Ah, the holiday-themed slasher film. What began with the badassery of BLACK CHRISTMAS, HALLOWEEN, and FRIDAY THE 13TH soon spiraled into a themed slasher for nearly every holiday. Valentine’s Day has MY BLOODY VALENTINE, Saint Patrick’s Day has LEPRECHAUN, and New Year’s has NEW YEAR’S EVIL. Yes, the calendar is littered with holiday-appropriate madmen, ready to bring the celebration to a screeching (screaming?) halt. With summer here, and Independence Day just recently behind us, I find this an appropriate, if somewhat belated, time to discuss one of the cheesiest, yet crazily enjoyable, holiday themed slasher films: UNCLE SAM.
Directed by genre favorite William Lustig (Maniac, Maniac Cop), UNCLE SAM tells the tale of Jody Baker (Christopher Ogden), a young boy obsessed with his uncle, Sam Harper (get it, Uncle Sam – haha… oh…), an American soldier who went M.I.A. in Kuwait. Jody hero-worships his uncle, not realizing that Sam is actually a sadistic, abusive alcoholic that sexually abused his sister (Jody’s mother) and beat his wife. When Sam is killed by “friendly fire,” his body is shipped home during the July 4thweekend, and the flag-draped coffin is held in repose at the home of Jody and his mother. Sam rises
from the dead, however, when some teenagers burn an American flag over his grave, and Sam, dressed in an “Uncle Sam” costume, proceeds to kill anyone he deems unpatriotic. Aided by Sam’s former commander (Issac Hayes), Jody learns the truth about his uncle, and the two set out to stop the sadistic Uncle Sam.
So the idea of a maniacal Uncle Sam killing the unpatriotic is pretty silly stuff indeed, and even with the presence of such genre vets as P.J. Soles (Halloween, Carrie), Robert Forster (Jackie Brown), and Timothy Bottoms (The Last Picture Show), the whole affair remains fairly lowbrow, and, at times, amateurish. On the other hand, it’s a lot of fun to see Uncle Sam take down his obnoxious victims (people that even the most die-hard liberals would find unbearable). While the murders are presented as escalating and ridiculous, the character of Uncle Sam is played fairly straight, and winds up being, for better or worse, a pretty enjoyable villain. The subplot of Sam’s abusive past is a little mismatched when presented with the more standard slasher proceedings, but that adds, more than detracts, from the film’s charm.
Made in an extremely campy vein, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, UNCLE SAM actually offers an interesting commentary on our political discourse today. I know what the reaction is going to be: “What the Hell?” “Dude, you’re reaching…” but hear my argument out. While the film’s ideology is a bit of a twist in itself (the villain, which we’re supposed to hate, is killing people that are, mostly, set up to “deserve to die”), the real power in this film is explicitly in the relationship between Uncle Sam and young Jody. Jody is, without question, indoctrinated to believe what all young Americans are supposed to believe: the soldiers in the US military are the good guys, and anyone who doesn’t support them are deserving of scorn and a good butt-kicking. Jody only turns against his Uncle Sam when he realizes the truth about his uncle: the pre-zombie Sam was a bully and abuser, and only joined the army for the opportunity to take his sadism out on others – pretty heavy stuff for a film that follows the plot of a killer in an Uncle Sam getup.
Sure, there are better films out there that fit the 4th of July holiday: Bob Clark’s DEATHDREAM and Fred Vogel’s (ToeTag Pictures) SELLA TURCICA both deal with the horrors of war spilling out into the world of the civilian, and there’s always JAWS for the ultimate 4th of July terror-flick. Yet if you’re searching for a holiday slasher that goes great with fireworks, grilled food, and a cold beer, you could do a whole lot worse than Uncle Sam… and remember: Uncle Sam wants YOU… DEAD!
For the average viewer:
Nathan Erdel is studying telecommunications at Indiana University. An actor, writer, and filmmaker, Nathan is currently developing “Mr. Dark’s Tales of Terrifying Things,” a horror program hosted by Bloomington’s own Pretorius Dark. When he’s not perusing record stores or questing in his life-long search for the perfect wheat beer, Nathan is serving as one of the organizers of the Dark Carnival Film Fest (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com).