It’s hard to think of a more unlikely animal to base a horror film than the sheep. Well, perhaps rabbits, but that’s been done already (see Night of the Lepus). Nevertheless, writer-director Jonathan King has given us Black Sheep, a charming tale of mutant predator sheep that wisely plays its subject for loads of laughs and thrills. And while it isn’t as successful as it could be evoking either, it’s still quite a bit of fun and a refreshing break from the bloated sequels and grim horror fare that’s out in theaters now.
Henry and Angus Oldfield are brothers growing up on their father’s sheep ranch in New Zealand. One day a prank Angus plays on Henry goes awry, and by coincidence their father dies that same day. We jump forward fifteen years to find Henry (Nathan Meister) a sheep-phobic who can’t pass a flock without calling his therapist. Brother Angus (Peter Feeney is Bruce Campbell’s antipodean cousin) has made the ranch prosper but who also has implemented a reckless genetic engineering program. (Ah, genetic engineering gone wrong. Like toxic waste and Indian burial grounds, if you did not exist, the movies would have had to invent you.)
Henry arrives to sell Angus his share of the farm. As he arrives, two animal rights activists steal a mutant sheep fetus which proceeds to bite one of the activists, and then some of the sheep. The activist starts feeling icky, the sheep start acting wacky, and soon Henry and the other activist, hippie chick Experience (Danielle Mason) have to find a way to stop the mutant sheep before they devour everyone in their path.
Black Sheep pulls no punches when it comes to gore – we see the sheep chow down on arms, legs, innards, and other body parts, but the gore isn’t offensive. It’s excessive in the same way as Peter Jackson’s early work (clearly an influence on the makers of Black Sheep) or the Evil Dead movies. Like those movies, the humor is outrageous but never mean-spirited, and works most of the time though a few jokes do fall flat, especially near the end. And there’s an affection for the protagonists that also recalls Jackson’s early work.
Where the movie falls short is in its characters, which are all two-dimensional at best. The actors are all good sports and do as well as they can with the underwritten roles. And while I can’t fault Black Sheep for its brisk pace – it’s 87-minute length is refreshing – more time spent on developing the relationship between Henry and Angus instead of asking us to take their animosity for granted.
Kudos must go to the special effects team. Weta Workshop, responsible for the Lord of the Rings movies and Jackson’s King Kong remake, did the honors and a fine job they did, mixing gloppy latex for the attack scenes with CGI to create flocks of rampaging sheep. (This last was necessary because sheep are not the most trainable animals, being dumb as a box of rocks.) And the New Zealand locations are drop-dead gorgeous – if the movie doesn’t hold your interest, just gaze at the scenery.
As a horror-comedy Black Sheep doesn’t quite achieve the heights of Evil Dead 2 or Slither, but it’s a fun and gory and surprisingly good-hearted tale, despite the scenes of sheep chomping on human innards.
There! I managed to go the entire review without one sheep pun. Go, me!