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Uncle Sam (DVD)

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    Ian Jane
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  • Uncle Sam (DVD)

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    Released by: Blue Underground

    Released on 6/29/2004
    Director: William Lustig
    Cast: Leslie Neal, Christopher Ogden, Isaac Hayes, David Fralick, Bo Hopkins, Anne Tremko
    Year: 1997

    The Movie:

    From Larry Cohen and William Lustig, the writer/director team that brought you the Maniac Cop films, comes Uncle Sam. The film begins as we find that Sam Harper (David Fralick who starred alongside Don 'The Dragon' Wilson in the phenomenal Night Hunter) was killed in Kuwait when his helicopter was brought down by friendly fire during the first Gulf War.

    Back in the United States though, his family has carried on without him. Harper's wife, Louise (Anne Tremko), lived in fear of her husband and when she finally, after not knowing for three years, finds out that her husband is in fact dead, is able to move on with her life. Seeing as she's already struck up a relationship with the local sheriff, this doesn't seem to be too difficult for her.

    The only one who seems to really miss Sam is Jody, his young nephew. Jody (Christopher Ogden) is the only son of Sam's sister, Sally (Leslie Neale) and he idolizes his uncle and sees him as a truly patriotic hero. When Sam's coffin is brought back to the States so that he can receive a proper burial, he rises from the dead and begins killing off all those he deems unpatriotic. On the fourth of July, he steals an Uncle Sam costume from one of his victims and heads over to the town's celebration where there is no shortage of victims to prey on.

    When Jody finds out from a retired disabled veteran named Jed (Isaac Hayes of Truck Turner and South Park) that his 'Uncle Sam' wasn't a patriot at all but was actually a maniac who enjoyed killing people, he teams up with Jed. Together, and with the aid of a wheelchair bound boy who was injured in last years Fourth Of July celebration, they set out to stop his uncle once and for all.

    Similar in tone theme to the aforementioned Maniac Cop films, Uncle Sam is sadly a rather lackluster affair that takes too long to get going and doesn't pay off well enough in the end. The zombified killer looks good but spends most of his time covered in a mask that is cornier than it is scary. A few good kills show up at the end when Sam gets to the celebration and Isaac Hayes is likeable as always in his role. A couple of guest appearances (look for Robert Forster of Vigilante, Tom McFadden of A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2, and P.J. Soles of Rock N Roll High School in cameo roles) keep things hopping towards the end, especially when the action picks up but it all feels like it's too little too late. The film can't decide if it wasn't to be a social satire, an anti-war statement, or a straight up horror/slasher/zombie film and ultimately doesn't end up doing a particularly good job as any of them.

    The camera work is nice (a stand out shot of the coffin moving into the house is slick looking) and the pyrotechnics at the end of the film are nicely done, but it isn't enough to save what could have been an interesting film.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Well, regardless of the dubious quality of the movie itself, there's no denying that Blue Underground has done a bang up job on bringing this title back to DVD. The anamorphic widescreen 2.35.1 transfer looks excellent and aside from the heavy grain in a few of the nighttime scenes, is really hard to pick apart. There is some mild print damage here and there but it's so minute that it really isn't worth mentioning and you're only going to notice it if you're really, really looking for it. Blacks are solid and stable, flesh tones look lifelike and natural, and the colors come through nice and vibrant. This release looks considerably better than Elite Entertainment's older, non-anamorphic release.

    Viewers have their choice of the original Dolby Digital 2.0 track or a newly remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track. The 5.1 mix is the way to go if you're equipped for it as it uses the rear channels to add quite a bit of depth to the film. Levels are balanced well and the dialogue is never overshadowed by sound effects or background music. Hiss and distortion is pretty much non-existent and, much like the video presentation, there's very little to complain about in this department.

    The first commentary on this DVD will sound familiar to those who bought the old Elite DVD a few years back, as it's carried over from that release. Director William Lustig is joined by actor Isaac Hayes for an informative discussion that runs the entire length of the film. Lustig dominates the discussion lending all sorts of information about the film with Hayes chiming in occasionally offering a few tidbits here and there. It's a good commentary and at times is more interesting than the feature itself.

    There's also a brand new commentary track recorded for this release and again featuring Lustig, this time joined by writer Larry Cohen and producer George C. Braunstein. This track is even better than the first one. Cohen and Lustig have worked together a lot and their camaraderie makes for a lot of anecdotes and interesting stories coming to light. Braunstein chimes in when he can, lending a different slant to the proceedings and once again, this track is actually more interesting than the feature itself.

    There's also a behind-the-scenes featurette that focuses on the fire stunts used in the film. Stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos (who also worked with Lustig and Cohen on the three Maniac Cop films) gives commentary over top of this footage, explaining some of the difficulties encountered in the pyrotechnics used in the finale of the film. 'How'd they do that?' junkies should get a kick out of this piece as it goes into detail about a fairly specific aspect of the stunt work used in the film.

    A pair of theatrical trailers and a decent sized poster and still gallery round out the extra features on this release.

    The Final Word:

    Uncle Sam is a goofy movie that doesn't provide any real scares but it does have a few interesting moments that make it worth sitting through. Blue Underground has done an excellent job with this release, combining top-notch audio and video with some interesting extra features.
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