Face-Off: Uncle Sam vs. I Know What You Did Last Summer

Next Monday is the Fourth of July, the time when those of us in the United States celebrate Independence Day, and I don't mean the Roland Emmerich movie that inspired last week's Face-Off. For this week's movie battle we're celebrating the holiday a few days early and pitting two slasher movies set around the Fourth of July against each other - it's the 1996 film UNCLE SAM, which came to us from the men behind MANIAC COP, director William Lustig and screenwriter Larry Cohen, vs. the 1997 Jim Gillespie/Kevin Williamson Lois Duncan adaptation I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER.
In addition to being an alcoholic and a mean bastard who nearly everyone hated, Sam Harper was also a deeply patriotic man who thought that anyone who badmouthed the United States had a butt kicking coming their way. While serving in the Gulf War, Sam is killed by friendly fire. His body is sent home in early July for funeral services to be held after the fourth... but when a group of wild teens burn the American flag over his open grave, Sam vacates his coffin and sets out to kill anyone he feels isn't a dedicated American.
Ben Willis may be a mean, murderous bastard, but you can kind of understand why he's so angry with the core group of teenagers in this film. Sure, he found himself standing in the middle of a dark coastal road because he had just killed his daughter's boyfriend, who was driving during the car accident that took his daughter's life, but put yourself in his shoes - if you were plowed into by a carload of kids who proceeded to dump your not-dead-yet body into the ocean so they won't get in trouble, wouldn't you be a little upset?
Horribly burned in a chopper crash, the zombified slasher Sam puts on his military uniform and medals, then covers himself up in an Uncle Sam costume he steals from his first victim. He drops a couple one-liners, but Lustig and Cohen showed restraint in that area, mainly having Sam use his voice to be a creep. His costume is goofy looking, so Sam is at his most effective near the end, when he removes the mask to show off some excellent zombie makeup.
Watching I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER in 1997, I felt that Ben Willis had the makings of a new icon, and that feeling was made even stronger when he returned for a sequel 13 months later. Dressed in a black slicker and wielding an ice hook, Ben silently stalks and brutally slashes his victims, killing any random who crosses his path but building up to attacking his main targets, tormenting and taunting them. Face revealed, he's played by the awesome Muse Watson.
In the lead is Jody, a little boy who has an annoying level of hero worship for his uncle Sam, a man who molested his sister (the boy's mother) when they were young and beat his wife, who looks eerily similar to his sister. Jody only knows his uncle as a patriotic war hero, but he'll eventually come to figure out the truth. We also have characters played by Isaac Hayes, Robert Forster, Timothy Bottoms, and Bo Hopkins, with P.J. Soles and William Smith turning up to make cameos. This is one of the best casts a slasher has ever had.
Ben Willis wants revenge on four characters: Jennifer Love Hewitt as Julie, the typical good and responsible "final girl"; Freddie Prinze Jr. as her bland and dim boyfriend Ray; Sarah Michelle Gellar as beauty queen Helen; and Ryan Phillippe as alcoholic alpha male douche Barry. They aren't great characters, but they do the job and carry this movie quite well. Johnny Galecki and Bridgette Wilson play fodder characters, with Anne Heche as a backwater girl who tells Julie to "Get out of my house" when they're standing outside.
Uncle Sam's murders aren't likely to make it onto a list of favorites, but he pulls off a few good ones. A teen buried alive, another hanged by the neck with a flag pole rope, an awkwardly presented decapitation. The flashiest kill involves a character being strapped to the town's supply of fireworks.
There's not a whole lot of variety in the kill department here, each murder is committed with an ice hook. Some characters get it with a quick slashing, others are hooked repeatedly, and one especially unlucky fellow is painfully hooked in the throat and dragged across a table.
Twin Rivers, USA is a place that does Independence Day right. The main street of town is decorated with red, white, and blue banners, there's a festival in the park with all sorts of events, a parade, and various residents cosplay as former presidents like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. The celebration culminates in a fireworks display that Sam manages to mess up pretty well. Lustig definitely drives home the fact that the film is set around the Fourth of July, and the holiday plays a large role in how things play out.
The movie version of Southport, North Carolina has the red, white, and blue banners and flags hanging around town, there's a festival with live music, fireworks are seen going off a couple times, they have a parade with floats and even an Uncle Sam on stilts, but there is such a prominent nautical theme to this fishing town's celebration that this could almost just be any random holiday. The Fourth of July is used as their excuse to drag out some fish and clam decorations, and they probably do the same every time the town has a parade.
It was a tough battle, but the result isn't all that surprising - although both films are set on the holiday, of course the slasher movie that makes for the most appropriate Fourth of July viewing is the one that is so heavily focused on the concept that it's even named after an American icon.

Did the movie you were rooting for come out on top, or do you think the result should have been reversed? Do you have a specific horror movie that you like to watch around the Fourth of July? (I'm guessing the answer for many would be JAWS). Let us know your thoughts on UNCLE SAM, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, and Fourth of July movie choices by leaving a comment below. Face-Off suggestions can be sent directly to me at [email protected].



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