★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Awwwwww. Cuddly sheeeEEEEEEEP!!! AAAIIIIEEEE!!!!
Ah, those Kiwis do like their horror with an extra side of comedy. From Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive to Taika Waititi’s What We do in the Shadows, New Zealand Horror often has its tongue firmly placed in cheek. Also, like Dead Alive, Black Sheep revels in blood and gore to draw the irony out further. Take the world’s least aggressive creatures, and run genetic mutations on them to try and improve the stock, and Voila! Killer sheep! Jonathan King directs this New Zealand funded film, starring Nathan Meister, Peter Feeney, Danielle Mason, Tammy Davis, Tandi Wright and Oliver Driver.
Henry and Angus Oldfield are boys growing up on a large sheep ranch in New Zealand. Henry (Meister) shows a lot of promise as a future shepherd, but when his jealous older brother terrifies him by killing a sheep and donning its bloody fleece disturbs Henry to the point of having ovinophobia… the fear of sheep. I think they made that fear up. I highly doubt that there are enough people in the world with a fear of sheep to have a phobia designated to it, but this film establishes the psychoses. Shortly after this bloody hazing, their father dies in a tragic accident, driving home the shock into Henry’s fragile psyche. Fifteen years later the film returns to the farm, and now Angus is running the farm. And he’s been busy making… improvements… to the sheep. Henry is returning to sell Angus his share of the property, as he has no desire to be around these fluffy beasts.
Enter in two hippy PETA do-gooders, Grant (Driver) and Experience (Mason) looking to interrupt the goings on at the Oldfield farm. PETA protestors always seem to be on the wrong side of things in horror films. Remember 28 Days later? Yeah… eco-terrorists are the worst! At least in the movies. It is revealed that Angus has hired a mad scientist (Wright) who has developed a mutant strain of sheep, and they are disposing of some of the fetus sheep (currently in jars of formaldehyde) and Grant brazenly grabs one of the jars and flees into the woods, with some of the mad scientist cronies in hot pursuit. Grant trips, breaking the jar and is set upon the lamb fetus, which is apparently not dead. A highly amusing scene of the sheep fetus pulling the ear off of Grant is memorable in the elasticity of Grant’s ear. Grant screams and the sheep fetus crawls into the pasture, where its bleating attracts a ewe, who gets attached by the muto-fetus and it is GAME ON! Think zombie bite = plague spreader. Soon the entire flock is infected, and now they crave human flesh. BAAAAA…RAAAAIIIIINS!
Meanwhile, Experience stumbles into Henry, who with ranch hand Tucker (Davis) is doing one last farewell look at the property that he just sold to Angus. And then they stumble into one the farmhand cabins to find said farmhand chewed up… enter mutant sheep! Who looks like an ordinary sheep. With blood on its face. So, initially not so scary. But then the sheep goes full-on Jack Torrance and that leads to a panicked flight through the ranch. Tucker gets bit, and soon the second big revelation about this mutant strain is realized. Those bitten become lycansheep. Tucker’s foot turns into a hoof, doomed to become a sheepman.
Several revelations, and sheep attacks later, the film culminates in a public unveiling of Angus’ prize Oldfield sheep breed. Angus, though, had been bitten, and is beginning to turn. The climactic scene of the film culminates with a rampaging herd of rabid-zombie-mutant sheep eviscerating the collected gathering of sheep investors. Henry then has to overcome all of his fears and has a showdown with Angus, who is trying to flee the ranch along with his prize ewe (who he’s clearly had relations with) on his vintage biplane, and it’s a mano-a-sheepo to the bitter finish. That’s how you handle a family dispute!
This movie was crazy fun. The characters are very broadly drawn characters, and in that way, it reminded me strongly of Shaun of the Dead. This film does not quite reach the comic heights of Shaun, but it has some real laugh out loud moments. Some of them by the situation, some of the laughs come from the over the top gore and the incongruity of flesh-eating sheep. What happens to Angus in the finale has to be seen to be believed… or unseen. The lamb fetus and stretchy ear? Angus gets it worse. Much worse.
This film is a huge beneficiary of having the New Zealand visual wizards of Weta Workshop contributing to the project. The veterans of the Lord Of the Rings trilogy and King Kong provided seamless visual effects, blending traditional practical effects with digital overlays. The lycanthropy effects are Rick Baker worthy. And my biggest question about the film was what the sheep were really eating. The juxtaposition of adorably fluffy sheep grazing off of dismembered corpses was surreal.
Black Sheep is Rated R. It’s a pretty decent gateway film for those who have a strong stomach for gory, as even if it’s a bloody mess, it’s not very scary. This movie is available on Google, iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube. (Though not on Netflix or Amazon Prime)