A 1996 slasher film “Uncle Sam” used this house in La Verne, located at 2236 Third St., which was owned at the time by ULV alumni Karen and Rex Huigens, for several key scenes.

A 1996 slasher film “Uncle Sam” used this house in La Verne, located at 2236 Third St., which was owned at the time by ULV alumni Karen and Rex Huigens, for several key scenes.

story and photography by Abelina J. Nuñez

A mass murderer slasher runs amok through a town. A house is blown up. Unpatriotic citizens are targeted for mayhem. The town is La Verne. But don’t worry—it is just an enduring horror movie, filmed in city limits in 1996 by A-Pix Entertainment. The film, written by Larry Cohen and directed by William Lustig, focuses on a vet, Sam Harper, who rises from the dead on the Fourth of July to kill unpatriotic citizens in his hometown.

The film centers on David Fralick, who plays Sam Harper. He is an intensely patriotic soldier who is killed in Kuwait by so-called friendly fire. A U.S. military unit finds his crashed helicopter and jokes about his death. The zombie-like character Uncle Sam is “born” at that moment and seeks revenge. As the wreckage was inspected, Master Sergeant Sam Harper, one of the burnt bodies, springs back to life and kills the mocking sergeant and major. He seemingly dies again after muttering, “Don’t be afraid. It’s only friendly fire!” After the scene, the camera slowly pans over La Verne houses on Third Street until it hits on the main house used throughout the movie.

The then-owners of the historic house were ULV alumni Karen and Rex Huigens, who lived at 2236 Third St., for more than 30 years. The Huigens bought the house from another ULV alumnus who graduated the same year as they did. “I told Mary [previous owner of the house], if you guys ever decide to sell, please give us the first chance. And so she called us and said, ‘We’re thinking about moving to Fallbrook.’ And you know, they sold it to us,” Karen Huigens says. A few years later, she says the film crew approached her to use her house, offered to pay for the home’s use and put them in a hotel along with paying food costs during the filming. “It wasn’t like we were making $50,000 for the use of our home. It was way less than $10,000. I don’t remember what it was, but it may have been $3,000 to $4,000. I think that is about it,” says Rex Huigens, ULV professor emeritus of kinesiology, and former head football coach. There was some home damage during filming. “There was some finish damage to the stairway due to the heavy use of tape, but they came back and took care of it. They gave us some more money to do more renovation, so that was awesome,” Karen recalls. “It was a little bit of a hassle, but looking back on it, it was probably a little more exciting for us than for anybody else in the neighborhood.”

In the film, a wake is held for Harper, who is in a closed casket in the Huigens’ living room. Then, a series of unpatriotic events occurred in La Verne. Harper wakes from the dead with a vision of a teenager who sets an American Flag on fire. But, before heading over to the cemetery to end the teenager’s life, he goes upstairs to his nephew’s room to get back his medals that were under his nephew’s bed. He then goes to his sister’s room to watch her as she sleeps.

His first victims are the three teenagers who decided to go to the cemetery and spray paint on military tombstones near his soon-to-be grave. The movie launches from there to being a slasher horror film that uses the city of La Verne and the University of La Verne as its backdrop. Rotten Tomatoes calls “Uncle Sam” a somewhat panned comedy horror slasher film with a 60% tomato meter rating.

Twenty-eight years later, the new owner of the Huigens’ home, Bonnie Moro, reflects on the filming in her house after watching a fall 2023 screening of the film hosted by the La Verne Historical Society. “Where is the camera crew? This room is teeny. There’s no room for people to have a crew in that little teeny tiny room. That little room where the little boy lives, it’s small.” Karen Huigens answers that due to the house being smaller than expected, the film crew needed to improvise to get the shots they wanted. “They set up their cameras outside and filmed through the windows. Our house had 55 windows; basically, all the outside walls were windows,” she says. “Some of the rooms that they wanted to film in were not very big. They actually set their cameras up on ladders or scaffolding and filmed from the outside looking in. You can’t tell it in the movie, but that’s how they were able to get the shots they wanted.”

But not all of the film was filmed in the home. After Harper leaves his sister’s room, he spots a guy dressed in an Uncle Sam costume with long stilt legs peeping into a girl’s second-story room. The peeper ends up getting caught by the girl. He then quickly escapes toward a park. The Uncle Sam costumed peeper notices someone is following him, but as he struggles to walk faster on his stilts to escape, he bumps into a tree and falls backwards. Harper ends up catching up to him and uses gardening scissors to end his life.

