Thursday, June 10, 2010

UNCLE SAM (Blu-Ray)

From the creators of the successful MANIAC COP trilogy, comes this 1997 attempt to recapture that success, UNCLE SAM, new on Blu-Ray disc from Blue Underground.

A sadistic Desert Storm soldier named Sam Harper is killed in Kuwait when his helicopter is accidentally shot down by "friendly fire." His body is shipped home to his Norman Rockwell-esque hometown, where his family - with the exception of his young nephew, who hero-worships him - seems relieved that he's dead. But "dead" is a slippery term in a horror film, and when some rowdy teenagers burn an American flag over his grave on Fourth of July eve, he rises from the dead, dons an Uncle Sam costume, and proceeds to gruesomely murder anyone in town that he deems "unpatriotic" - from draft dodgers and tax cheats to crooked politicians.

Now, I'm a big fan of writer Larry Cohen (IT'S ALIVE, BLACK CEASAR, Q) and director Bill Lustig (MANIAC, VIGILANTE, RELENTLESS), and despite considerable potential and some great moments, UNCLE SAM just never quite comes together for me. Cohen's script is ambitious, but sloppy (Sam's nephew is shown attending elementary school in mid-summer, a "psychic" blind kid just suddenly appears in the story without explanation, etc.) and tonally, Lustig can't quite seem to decide whether he's making an over-the-top horror spoof or a "message" drama. The film's politics are somewhat muddled, and with the exception of the thespic vets appearing in various supporting roles (Rober Forster, P.G. Soles, Timothy Bottoms, Bo Hopkins, William Smith, Isaac Hayes), the cast is pretty weak.

However - Lustig knows damn well how to shoot a film. I saw this movie on VHS back in 98 or so, and it looked horrible with the pan & scan transfer and poor video mastering. On Blu-Ray, in its proper 2.35: aspect ratio, it looks frankly gorgeous. Lustig and cinematographer James Lebovitz compose and light each shot masterfully. The make-up effects are excellent, and the "kills" are all very imaginative and well-executed - although some stunts are marred by visible wires.

Previously released on DVD by both Elite Entertainment and Blue Underground (Lustig's company, by the way), this new Blu-Ray upgrade looks - as I mentioned before - just gorgeous, with a demonstration-quality 1080p 2.35:1 widescreen transfer. Audio options include 7.1 DTS-HD and 5.0 Digital Surround. Two commentary tracks are provided, carried over from the 2004 BU DVD. The first features Lustig, Cohen and producer George Braunstein discussing the making of the film, while the other features Lustig and the late Isaac Hayes. There's a featurette on the movie's fire stunts, a blooper reel, a deleted scene, production/promotion art gallery and the red band theatrical trailer.

This was the last feature film directed by Lustig, and while it's not as good as MANIAC COP or, say, VIGILANTE, it has its moments. If you're a fan, this Blu-Ray presentation is stunning, and definitely the edition to own. If you're a Lustig or Cohen fan who's somehow missed this one, you might want to give it a rental spin in your Blu-Ray player. I think it's a bit of a misfire, but it's an interesting misfire.

The UNCLE SAM Blu-Ray streets on June 29, just in time for Independence Day.

BUY: Uncle Sam [Blu-ray]