The F*cking Black Sheep: Uncle Sam (1996)

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!

UNCLE SAM (1996)

DIRECTED BY WILLIAM LUSTIG

“Don’t be afraid, it’s only friendly fire.” Oh wait, never mind, “Uncle Sam wants you…DEAD!”

Happy mother*cking 4th of July y’all! As you can see, we’re all about celebrating American Independence Day by honoring a movie that, oddly, happens to be probably the most well known 4th of July-centric horror flick of all time, yet, for a number of seemingly superficial reasons, still has far more vocal detractors than outright defenders. That is, never has a movie reveled so deeply in the patriotic festivities of the 4th of July, yet, as a direct-to-video cheapie made by horror filmmakers with far superior titles to their name, has always felt like a disrespected afterthought among the horror community. Put another way, while UNCLE SAM might not be the best horror film ever made (far from it), but it is clearly the best 4th of July horror flick ever attempted, mainly because there are so few options to choose from. That said, even on its own merits, I’ve always dug the hell out of the William Lustig/Larry Cohen reunion (MANIAC COP series) and the jingoistic-whispering-zombie-slasher that is UNCLE SAM. I promise, if you can make it past the torpidly uneventful first 35-40 minutes of the film, you’ll understand why UNCLE SAM is a wildly fun-filled and violently dazzling display of a F*cking Black Sheep!

In dedication to Italian splatter maestro Lucio Fulci, the inspiration for UNCLE SAM is already on good footing. Larry King Cohen, master of the high-concept premise, wrote the screenplay to UNCLE SAM in clear response to the number of military skirmishes the U.S. found itself in during the 1990s. More accurately, as Cohen’s commentary suggests, the conflicts the U.S. chose to engage in unnecessarily, ones that would lead to counterproductive friendly fire. As the film opens, we learn Sam Harper (David Shark Fralick) was a dedicated soldier who was accidentally killed by his own men in the field of combat in Kuwait. His gal Louise (Anne Tremko) insists on having Sam’s body interred next to his mother and father at home in Twin Rivers. Sam’s nephew Jody (Christopher Ogden) wants to be just like his uncle, a dedicated soldier on behalf of the U.S. military.

As Sam’s corpse is wheeled into Louise’s home ahead of the annual 4th of July parade, the first act of the movie forgoes the violent horror in favor of a discussion about the fog of war and the nature of the military industrial complex turning young men into ruthless killing machines, even when there isn’t a clearly defined mission. The commentary, however right headed, does wear a bit pedantic after awhile, but does presciently call to mind real life cases such as that of Pat Tillman; underscoring how the cover-up is often more egregious than the original crime. The talk Jody has with Sgt. Jed Crowley (smooth-ass Isaac Hayes) highlights this very dynamic, intimating that Sam’s vengeful ire is directed not at a foreign population, but at his own so-called brothers in arms who turned against him after putting him in harm’s way for the wrong reasons to begin with.

Aside from the trenchant commentary, once the movie hits the 40-minute mark or so, the pace really begins to pick up some face-melting steam. After tallying not a single body for 30 odd minutes, once Sam shows his murderous M.O., the dude kicks off a prolifically variant killing spree that feels akin to Lustig and Cohen’s best work. In fact, before Sam cops the official Uncle Sam outfit from a kid whose throat he slices with pruning shears, he actually resembles Maniac Cop quite a bit. And even though Sam is technically a zombie, I love how he eschews typical brain-eating and flesh chomping for straight-up Voorhees-style slashing and slaying. Sam stalks a pervert peeping in a window, shears his neck and steals his iconic wardrobe before all the real fun starts!

And by fun, let’s be clear, we mean unremitting carnage! After ole Sammy boy prunes a punk who disrespectfully desecrated is gravestone, he continues to use an assortment of iconographic Independence Day and military-themed weaponry. Sam grabs an axe and brutally bashes another antiwar bystander in the face with it until a fountain of gore erupts. Before the mayhem reaches volume ten, we’re treated with extended cameos from PJ Soles, Robert Forster and Bo Hopkins, the latter of which spouts one of the all-time sleaziest lines when he brags that “I must be batting .750 with the bereaved,” meaning he unscrupulously beds grieving widows who lost their hubbies in combat. Between that and his disgusting Rick Schroeder bowl-cut, dude’s a real piece of work.

UNCLE SAM reaches maximum entertainment value when the July 4th jamboree kicks off in earnest. Before that however, Sam contentedly buries a boy alive in the grave meant for his own corpse. The following day, the holiday festivities give Sam the perfect opportunity to murder in the name of independence. He pilfers a meat cleaver from a BBQ stand and uses it to gruesomely decollate a poor bastard’s head clean off, the bloody stump of which is left to roast in the dirt below. Undone, Sam then slams a girl’s face onto a sizzling flat-iron grill until her pretty punim resembles the charred hotdog your buddy dares you to wolf down after your eighth brew. Shite’s rough! As Sam continues to exact revenge on those who he deems did him wrong – the whole damn town – little Jody increases his desire to follow in his uncle’s odious footsteps.

Once nightfall hits, UNCLE SAM goes into full-blown party mode. Take poor Robert Forster for example, who, one year prior to reviving his career in QT’s JACKIE BROWN, had the dishonorable distinction of being turned into a human firework pinwheel. No joke. Sam strings this poor bastard up on a bulls-eye wheel and proceeds to light sparklers extruding from his chest that lead to a mortar-wick. Soon, Forster is sent ablaze in the night sky like a goddamn rocket. What’s even better is, just as this happens in a way that makes us think it’s the ultimate finale (as fireworks climaxes often denote), Sam saves the absolute best fatality for last. A dumb kid rolls down the hill and immediately falls on Sam’s sharpened flagpole, gorily impaling the pointed tip plum through his sternum as the grue-sodden American flag dangles proudly. It’s a hell of a sight!

As an apt war idiom, UNCLE SAM is a bit of a Catch-22. On one hand, it’s an oft-forgotten and inferior direct-to-video Lustig/Cohen collaboration. MANIAC and the MANIAC COPS are admittedly better, as are some of Cohen’s directorial titles. On the other hand, no 4th of July-based horror movie has ever come along to rival UNCLE SAM as the preeminent Independence Day horror film (no, ID4 is sci-fi/action, not horror). And while it isn’t the finest horror film made by the respective filmmakers, the bottom line is that, once UNCLE SAM finds its groove past the 40-minute mark, the movie is fast, fun, full of assorted and thematically thought-out deaths and, while a bit preachy, boasts salient antiwar messaging. No matter how you dig this sucker up, UNCLE SAM is a F*cking Black Sheep!

GET UNCLE SAM ON MULTI-FORMAT HERE

Source: AITH

About the Author

5379 Articles Published

Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.