UNCLE SAM: Lesser Known Holiday Slashers – Roundtable Reviews [Two Cents]

Two Cents is a Cinapse original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team curates the series and contribute their “two cents” using a maximum of 200-400 words. Guest contributors and comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future picks. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion. Would you like to be a guest contributor or programmer for an upcoming Two Cents entry? Simply watch along with us and/or send your pitches or 200-400 word reviews to [email protected].

The Pick: Uncle Sam (Lesser known holiday slashers theme)

When I suggested we watch 2001’s Valentine to celebrate this year’s holiday Two Cents style , Ed decided we would dedicate a whole month to celebrate and discover some of the best lesser-known holiday themed slashers! Everyone’s heard of Halloween and there are several other big horror classic surrounding a variety of holidays. But we decided to look at some of the titles that focused on holiday seasons without the same following and popularity. Join us in discovering some of these titles together as part of our weekly Two Cents movie club.

Featured Guest

Brad Milne

In 1996, William Lustig – with a script penned by the late great Larry Cohen – unleashed Uncle Sam. It’s a gory bloodbath of a film, which starts on the battlefields of the Gulf War in Iraq and Kuwait. The films cold open ends with a pun about friendly fire, as the dying titular character opens fire on two of his fellow servicemen.

The cast is made up of mostly unknowns in the main roles anyway. The lead of the film is Christopher Ogden playing Jody Baker, the nephew of the titular Uncle Sam (played by David Fralick). He lives with his mother, played by Leslie Neale. His grieving widow Louise is played by Anne Tremko. We also meet Bo Hopkins, who is playing a sleazy army liaison officer. One of Sam’s brothers in arms, Jed Crowley, is played by Isaac Hayes. The cast is rounded out by Robert Forester, playing a corrupt congressman who would rather be anywhere else than the town he finds himself in for a stump speech. The cast does their best to elevate the proceedings. Most of the dramatic heavy lifting was done by Isaac Hayes, Jed Crowley trying his best to talk sense into Jody, who seems intent on following his now deceased uncle into military service.

The bloodbath begins as the clock strikes midnight on the birth of America’s birthday. A handful of flag burning youths wake Sam from his not quite eternal rest. The gore effects on Sam’s dedicated corpse are excellent. The first person dispatched is Willie on stilts who is dressed as Uncle Sam while wearing stilts. Second to meet their maker is one of the youths who was burning the flag. He gets buried alive by the corpse of Sam now disguised as Uncle Sam. A second of the flag burners is hung by the neck until he dies, while being rung up the flagpole. An errant hatchet dispatches Mr. Crandall played by Timothy Bottoms. The real bloodbath starts to get out of control at the Fourth of July celebrations. Jody sneaks out of the bites to join the celebrations. The film does a great job of blending humour with the horror. It’s probably its greatest strength. Cohen and Lustig really work well together, making a film that has just enough levity to not make it a chore to get through. The cast is as good as can be expected with mostly unknowns. By no means a masterpiece, but the gore and humour make for a fun time with the movies.

(@BradMilne79 on X)

The Team

Jay Tyler

I have to admit not being especially versed in the work of William Lustig, the director of Uncle Sam. I also have to admit to being a bit apprehensive about the premise of the film: an undead soldier comes back to life to attack the citizens of small town suburbia in response to their perceived anti-patriotic actions. The upside is that my worst fears of this film, that it would play with jingoistic political fodder, proved unfounded. The downside is that the movie is a bit of a slog, at least in the first half, which sets up its characters and setting with a surprising amount of meticulousness. It doesn’t help that the film’s heart relies on a child acting performance from Christopher Ogden as Jody, the stars-in-his-eye young patriot who is clearly caught in the great propaganda machine of the military-industrial complex. But Ogden’s deliver is stilted, giving thudding line readings and a dead-eyed performance that really weighs the movie down, especially before the murders come along.

The saving grace thankfully comes from Isaac Hayes, whose performance brings some much-needed gravitas to the proceedings that the rest of the C-Movie cast seems less invested in. Hayes is playing a vet who has a whole set of trauma that unravels as the film progresses, and a history with the titular Uncle Sam. But the real magic is how Hayes explores complex themes of the impact being trained to be an efficient, effective killer can have on the mind, especially after you are returned to actual society. Every time he shows up, the movie’s 1990s, end of history longview of the American military identity becomes clearer. And when it lurches back into rote, by-the-books slasher territory, the churn is difficult to get past. A film that has things on it’s mind, but never quite grapples with them beyond it’s true identity: schlocky horror that brings some old-classic kills to the 4th of July trappings.

(@jaythecakethief on X)

Justin Harlan

In high school and college, I rented this VHS at least a dozen times… in fact, when the Blockbuster near my college sold off their VHS tapes, I was gifted the VHS box by the clerk because their tape disappeared a few weeks before. I still have that amazing lenticular VHS cover in a box somewhere, I’m sure. However, I definitely haven’t watch this 80s schlock horror gem in at least 15 years, probably closer to 20.

It still delivers on the laughs and the gore, but that’s not surprising with the team involved in this one. Lustig and Cohen are quite the team, turning a mostly no-name cast, goofy character design, and some over-the-top ridiculousness into a truly enjoyable film.

Brad and Jay recapped all the high and low spots pretty well, so I’ll keep my assessment short and just reiterate how much fun this movie is. No chance I’ll be waiting 15+ years to rewatch this one again… in fact, it’s probably going into the yearly Summer rotation, alongside Independence Day and a slew of shitty shark movies as July staples.

(@thepaintedman on X)

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