The park that the producer used to film this scene was Kuns Park, which is located in La Verne at 1600 Bonita Ave. Across the street is where the Peeping Tom scene was filmed, which is located at 1655 Fifth St. Before Harper ends the guy’s life with the gardening scissors, he says, “I hope you got an eyeful.” He then proceeds to put on the Uncle Sam costume to continue his killing spree.

Harper ends up at a cemetery, where he attempts to kill the teenagers, but they all split up. The first teenager leaves the group to use the restroom, where Uncle Sam pops out of nowhere to spray paint the youth’s face, which leads him to fall into the empty grave and get buried alive.

A second teenager realizes that his friend is taking a while, so he heads back to the cemetery and is killed by Uncle Sam. The third boy is later murdered in an orange grove.

In the movie, the city came together to celebrate the Fourth of July, but that did not stop Uncle Sam from continuing his killing spree, nor did the town folks, keenly aware of the killings, stop their celebration. The producers used two different locations for this scene. The first was one of the oldest, well-known buildings at the University of La Verne, Founders Hall, located at 1950 Third St. The second location used was Heritage Park, where the residents did the sack bag race, the BBQ and the fireworks show scenes. Heritage Park is located at 5001 Vía De Mansion Drive.

At the end, Uncle Sam is blown up by the main characters. During the final act explosion, the production company built a false wall to the west side of a house located at 2549 D St., which led to the Uncle Sam character—during the massive explosion—flying back into the house through a window. The scene was shot in the middle of the night, and La Verne residents were unhappy. “That’s the cool thing about the Uncle Sam movie is they went over and above, especially the blown up scene on that D Street house,” says Steve Kovach, who lives next to Bonnie Moro’s house. “People’s windows were blown out a couple of blocks away, and they didn’t tell anybody. People were pissed off, but how cool is it to look at the movie and laugh at it down the road?”

Eric Scherer, La Verne’s Director of Community Development, commented in the La Verne Historical Society newsletter, “I remember that there was like a carnival set up in the park for a movie but didn’t really know much else.” Scherer says he has owned the DVD since it came out due to how La Verne was angled. “I do, however, distinctly remember the filming of “Wayne’s World 2” at the United Methodist Church as D Street was completely closed to traffic when I was trying to drive on it,” he says. “I was frustrated for the detour at the time, but when news spread that it was for that movie, I was excited to see it.”

According to IMDB, A-Pix Entertainment wanted to do an “Uncle Sam 2” sequel, but it did not go according to plan. Steve Kovach says, “I would welcome an “Uncle Sam 2,” but you know, make it in Claremont.” But his wife, Kathy Kalousek, vice president of the La Verne Historical Society, challenged that thought, saying, “It’s fun in La Verne, so I’m OK with that, and I would watch it if it were filmed in La Verne. But I don’t think La Verne will allow it again.”

La Verne Filming Changes

After the house explosion and neighbor complaints in February 1996, the production asked for three more days of filming. The city manager, who originally approved the Uncle Sam Productions filming permit November 1995, reluctantly agreed to the request but under the condition that the film production company promised there would be no continuing issues.

The movie had its lasting effects on the city. The La Verne City Council met in March 1996 to discuss prohibiting movies based on content or the banning of all filming. By their next meetings in June and August 1996, the Council voted to approve an ordinance that went into effect in October. It is in effect to this day and requires a filming application to be submitted at least 30 days before a La Verne City Council meeting. And then, on a case-by-case basis, the Council itself will make a decision on whether to allow filming.

This ordinance has left lasting effects. “We have discussed updating it, as we are constantly telling interested parties that they must wait to go to the Council for approval,” says Eric Scherer in the La Verne Historical Society newsletter. “Filming crews expect to be able to obtain a filming permit in just a few days so they are unable to schedule filming here,” he says.

“Because of this movie, they actually changed the guidelines about people filming in the city. The film had a significant impact on people, especially because of the explosions, which were not so good,” says Kathy Kalousek, whose house is shown in the film.

If filming crews apply to use any explosives, they must follow the city’s 5.57.080 Permit of Pyrotechnics and explosives. It is mandatory for the crew to obtain a permit from the La Verne Fire Department and file the intent with the fire marshal at least five days before the scheduled date of the activities. Also, the hours of filming are regulated by the 5.57.110 Hours of Operation policy. This policy mandates that a completed schedule of filming activities must be submitted along with the application. Additionally, filming activities are prohibited before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m.

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Abelina J. Nuñez is a senior journalism major and photography minor at the University of La Verne and editor-in-chief of the Winter 2024 La Verne Magazine.