Sunday, June 26, 2022

UNCLE SAM (1997) (Blue Underground 4K UHD Review)

UNCLE SAM (1997)

Label: Blue Underground
Rating: R
Duration: 89 Minutes
Region Code: Region-Free
Video: Dolby Vision HDR 2160p UltraHD Widescreen (2.40:1)
Audio: Uncompressed English Dolby Atmos, Dolby True HD 7.1, DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: William Lustig
Cast: Bo Hopkins, Timothy Bottoms, Robert Forster, P.J. Soles, William Smith, Isaac Hayes, Christopher Ogden, Leslie Neale, Anne Tremko, Tim Grimm, Matthew Flint, Zachary McLemore

In William Lustig's (Vigilante) straight-to-video 'star bangled shocker' Uncle Sam (1997) it’s the Fourth of July weekend in the small town of Twin Rivers, and the inhabitants are ready to celebrate with a big community cookout at the park, but the the arrival of the corpse of hometown hero Sgt. Sam Harper (David Fralick, TV's The Young and the Restless)– a soldier who was killed by ‘friendly fire’ during the first Gulf War – brings with it not only mourning, but unexpected horror, as Sgt. Sam rises from the dead to punish whomever he considers to be unpatriotic in the small town community.
 
Sgt. Harper's young nephew Jody (Christopher Ogden, SLC Punk!) is a patriotic sort of lad who worshipped his uncle, and he cannot wait to be of age so that he can serve his country just like his uncle, but Jody's mother Sally (Leslie Neale, Gremlins 2) and the deceased soldiers wife Louise (Anne Tremko, TV's Saved by the Bell: The College Years) both know about Sam's darker more abusive side, which they keep from the child. As the 4th of July weekend festivities get under way Sam's gruesome corpse is supernaturally reanimated and sets about killing those he deems to be corrupt and unpatriotic, starting off with a local peeping tom who wears a creepy Uncle Sam costume and walks around on stilts (so that he can peep into second story windows). Sam chases him down, kills him, and disguises his hideous visage behind the Uncle Sam mask and costume (minus the stilts) before continuing his patriotic kill spree.

The resurrected soldier then targets a trio of teenage delinquents who are disrespectful of the flag and desecrating graves, before hatcheting Jody's draft-dodging teacher (Timothy Bottoms, Invaders from Mars), slaughtering his former sergeant (Bo Hopkins, Mutant) and a major (William Smith, Maniac Cop), and laying into a pot-smoking teen who apparently irked him by abandoning her BBQ duties, before blowing up a vain congressmen (Robert Forster, Alligator) with fireworks, shooting his ex's new beau (Tim Grimm) in the head, and impaling Louise's cop boyfriend (Matthew Flint, Swimming with Sharks) on the American flag. It's a fun holiday themed slasher with a solid bodycount and plenty of clever on-the-nose themed kills, and a smattering of prerequisite social commentary. While the flick does lack the bigger action set pieces and gore of the Lustig/Cohen's Maniac Cop films the kills set-ups are well done and we do get some pretty terrific fire stunt work at the end of the film. 

Eventually young Jody comes to see the truth about his uncle, thanks in part to his wheelchair bound and blind best friend Barry (Zachary McLemore, My Girl), who seems to have a weird psychic connection to the killer, though that aspect is not fleshed out all that well. Now seeing the truth about his uncle and wanting to stop the carnage Jody teams up with a one-legged Korean War vet (Isaac Hayes, Escape from New York) to thwart his homicidal zombie uncle's rampage with explosive results. 

While this went straight-to-video the Lustig/Cohen team-up is no dud, it's a totally fun zombified psycho-killer romp in the tradition of Maniac Cop with some social commentary that brought to mind Bob Clark's Deathdream or Joe Dante's Master of Horror entry Homecoming. The script has plenty of the Larry Cohen (The Stuff) nuttiness to it but the elements at times seem at odds with each other, with tonal shifts keep it from being all that it could have been with a more fine-tuned script, few more bucks and more gore, but as it is it's still quite an entertaining psycho-killer romp. 

Audio/Video: Uncle Sam (1997) cleans up nicely for it UHD debut from Blue Underground, scanned in 4K 16-bit from the original 35mm camera negative, presented in 2160p UHD framed in 1.85:1 widescreen with Dolby Vision HDR color-grading. Having only previously seen this on DVD (I never upgraded to Blu-ray) this new 4K UHD restoration sizzles, easily blowing away the SD presentation with superior colors, better contrast, deeper shadows and much finer resolved grain levels. It's quite a colorful film, especially the scenes of the festive July 4th celebrations with lots of garish colors. A very pleasing presentation that makes you appreciate it the film for more than just a dumped-on-video 90's horror flick.

Audio comes by way of English Dolby Atmos which folds down to Dolby TrueHD 71 and we get a 5.1 DTS-HD MA with optional English subtitles. The Atmos is quite nice, dialogue is delivered with precision and the effects and score from Mark Governor have some nice weight in the mix. Like the crisp and nuanced image I was surprised by the fidelity and spacing of the sound design on this one. 

No new extras for this this one but it is well stocked with archival bonus features, starting off with a pair of commentaries, the first is an Audio Commentary with Director William Lustig, Writer Larry Cohen and Producer George G. Braunstein that was recorded in 2004 for the Blue Underground DVD release, and a second Audio Commentary with Director William Lustig and Star Isaac Hayes recorded back in 1998 for the Elite Entertainment laserdisc. Both are quite good, but I preferred the track with Lustig, the late Larry Cohen and George G. Braunstein. Just three dudes who made a cool flick talking about the making of it, the challenges making it and some of it's shortcomings. We also get a brief Deleted Scenes, a fun Gag Reel, a Fire Stunts featurette with  Commentary by Stunt Coordinator Spiro Razatos, Theatrical Trailer, and a Poster & Still Galleries with 51 images. 

The single-disc UHD (no Blu-ray included) release arrives in an oversized clear Scanavo keepcase with a reversible sleeve of artwork featuring both the scary and scarier image of zombified Uncle Sam. There's also a limited edition lenticular slipcover that is available on the first pressing only. 

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary #1 with Director William Lustig, Writer Larry Cohen and Producer George G. Braunstein
- Audio Commentary #2 with Director William Lustig and Star Isaac Hayes
- Fire Stunts with Audio Commentary by Stunt Coordinator Spiro Razatos (10 min) 
- Deleted Scene (1 min) 
- Gag Reel (1 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 
- Poster & Still Gallery (53 Images) 

Uncle Sam (1997) might not be a top-tier William Lustig/Larry Cohen team-up but it is a fun holiday themed supernatural psycho-killer flick that was honestly much better than I remembered from my viewing of it nearly twenty years ago on DVD. This new 4K restoration looks and sounds phenomenal and hopefully rehabilitates the movie's reputation a tiny bit. It's a holiday themed slasher gem well worth re-discovering on UHD, and in my humble opinion should at least be on your list of semi-annual holiday themed slashers to watch alongside other admittedly second and third string, but still highly enjoyable slashers, like Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) and New Year's Evil (1980).    

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