Weird Watch: ‘Uncle Sam’

Ryan Covey

Part of the joy of being a fan is finding odd and obscure gems that you end up falling in love with. For every Star Wars, there is a Galaxina. For every Batman, there is a Meteor Man. At Fandom, we like to hunt for offbeat and off-the-wall films and shows that might become your own secret treasures. Strap yourself in and expect the unexpected, because this week’s Weird Watch is the 1996 horror comedy Uncle Sam. (Last Week: Pulgasari)

It’s Independence Day weekend and that calls for a special holiday-themed Weird Watch! Holiday themed slasher movies featuring killers in goofy costumes are hallmarks of the genre so it’s no surprise that there’s a movie like Uncle Sam. What’s surprising is that it took until 1996 for someone to make a slasher with a killer Uncle Sam. William Lustig’s Uncle Sam is no chilling classic but it is a fun, sleazy romp.

Uncle Sam tells the story of Sam Harper (David Fralick), a soldier killed by friendly fire in Desert Storm. Sam’s nephew Jody (Christopher Ogden) idolizes his uncle and dreams of joining the army and carrying on his legacy. But Sam’s mother Sally (Leslie Neal) and aunt Louise (Anne Tremko) have a different picture of Sam. To Jody Sam is a hero, to Sally and Louise he’s an abusive man who relishes inflicting pain. So Sally and Louise are relieved to find out that Sam has been killed in action. The military ships Sam’s body home to bury over the Fourth of July weekend when it wakes up.

Sam climbs out of his coffin, pins his medals to his decayed chest and goes out for revenge. Sam’s hometown seems to be suffering from a severe lack of patriotic spirit and Sam plans to eliminate that problem with extreme prejudice. Sam’s dons an Uncle Sam costume and uses it to sneak around undetected during the holiday festivities.

William Lustig and Larry Cohen are the directing and writing duo behind made Maniac CopUncle Sam is a spiritual sequel to Maniac Cop in many ways, you could easily call it Maniac Soldier. Much like Officer Matt Cordell, Sam Harper is brought back from an unjust death by mysterious forces. Cordell and Sam aren’t the heroes that the people believe them to be. Both men go on killing sprees upon coming back to life. Both represent a corrupted form of their ideal of a just world. Unfortunately comparing Uncle Sam to Maniac Cop yields diminished returns. Uncle Sam feels like a low-rent Maniac Cop 4 repurposed into a new movie.

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Uncle Sam isn’t a very good movie. The acting is poor, the plot is thin, the movie doesn’t give us enough information. What Uncle Sam really fails at is establishing a message. There are screeds against jingoism and the myth of heroes on the battlefield but none of Sam’s victims are particularly sympathetic or undeserving of their fates. Isaac Haye’s jaded veteran Jed Crowley is the film’s de facto moral compass but fails to deliver an ethos. Is Sam the way he is because he’s psychotic? Is Sam the way he is because the military made him that way? Is Sam the way he is because Jed filled his head with stories of glory won on the battlefield?  Jed declares each of these to be true at one point or another in the movie.

Fortunately, Uncle Sam doesn’t really need to be good. The appeal of about 90% of slasher movies is just a bloody good time and bad film-making generally enhances that experience. Sam’s murders are suitably goofy holiday-themed deaths involving themes of barbecue, George Washington chopping down the cherry tree, and of course fireworks. My one big complaint is that the film doesn’t deliver much in the gore department.Gore effects are the big sell of movies like this so it’s disappointing not to have more. It’s also disappointing that we don’t see more of Sam out of costume because the zombie make-up effects are astoundingly good and especially creepy.

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Uncle Sam is a silly slasher film that goes well with barbecue, watermelon slices, and cold beer. So this July 4th, after the parade and before the fireworks, consider watching this instead of Independence Day.

Read more in our regular Weird Watch series here.

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