wanting - a good movie. However, I will rip it apart for insinuating that you could grab a few twelve-year-olds out of an institution and get a great acting performance out of 'em. With the cast they've put together, you'll find yourself rooting for the bad guys. I don't mean that in the same way I would when people root for Jason in Friday the 13th movies - this has nothing to do with a cinematic experience. You root for the bad guys because if they don't kill some of these characters fast enough, you're gonna have to pull a Van Gogh on your ears so you won't hear them manage to fuck up lines like 'nice weather today' any longer than you have to.
Uncle Sam reminds me of Troma movies to a degree, only this one is far less witty. Still, it was tongue-in-cheek enough to where you won't need to kill the director for taking this crap seriously. At least, I hope it was tongue-in-cheek. I can't imagine anyone putting together a film about a murderous corpse in an Uncle Sam outfit taking their craft too seriously.
The real major minus points for this flick come from the fact that the creepy action doesn't start for a good long while - at least a third of the way into it. So, I apologize in advance if I review a twenty-minute stretch of Uncle Sam using three expletives and a side note about the benefits of switching to goat milk. I'll need to entertain myself somehow in the waiting period before people start getting their heads chopped off.
To kick things off, Ultimate Patriot Sam Harper is found dead after a lengthy search mission in Kuwait, having been shot down by friendly fire. Ain't so friendly now, is it Sam? Burnt to a crisp, the movie wastes no time in establishing him as a supernatural entity, since he keeps twitching and giggling and doing whatever else he can to make sure we realize he's still got some juice left. I'd say they ruined the surprise by doing this so early, but really, it doesn't take a genius to put this puzzle together. Yes, Sam will be your chief villain. Just not yet. In fact, not for a while, as Uncle Sam holds the record for taking the most time to set a story up.
Meet Jody - Sam's nephew who lives with his mother and Sam's ex-wife. Jody idolizes his uncle and spends the entire movie talking about how he wants to be just like him. These are amazing personal convictions considering that his mother tells us that Sam died when Jody was, oh, maybe two-years-old. The kid is very much psychotic - or I should say, there's no way you can watch this without feeling that way. I'm not sure if he's meant to be a loose cannon, but I'd rather meet a grizzly bear taught to use firearms in a dark alley than sweet little Jody. Here's an example:
At school, Jody raises his hand in the middle of a totally non-Americana math lesson and just blurts out: "MY UNCLE'S DEAD BODY WAS FOUND IN KUWAIT ALL BURNED UP, TEACH!" The rest of the students pretend to tie their shoes to avoid eye contact with the nutcase, but his teacher can't get away so easily. After showing the class Sam's old medals and awards, he gets into an argument with the teacher who, at one point, was an antiwar hippie who left the country to avoid being drafted. Jody doesn't like cowards who don't defend their nation. I don't like kids with stupid names like 'Jody.' Everyone's even.
So, here's a winning recipe for ya - for whatever reason, the screenwriter of Uncle Sam (a mouse with a pen glued to its head) felt that the corpse needed to arrive and stay in the family's house. What? Is this the usual protocol? Since when do people just throw coffins with charred bodies inside into the middle of their living room for a few days? Is that even legal? Jody becomes obsessed with the dead body, and his mother has to continually insist that coffins aren't 'playthings'.
Meanwhile, the sergeant who broke the news about Sam's body confesses that he only took the job so he could bang grieving widows. This sets up the movie's theme of people going out of their way to do very un-American things, thus providing suitable victims for Uncle Sam when he awakens. Here, look at how badly some of these guys are begging for an ax to the head:
Jody's mom is dating this accountant guy - he seems pretty obnoxious, but that's not his fatal flaw. It's a big mistake to talk about how you cheat the IRS for a living in a movie about a psychotic undead murder who just happens to be really, really patriotic. Even if you are cheating the IRS, it's probably not the best thing to announce when said murderer's corpse is literally three feet away, festering hate with festering flesh in a pine box nearby.
Now that they've all-but telegraphed the primary people who need their eyes cut out, we're getting closer to showtime. First, Sam's funeral!
