In case you need to know how many ways that Halloween set the pace for the American slasher movie, consider how common it was for your average slasher movie, circa 1982, to be set on some kind of holiday. I guess we can argue that Black Christmas (Review) was there first with this idea but I never really considered that one a slasher. It’s missing some key ingredients, mostly due in part to it being the first of its kind. If anything, it’s a Canuxploitation variant of the giallo. But I digress. There are a couple of key holidays that, for some reason, have gone without the slasher treatment and I’m stumped as to why that is. Thanksgiving got Rothed in the fake trailers portion of Grindhouse and to this day it remains untouched by the slasher paradigm. The other notable exception, until 1997, was Independence Day. For some reason, the Fourth of July has remained off-limits to horror filmmakers for whatever reason. Jaws is set on the 4th but the date is incidental. It never becomes the focal point of the movie. Rather, a gigantic fucking robot shark does.
Today, you’ll no doubt be too busy to chill and read a review of a trashy horrror movie, what with all the barbecue you’ll be eating, beer you’ll be drinking and fireworks you’ll be watching and if I had my way, I’d be watching a motherfucking marathon of The Twilight Zone but someone over at, ahem, SyFy decided that The Zone was old-school and Greatest American Hero was a more appropriate for a Fourth Of July marathon, a show that no one remembers save for the fucking theme song. SyFy can eat cocks. Here’s a review of Uncle Sam.
Sam Harper is killed when his helicopter is shot down by friendly fire over Kuwait during Desert Storm. Though deified by his nephew, Sam’s reputation around town is monstrous. He’s known as a sadist, a rapist and a child molester, so it’s no wonder that with that kind of evil compelling him through life, it fires him up after death and his body rises from the grave to kill everyone around town who bad mouths the United States or exploits the flaws in our system to benefit themselves. Oh yeah, it all happens on the 4th of July and he wears a fucking creepy Uncle Sam costume that he steals off some pervert on stilts. You read that last part right.
I flirted with Uncle Sam for years; pretty much since its release in the 90’s. The premise was hard to turn down and the screenwriting credit to Larry Cohen and the director credit to William Lustig were even bigger draws but for some reason I never came around to the movie until recently. Larry Cohen is a fucking genius. The guy has been at it for decades and most of his scripts and productions are righteous examples of smart, fun low budget genre fare. Uncle Sam is no different. I’ve been a fan of Bill Lustig since Maniac and I love his Blue Underground label, which has released some great movies (even if all they seem to do now is reissue those DVDs on Blu). His signature touch is missing here and most of Uncle Sam looks appropriately cheap but the real charm of the movie is how it deftly spoofs the convetions of the genre without seeming like the blunt mockery of other send-up attempts.
Most of the victims are people you’ll have a hard time sympathizing with and even though I’m not necessarily known to wave the flag and sing Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue at the top of my lungs, most of the film’s victims are a bunch of unrepentant scumbags and it’s fun to watch them die. Some of the death scenes are highly inventive, too. Robert Forster’s spectacular death in a massive explosion of fireworks is classic! There’s also Isaac Hayes as the hero with a haunted past (and a wooden leg), the cripple with an almost psychic connection to the killer. Once the killing begins, it’s a bloody good time…
…which is the problem with Uncle Sam. Over half the movie is setting up the main cast so that you can figure out who’s going to die and who’s going to kill the bad guy in the end. The pace of the story is like molasses until the body of Sam finally rises. Jody, the nephew that idolizes his evil uncle, is the vessel for the movie’s message about blind patriotism but so much of the movie is spent on pounding the message into your head that it feels like wasted time until the killing begins. We get some black comic moments, though. The horrible ineffectiveness of the finale’s bad-guy killing weapon is spotlighted several times for maximum laughs and the big finish is a great tribute to Lucio Fulci (who had died a year before the film was released) that evokes confusing memories of the end of City of the Living Dead (Review).
In the end, Uncle Sam throws out and message it had to communicate in favor of killing flag burners and draft dodgers. It’s fun. It’s appropriate for the holiday and it’s a great slasher spoof, it just takes a little patience as the process of getting to the slasher movie part can be a bit tedious. There’s a great cast of 70’s regulars, some parts that don’t make a whole lot of sense and some kid characters that are not completely idiotic. It’s too bad this flick never gelled into a 90’s slasher franchise because in the wake of Scream, the 90’s really could have used it.