William Lustig's (Maniac/Maniac Cop) 1997 slasher, Uncle Sam, is a fun, oftentimes goofy horror flick that takes a fairly wide swipe at former President Bush and his insane little war in the desert, way back when, before his son decided to wage an even crazier, larger, and infinitely more ill-advised war against just about everyone else on Earth. Released back in 2004 on DVD by Blue Underground, the company dusts off this cult-classic and gives it a fantastic HD makeover for Blu-ray.
Set a few years after the Gulf War, the titular Uncle Sam (Fralick) is a downed chopper pilot whose body is recovered and flown back to the United States for his family to lay to rest. Trouble is, no one back home is terribly fond of Sam. Not his wife or sister, whom he terrorized and abused. Not his former drill Sergeant, Jed (Hayes), who had a problem with Sam's apparent lust for the kill. No, the only person who seems to miss Sam at all is his young nephew Jody, a boy who barely knows his uncle, but thinks he is a hero. After all, he has the medals to prove it!
Jody is disgusted by the way people seem to ignore Sam's service to his country, and his childlike fascination with all things war, as well as a desire to see the un-patriotic somehow punished for their anti-American ways, serves as some strange impetus in reviving his dead uncle. Once Sam's back up and about, he dons an Uncle Sam costume that he gathers from an early victim, and goes about the task of killing everyone in his path.
Uncle Sam is over-the-top, gory fun that's more funny than it is scary, and a lot of that can be credited to the inclusion of Isaac Hayes as the ornery Jed. I don't know about you, but the minute the guy opens his mouth, all I can think of is his South Park alter ego, Chef. Hayes is also given some chucklers to dish out, as is Dave Fralick, whose Sam is equal parts slow moving zombie and wise-cracking Krueger-esque killing machine.
Lustig's film looks quite polished, considering it's a late 90's horror flick (not something studios were exactly throwing money at), and he gets a lot of bang for his buck with nice special effects by Steve Newquist, some insane fire stunts (that are hilariously explained in the commentary track), and solid performances by Hayes, as well as Bo Hopkins, Timothy Bottoms, and cameos from Robert Forster and genre vet William Smith (Maniac Cop).
My main problem with the film is that, at times, it seems that it can't decide whether it wants to humorous or horrific, and Jody's realization that Sam may not, in fact, be a hero comes rather abruptly. Oh, and there's a blind kid in a wheelchair who just sort of shows up in the third act and seems to have all the answers to everything (although I found that all rather hysterical).
Previously released on DVD, Blue Undergrounded brings Uncle Sam to Blu-ray patriotic aplomb. The 2.35:1 transfer is lush and, at times, teeming with spending detail. There’s the occasional bit of softness in the image, but much of that has to do with the stylistic choices of the time, while grain is kept to acceptable levels, even in the film’s darkest sequences. The real kicker here is how vibrant it all looks. The DVD release had a great transfer and was nicely representative of the film’s color palette, but the Blu-ray really amps things up tremendously, with eye-popping reds and blues, and a wonderful sense of depth. It’s certainly one of Blue Underground’s nicest looking transfers thus far.
The inclusion of a 7.1 DTS HD soundtrack is a bit indulgent seeing as how the film doesn’t really exploit it, but it’s a nice touch nevertheless. We get the occasional goose from the rear channels, but much of the action is kept to the front of the house. The bass is a bit on the weak side, but, once again, this is a low-budget film that really wasn’t meant to get anything more than a 5.1 mix (also included here), and even that’s stretching it. Personally, I’d have been happy with an 2.1 HD mix as I sometimes feel that altering the soundtracks to some of these older, low-budget films actually compromises the sound quality. I’m not suggesting that this is the case, here, but I’ve reviewed several Blu-ray (and DVD) releases of ‘70’s and ‘80’s films where the original stereo or mono mixes were remixed for the surround sound era, and I occasionally find the result sounds artificial.
The Blu-ray carries over some of the extras from Blue Underground’s DVD release, including Extras a commentary track with Lustig, writer Larry Cohen, and Producer George G. Braunstein. A second commentary as feature’s Lustig and Star Isaac Hayes (Recorded in 1998). We also get a very brief deleted scene, an HD stills gallery, trailer (also in HD), and twisted and hilarious variation on the typical “gag reel” that re-edits some bits to…well…you’ll just have to see it for yourself.
Uncle Sam isn't the most terrifying slasher flick you're apt to see, but that's probably because it's not meant to be. It's got enough splatter to keep gorehounds happy, a lot of humor, and a goofy-as-all-get-out conclusion (as well as a coda that's a nod to the late Lucio Fulci. How can horror fans not like that?!). Blue Underground’s Blu-ray treatment is, per usual, well above par, and fans of the film can rest assured that the enormous boost in picture quality makes this one’s well worth the upgrade.