Jody talks to some guy who served in the army with Sam, and they get to conversing about his favorite uncle. Turns out he wasn't such a great guy after all. The old man chastises Jody for wanting to follow in his footsteps, citing that Sam was really just a bloodthirsty killer who joined the army to quench his murderous desires. Definitely not a great candidate for a role model, but Sam still refuses to believe that his uncle's all that bad. Later in the movie, his mother confirms that Sam was also a woman-beater, and even that isn't enough to sway Jody away from all the Sam-worship. I'm telling you, get a kid a bike for Christmas, and you've got a fan for life.
At the stroke of midnight, the corpse comes alive. Very slowly. Very, very, very slowly. Extremely slowly. Super duper mega ultimately slowly. He fits himself nicely into his old army gear, but decides that he needs a better disguise, since the army gear doesn't do much to cover up his worm-infested charred face. Even the dead realize the benefits of subtlety. Now Sam just needs to find a more inconspicuous outfit. Since it's the Fourth of July, there's only one place to turn...
For some reason, a guy in an Uncle Sam suit - on ten-foot stilts - is out on the prowl in the middle of the night. Using the stilts to watch random women shower, he's soon cut down to size by our star villain, who kills him and commandeers the costume for a more nationalistic intent. Hey, in the Uncle Sam universe, people often walk around empty streets at 2 AM on stilts. This is why nobody seemed all that taken aback later in the film when they realize that a dead family member's come back to life to blow people up. Things work a little differently here.
First, the newly christened and official 'Uncle Sam' kills a few teenagers who were defacing a cemetery in the worst way possible: spray painting Nazi symbols on the graves and setting American flags on fire. As far as doing the wrong thing goes, you won't find much worse that that. The only way they could've heightened the level of their crimes was by doing all that stuff while eating kittens. They're dead now. Rood giddance.
Uncle Sam also does away with Jody's teacher. You know, the one who ran away from the Vietnam War years ago. How did Sam know that? Well, when you're one of the undead, you apparently become totally omnipotent. Maybe there's something to all this. Somebody kill me so I can come back to life and kick ass at Trivial Pursuit.
The remainder of the movie takes place at the town's annual Fourth of July festival, where our favorite patriot can slip in undetected and kill as many people as he wants. And he does! One of the annoying things here is how easy it is to figure out who's gonna get killed - they'll introduce characters who have no connection to the main people with less than a half hour left on the clock, so you know they're here as death count fodder. Conversely, Uncle Sam never seems to nail any of the big guns, providing a happier ending but making him seem real low on the horror villain totem pole. And let's face it, he was already pretty low. Without managing to kill any estranged relatives, there's no way Freddy and Jason will invite the guy to their Slip N' Slide parties.
Not that it matters, but Uncle Sam turns doesn't end up being too selective with who he kills. At first, it's just people who are going against the American dream. By the end of the movie, he's killing small girls just because they're trying to smoke a joint during barbecue time. Personally, I would consider that pretty darned American, but I guess Sam's a little conservative.
One of Jody's friends arrives at the soiree. I forget his name, we'll call him Hank. I'm not sure if I followed the story correctly because I'm not sure if that's at all possible, but I think the deal here was that Hank's face was scarred during a fireworks accident while he was playing with Jody. As a side effect, he's also blind. Damned Roman Candles, they'll get you every time. It gives him an excuse to wear AWESOME sunglasses, but eyewear isn't gonna make the girls swoon when half your face looks like an omelet. Hank's a big loony loon too, even moreso than Jody.
And guess what? He's like, the second most important character in the movie from this point on. Hey, who cares if they introduce him when there's ten minutes left in the film? We should thank 'em for that, since if everything going on in Uncle Sam didn't have you close enough to switching off the VCR, Hank's introduction might push you right over the edge.
Uncle Sam walks over to Hank, starts petting his face, and tries to establish that they're likeminded. Okay, I know the kid is down and all because he's a blind freak and wasn't very attractive to begin with anyway - but to say his personal demons are on the same wavelength as a guy who came back from the dead just to kill people? This might be pushing it a bit. Furthermore, how does Sam even know who Hank is? And why didn't anyone notice a 7' creature in an Uncle Sam costume molesting a little kid in a wheelchair? I mean, even if they don't realize that a corpse is inside the suit, it's still a little creepy, no?
So, Uncle Sam just wanders around the party, shaking hands with all the boys and girls to create the illusion that he's just part of the celebration. I dunno, I think I'd be pretty scared of him even after a friendly handshake, especially since you can clearly see the green corpse behind the eye- and mouth-holes in his mask. Then again, with all the terrific party games going on, I guess nobody's paying too much attention.
