|A FilmExposed Film Review
Dir: Jonathan King, 2007, New Zealand, 87mins
Cast: Nathan Meister, Danielle Mason, Peter Feeney, Tammy Davis
A childhood trauma leaves Henry Oldfield (Meister) terrified of sheep. Twenty years on, he’s a jittery yuppie dosed on psychotherapy, only too happy to sell his share in the family farm to nasty, older brother Angus (Feeney). But Angus has been playing Frankenstein; his reckless genetic experiments unleash hordes of zombie, killer sheep that rampage amidst geysers of gore, exploding intestines and blood-splattered wool. Can Henry and friends: environmental activist Experience (Mason) and amiable farmhand Tucker (Davis) outrun the ravenous flock, foil Angus’ mad scheme and save New Zealand? Will audiences ever look at sheep the same way again?
Now and again, the horror genre produces an “excitable puppy movie” - it only wants to be loved. It’s always licking your face, eager to please with outrageous action, gallons of gore, bad taste gags, a frantic pace and usually zombies of some description. It leaves you either irritated beyond belief or, more likely (since few of us could ever kick a puppy, no matter how annoying) so worn down by its charm offensive that you fall in love. In essence it’s either hit (Braindead (1992)) or miss spectacularly (anything by Troma). Before they went all respectable on us, Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson were the poet laureates of this tricky sub-genre. Largely because their films went that extra mile, incorporating likeable characters and involving stories amidst the sicko humour and exploding heads. Black Sheep aspires to the same splatter/slapstick classic status as Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987) or Braindead, but forgets the golden rule: a cult movie cannot be made to order.
Amazingly, this isn’t the first genetically engineered killer sheep movie. Godmonster of Indian Flats (1973) got there first. Writer-director King squeezes all he can from his premise: woolly monsters attacking hapless businessmen, pot shots at GM foods, New Age philosophies, and psychobabble, bloodthirsty foetuses, 10ft tall rampaging were-sheep, and inevitably, sheep shagging. His crowd-pleasing gore and monster transformation scenes sensibly ignore CGI for more tangible, squishy, physical effects, often parodying classic work from Rick Baker or Rob Bottin. Familiar hate figures pop up: the greedy businessman, the bitchy scientist, while away from the splatter, King lovingly photographs the idyllic New Zealand scenery. It suggests he is striving for a pro-environment/anti-capitalist subtext the way Peter Jackson weaved a heartfelt love story and anti-racist message into Braindead, but his heart isn’t really in it. The drippy lead characters – though sincerely played by Meister and Mason – are uninspiring. Matey, easygoing Tucker is the more engaging hero. Whether blasting away at the woolly nightmares or turning into a were-sheep, he takes it all in his stride, but the script gives him short shrift leaving Davis MIA for the bulk of the movie.
Black Sheep is essentially a one-joke movie. Good for a few gory laughs, but instantly forgettable.