Saturday, June 23, 2007

Black Sheep (2007)

In the New Zealand horror comedy Black Sheep, Henry Oldfield (Nathan Meister) returns to his childhood farm 15 years after his father’s death and another traumatic incident that left him with a severe phobia of sheep. His older brother Angus (Peter Feeney) now runs the sheep farm, and has been doing illegal experiments and genetically engineering sheep. Meanwhile, two hippie animal liberation nuts, Grant (Oliver Driver) and Experience (Danielle Mason), are intent on breaking into the laboratory where Angus and his scientific team conduct their experiments. Grant steals a large container that holds what appears to be a fetus of a sheep in a toxic waste sludge, but clumsily drops it while running away from the scientists. Suffice to say, Grant gets bitten by the evil little fetus-lamb, and it goes on to spread its vile disease to other usually placid sheep, turning them all into bloodthirsty killing machines. Henry, Experience and farm hand Tucker (Tammy Davis) all team up against the gore-hungry sheep, but they have far bigger problems. It seems that anyone who gets bitten by an infected sheep transforms into a giant sheep-human mutant. Also, Angus is not giving up his experiments or his precious sheep without a fight. Can Henry and the gang save the rest of New Zealand from the spread of the baaaaaaaad sheep?

I caught this fun summer flick at a fairly small and packed theater, and let me tell you, the audience’s reactions were one of the best parts! I got there early, so I got to see people’s reactions as they trickled out of the first showing…smiles, giggles, high fives…this was looking good! And as I left the theater that evening, I was doing the exact same thing…smiling, giggling and high fiving!

Now, this flick definitely isn’t perfect and does have its flaws, but for an entertaining popcorn movie in the heat of summer it works just fine.

The films first 30 minutes are its strongest, introducing some uproarious comedic elements, one decidedly creepy and gruesome scene and a gaggle of goofy characters. I especially enjoyed the evil head scientist (played by Tandi Wright) and all her delightful wickedness. Perhaps it’s just me, but I though Peter Feeney, who played Angus, had a very Bruce Campbell feel to him. Either way, he played a dastardly villain and was a lot of fun! Nathan Meister as Henry and Danielle Mason as Experience also did spectacular jobs with their characters, as both their characters changed the most.

Director and writer Jonathan King shows us some truly beautiful vistas of New Zealand, and even manages to pull off the shaky cam technique quite well. His direction is sure and steady, and while he doesn’t show us any fancy footwork, he really doesn’t need to. With a premise like “killer sheep run rampant” one doesn’t really need artsy camera work, now do they? With the script, King nails some comedic scenarios early on, but the jokes run out pretty quickly after the first half. The second half of his story follows the trail of dismembered corpses strewn about by the infected sheep. After the jokes run out, King unwisely falls back on gore, leaving a sagging storyline in its wake.

Speaking of the gore, it is unmistakably present, with throats ripped out, legs and arms chewed off, large bites taken out of people, skinned sheep, heads being blown off, nasty human-to-sheep mutations/transformations and a pit full of decomposing and bloody animal remains that our intrepid heroes fall ::splat!:: right into. Gorehounds will be happy, though the film never goes as far as Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive (aka Braindead) or Bad Taste, both of which Black Sheep has been compared to. All you skeevy sleazemongers will be sad to see no nudity on display, though there are two displays of “inter-species erotica” that might tantalize a few out there (it’s a movie about sheep…you didn’t expect that?).

The gore and special FX in the film look amazing. Luckily, no obvious CGI was used and everything looks all the better for it. One transformation from man to sheep was pretty cool (though some of it took place in the shadows) and it reminded me of the transformation scene in The Howling (still one of the best, in my opinion). Even the hulking sheep-man hybrid wasn’t done with CGI and it looked damn cool.

Black Sheep is a fun, breezy and creative film that is a breath of fresh air in a stale summer bloated with sequels, harebrained movies stuffed with empty calorie stars and PG-13 crap. Sure, it’s not perfect, but sitting in a darkened theater and sharing a horror comedy with an eager audience that loves the silliness transpiring on screen as much as you do is as close to perfection as I want to get.

Available on Amazon!

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