A random sack race takes a turn for the worse when the celebration's resident bully starts knocking everyone over to get ahead. Just to make sure you realized the scene was completely idiotic, the kid's stunt double quite visibly throws himself down a hill for no apparent reason. They didn't even try to create the slightest pretense that he tripped or something - he literally throws himself down a mountain slope. By the way, this is the same bully who mooned the crowd earlier in the film during a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. So I guess you can see where I'm going with this - I wonder who'll be waiting for him at the bottom of that hill? Jody? Hank? Jody's mom? Hank's mom? Who? Who could it be?!
Decapitation scene! Hooray! I admit, Uncle Sam gets a few bonus points for beheading a minor in clear camera view. We don't get that from very many movies. And I'm pretty sure the guys who put this one together realized what a trump card it was, since they cap everything off with this:
Uncle Sam licks the butcher knife clean. With a green tongue. I'm starting to like this movie a little bit more now.
We're getting close to the final moments - it really did take this long to get to the good stuff. I haven't skipped much. I'm appreciative that this movie was made, though. 1997 wasn't all that long ago, and I've always been disappointed with how these types of films went out of style in the past ten years. There's far fewer schlockfests nowadays - either they're big budget banal crap buckets, or low-budget spoofs. I'm not a big fan of the spoofs, and while some of the mass-marketed big budget films are good, they're not the type of 'horror' movies I enjoy. I'd suggest Event Horizon and Deep Blue Sea, but Lake Placid is real high up there, too. None of them are very good movies, but they're entertaining and creative. Conversely, I thought FearDotCom and Final Destination were pretty awful, and they're way more indicative of the norm in today's horror scene.
By the way, was I the only person who liked Jason X? I know, I know. It was a spoof. I dunno, just struck me as the kinda stupid movie you could watch over and over again without getting incredibly bored. Much unlike Uncle Sam, a movie I could barely watch once without going into a coma. I kid. It wasn't so bad...nothing worse than you'd expect. It's good for beginners, but if you've seen many of these sorts of films, you've likely seen a lot better. Let's wrap this up...
Uncle Sam uses fireworks to blow up the town's mayor, or congressman, or someone politically connected. After that, everyone finally realizes that something's not quite right. Of course, there was a guy on the parade float dressed as Abe Lincoln who Sam shot earlier, but most of the party people just assumed that was a chance, one-time thing before going back to their hot dogs. It's a lot harder to ignore a huge human explosion.
Hank tells Jody what's really going on - his uncle is back from the dead, killing people. He also confides that Sam won't hurt either of them, since he believes they're on his side. Yes, much like Uncle Sam, Hank has acquired the only-in-movies talent of sudden psychic awareness.
Along with that guy Sam served in the army with, our heroes know their mission: destroy Uncle Sam. It's not something they're very proud of doing considering what holiday all this is taking place on, but they can't let all their loved ones get stabbed to death out of fear of looking unpatriotic.
They go back to Jody's house to save his mother and Sam's ex-wife, and what do they find? Uncle Sam, unmasked. Somehow looking more like Swamp Thing than a corpse, Sam proves that you don't need to be buried six feet under to grow moss. Jody fakes an allegiance with him, affording his buddies enough time to find a god damned working cannon and put it into position...
Boom. It takes a few shots, but finally, Uncle Sam blows up.
Jody gives up on his Uncle Worship, burning all of his war toys to mark his new outlook on life. The end scene features Jody giving this evil look towards his mother. I'm not sure what it's supposed to mean exactly, but I think the idea was that Jody's inherited a little of Sam's psychotic tendencies. The door's open for a sequel, but to date, we haven't gotten one. I'm sure you're all as crushed as I am.
Overall: There were a few great scenes, but waaaay too much junk in between. Even at a mere hour and a half, Uncle Sam felt like it ran 45 minutes too long. It doesn't work as a 'rent and laugh at with your friends' type of flick, because you won't be able to sit there waiting for the action to start for almost an hour. It's still worth watching if you've got nothing better to do or have already seen every other movie ever made, but on the whole, I'm gonna have to suggest skipping this one. I mentioned the possibility of sequels - this one could benefit from that greatly, since they won't have to waste an hour explaining how Sam came back to life. Still, I can't recommend Uncle Sam - the bad-bad outweighed the good-bad. 4 outta 9.6.