Uncle Sam Wants You In 4k Ultra HD

Anybody with just a little bit of insight into these things could tell that it was only a matter of time until Blue Underground released 1996's Independence Day-themed slasher, Uncle Sam, on 4k.  In fact, I held out for years, refusing to upgrade my DVD, because I knew it was bound to happen sooner or later.  Until I broke down last December and bought the blu-ray as a little Christmas present for myself.  Then the UHD was announced in January.  You're all welcome.
Uncle Sam is the fourth and final collaboration of Larry Cohen and William Lustig, following their Maniac Cop trilogy.  It's not as great as their first two entries, but it might be as good as the third.  It's certainly more coherently resolved.  And it's a thematically appropriate follow-up: from a cop who rises from the dead to exact revenge on those he feels wronged him, but must be stopped when he winds up hurting innocent people to a soldier who rises from the dead to exact revenge on those he feels wronged him, but must be stopped when he winds up hurting innocent people.  There are a lot of obvious similarities, too, with one of the better Masters of Horror episodes, Joe Dante's Homecoming, about fallen American soldiers returning from the Middle East as zombies looking to exert some payback.  But those soldiers were essentially good guys come back to get the bad people who sent them to die.  "Uncle" Sam Harper is at heart a terrible guy - again, more akin to Matt Cordell - who wants to kill not only his fellow Americans who fail to live up to his fanatic levels of blind patriotism, but to keep abusing his family, as he did in life before he shipped off to war.
You can count on Larry Cohen to have a lot of clever, interweaving themes in his scripts, with characters and plot turns that elevate the writing above his peers'.  And you can count on Lustig to shoot an attractive, dramatically effective picture with impressive set pieces that suggest something greater than its actual, limited budget.  The night sequences look great and the fire stunts are envelope-pushing.  Both Lustig and Cohen have an fine appreciation for great character actors, too, and this film is packed with them, adding much-needed jolts of nuance and credibility to what might be otherwise typical B-movie fare.  Isaac Hayes (pre-South Park) is obvious, but there's also Bo Hopkins, PJ Soles, William Smith, Timothy Bottoms and most entertainingly, Robert Forster as a local politician who's only in town to deliver a Fourth of July campaign speech to the local "hicks."  Admittedly, this film has a tendency to lay a little flat, but thanks to all the talent involved, there's more going on here than your average slasher.
Elite Entertainment originally released this film back in 1998, essentially carrying over their laserdisc special edition to the latest format.  But in 2004, Lustig was able to bring his baby back home to Blue Underground, with a new, specialer edition DVD.  By the way, I don't have that Elite disc, but it was non-anamorphic, so it was always time to replace that sucker.  Anyway, that improved DVD was updated to blu-ray in 2010 and now, just in time for July 4th, they've upgraded it again to 4k Ultra HD.
2004 BD DVD top; 2010 BU BD mid; 2022 BU UHD bottom.
ltr: 2004 BD DVD; 2010 BU BD; 2022 BU UHD.
To start with, the framing shifts slightly, from 2.36:1 to 2.35:1 and finally to 2.39:1, with the UHD showing a smidgen more on the sides, but also achieving its wider AR but cropping slightly tighter along the top than previous editions.  Though, by splitting the difference horizontally and vertically, it makes the distinction really tough to notice outside of a direct screenshot comparison like this.  The real difference is in the resolution; I mean, just look at that close-up.  Okay, it's shot from far away that you can never quite read that label of... mustard?  But so blurriness and digital noise has been replaced with photo realism and, for the first time, clearly rendered film grain.  Another nice improvement is the edge enhancement, that was probably useful on the DVD but made the BD a bit crass and unattractive.  It's happily gone on the UHD.  And its not like any of BU's previous editions were low quality in the brightness or contrast departments, but the UHD renders the highlights more natural and occasionally finds more picture information in them.  Seeing Uncle Sam look this good for the first time might help raise the whole film in the eyes of horror fans who've sometimes been a little too hasty writing it off.

This film started by giving us a choice between a stereo and 5.1 mix (on both the Elite and BU DVDs, neither of which had subtitles).  On blu, the stereo mix was dropped, the 5.1 was boosted to DTS-HD, a new 7.1 mix (also DTS-HD) was added, and so were optional English, French and Spanish subs.  Now, the UHD keeps the lossless 7.1 but replaces the 5.1 with a Dolby Atmos track and keeps all three subtitles.
Now, Uncle Sam has always had extras, going back to the laserdisc.  It had the trailer, and a fun commentary by Lustig and Hayes.  It's mostly Lustig giving an expert, informative commentary track, with Hayes chiming in with a few memories of his own.  When BU got their hands on it, they added a second commentary by Lustig, Cohen and producer George G Braunstein.  Unfortunately, Lustig repeats a lot of the same anecdotes, practically verbatim, but there's a bunch of new stuff to be found in here as well.  They also added a fun featurette on their explosive finale, a stills gallery, a brief gag reel (funnier if you listen to Lustig explain it in the audio commentary first) and two takes of a brief deleted scene.

The same extras were carried over to the blu-ray and UHD.  I was disappointed they didn't take add anything extra for the UHD... Perhaps Lustig feels he's said everything he has to say already, but it would've been nice if they could've sat somebody down on camera for a new interview... maybe one of the leading ladies, or Mark Governor to talk about the music?  Oh well.  The latest release at least comes in a very cool holographic slipcover that recreates the famous VHS box, as well as reversible cover art inside.
Uncle Sam isn't exactly Lustig's greatest achievement, but it is a fun, off-beat 90's horror flick.  And thanks to the fact that it's the baby of the head of Blue Underground, it's gotten restored to a degree it probably doesn't deserve.  I mean, The Exorcist and a Nightmare On Elm St wish they had home video transfers like this.  But who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth?  This is a great, summertime treat.

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