Jody has always looked up to his uncle Sam, a soldier serving overseas, who sends his nephew the medals he’s earned in combat and letters about his exploits. When the Desert Storm soldier is killed in the line of duty, Jody takes it pretty hard, and digs into the fantasy that his uncle was a great man and a good soldier. But Jody’s mother and aunt have been keeping the truth from the boy. Far from being a ‘good guy,’ Sam has been nothing but a mean SOB from day one, and went into the army, not out of some sense of patriotism, but because he just liked hurting people. So while Jody mourns an illusion, the rest of his family think that Sam’s death means that they’re finally free of his evil influence. But it turns out that some people are so obsessive in their evil that not even death can put a stop to them. After his wake, Sam’s corpse rises from his coffin, and on the eve of the 4th of July, goes about on a killing spree to punish all those who did him wrong, or anyone he perceives to not be showing a true sense of patriotism.
“Oh, say can you see~”
I’m always on the search for appropriately themed horror outings that match with accordance to the season, and while Uncle Sam may not be the most well known horror film that happens around the events of the 4th of July (that would likely be Jaws) it is, undoubtedly, the most festive. There are flags, there are fireworks, there are bar-b-q’s, there are ridiculously costumed men walking around on comically tall stilts, and there are two scenes with Isaac Hayes standing around and shooting off a replica cannon from the Civil War. Not that that last point has much to do with the holiday, I just mention it because it’s pretty cool. But it also kinda highlights a problem the film has. Mostly that it oftentimes has a bit of trouble staying focused.
As a horror comedy, Uncle Sam knows that it’s weird and doesn’t take itself too seriously. I mean, how could it? It’s a movie about an undead soldier who blows people up with fireworks and stabs them with flagpoles. Serious, this movie ain’t. But once the film gets going, it’s actually kinda fun. But all the random inclusions and the plot inconsistencies means you have to be able to gloss over many of the film’s oddball moments. One of the most prominent issues is that we never figure out exactly what it is that enables good ‘ol uncle Sam to come back from the dead. Not because the film doesn’t bother to give us any explanation, but because it actually hints at three of them. Summaries of the film online suggest that he comes back to life when his grave is desecrated by a group of teens. But at that point in time not only is he not yet buried, but he’s also nowhere near the grave, so there’s no way he could know that it was desecrated, and he’s already shown signs of coming back to life prior to them burning a flag over his pre-dug plot. And even earlier in the film, the movie also implies that Jody inadvertently had something to do with Sam’s revival, when the kid accidentally knocks over his uncle’s picture frame, steps on the broken glass, and bleeds on the photo. But that kind of explanation implies some sort of spell was used, and nothing of the sort is mentioned either before or after that scene. And then finally, later in the movie the film simply implies that Sam was such a hate-filled jerk, that he just sort of brought himself back to life out of pure spite. Now, either one of those explanations would have been fine on their own. Dumb yes, but fine. But why do they need all three? Like, just pick one and be done with it, and quit confusing everyone. That seems like a problem that would have been easily ironed out prior to filming. But then again, this movie was written by the same guy who wrote Q: The Winged Serpent, so I guess I should expect some inconsistent and unnecessary plot details.
The characters manage to fare a bit better than the plot, but only marginally, and only because the film is meant to be a black comedy, so no one should really expect them to be on their A-game. The only two who walk away with any semblance of seriousness are Jody’s mom and aunt, and despite how weird the film is, I will applaud the filmmakers for being smart enough not only to have Jody show some maturity and empathy towards them, but to know that making jokes about individuals who were viciously abused was probably going to be the one thing that wasn’t necessarily going to fly. Not that the filmmakers don’t come close though. Almost two-thirds into the movie, the film introduces us to a young, blind, burnt, wheelchair bound youth named Barry, who inexplicably becomes one of the film’s heroes. But not before his parents take him to the same event where he was horribly disfigured the year before, ditch him in a crowd to go get some snacks, and then abandon him to the care of the neighbors when the public flees the park after the fireworks that burned him last year are used thus year to turn a corrupt politician into a crispy critter. Yeah, Barry’s having a tough time and is unfortunately surrounded by assholes, and we haven’t even gotten to the movie’s climax yet, where he is abandoned, yet again, this time by Isaac Hayes and Jody, not once, but two separate times. Yeah, both our heroes just up and ditch this poor, defenseless kid out in the middle of the yard while a crazy killer is on the loose. And Barry just sits there silently without complaint, because I guess being blind gives him no fear and superpowers or something, because he’s just completely chill the whole time. After all the crap they put him through, they pretty much HAD to make him a hero to make up for it. Not that doing so makes a lick of sense mind you, because why the hell is Isaac Hayes taking instructions from a blind kid about when to fire a cannon at a zombie, but hey, at least it was something. If this were any other movie he’d just be lucky that Sam’s brain had rotted so much at that point that he just mistook the kid for a very peculiar looking lawn ornament.
Yeah, they just left him sitting back there like that. If this had been a more serious film, I’d have been pissed.
As for the slasher bits of this strange supernatural slasher, they’re actually surprisingly good, assuming you can hold out long enough to see them. After a couple of initial gun deaths, the film plods along for a good 40-minutes building character and story, and teasing us with Zombie Sam, before it finally gets around to having him crawl out of his coffin to DO anything. So the first half of the movie really feels like it’s dragging along slower than Sam’s rotting corpse. But once Sam finally wakes the hell up the pacing improves tremendously and the slashing finally kicks in. People are beaten, stabbed, buried, shot, decapitated and set aflame, so the gore-hounds will have a nice assortment of deaths to look forward to, even if they’re all rather predictable. But luckily the film’s effects are pretty decent, which helps make up for some of the expected outcomes. Sam’s makeup effects are pretty nice for what little time he’s on screen without an Uncle Sam mask. He looks burnt and gooey and effectively zombie-like. And they managed to make the one decapitated head actually look like the actor that just got dispatched, so props to them for that. That’s not to say the film didn’t cheap out a bit though. Sam’s makeup was so good that they probably couldn’t afford to have him walk around in it for too long, thus the mask he’s forced to wear for much of the film. And unfortunately they couldn’t show all the deaths on screen, so you get a couple of Surprise! corpses that pop up towards the end there that you didn’t even know were dead until the film threw them at you. But overall, the slasher bits make for a rather fun and festive experience.
I’m not sure what I was expecting with Uncle Sam, but the movie was actually better than I thought it would be. It isn’t something I’d call a great film, mind you, but for a comedy slasher it was pretty enjoyable. Or at least it was once the film got past all the plodding exposition. The plot doesn’t make any sense if you stop to try to think about it for more than a second, so don’t try, and while the slashing bits are probably a tad formulaic, they still manage to be fun. My biggest complaint besides the pacing, is that most of the characters are surprisingly dull for a comedy film. But hey, at least it’s got Isaac Hayes shooting some cannonballs at a house and having said house inexplicably blowing up around him, so I can’t say the movie isn’t at least a little bit entertaining. So if you like dark horror comedies, or you need something to watch after you shoot off the last of your fireworks, then Uncle Sam could be a good option.
Uncle Sam is available on a variety of streaming services.
Uncle Sam is also available on DVD and Bluray.
One thought on “Uncle Sam (1996)”
You had me at “Surprise Corpses!” !
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