Black Sheep (2007)

Reviewed By Scott Weinberg
Posted 09/11/06 16:51:56

"Shear Madness"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Ewe won't believe what goes on in John King's wild & woolly "Black Sheep," a freaky-fun flick that's equal parts loony lamb-poon, revolting ram-page, and, yes, shear madness.

The finest New Zealand export since Return of the King, Black Sheep is a certifiably insane, yet exceedingly well-made, piece of horror / comedy hybrid. Imagine the early works of Peter Jackson combined with only the most entertaining moments of your above-average "animals gone wild!" movie, and you're only halfway to understanding the lunacy on parade here.

Black Sheep is the brainchild of first-time writer/director Jonathan King, bankrolled by the suddenly resurgent New Zealand film industry. Heck, the special effects were even done by Weta Workshop, and it looks like after their stunning work on Lord of the Rings and King Kong, those artists were just thrilled to work on a monster/splatter flick using nothing but wonderfully old-school practical effects.

The story is this: There's this gorgeous sheep ranch in New Zealand, and it used to be owned by a man who loved nature and treated his animals right. But nowadays the Oldfield Ranch is run by the royall obnoxious Angus Oldfield, a greedy jerk who thinks nothing of genetically altering his throngs of sheep if it means a few extra dollars in the wool market.

Before you can say "mad scientist stupidity," the epidemic is afoot: Toxic waste materials have infected the countryside, thereby turning the sheep into bite-happy carnivores -- and the bitten into human-sized zombie sheep creatures.

Yep, it's that kind of movie, and Mr. King keeps the chuckles and the splatters coming in very generous fashion. And it's a tougher balance than one might expect; I sure couldn't write and direct a movie that yields a dozen good laughs and two-dozen wonderfully gory mutant sheep attacks -- but they're all on display here. Plus those giant zombie sheep creatures, too.

Set against an almost ridiculously beautiful backdrop of rolling hills and crystal blue skies, there's lots of ways that Black Sheep could have strayed. The jokes could have been just a little too goofy, or the attacks could have been just a little less outrageously nasty ... and then you have a midnight movie selection that's just "not bad" instead of "surprisingly good." King helps his cause in a big way by hiring a bunch of relatively no-name, but consistently entertaining, lead actors. Nathan Meister and Danielle Mason make for a suitably plucky pair of heroes while Oliver Driver contributes a humorously dorky hippie and Peter Feeney delivers a colorfully nasty lead villain. Tammy Davis, as a gun-totin' sidekick, adds some extra color during his too-few scenes. Everyone's in on the joke, and the whole cast helps to keep the silliness afloat.

And if the packed house at Black Sheep's world premiere told me one thing, it's that the genre fans are going to have a ball discovering this insane little import. Pretty impressive work from a first-time filmmaker who aimed for equal portions of broad humor and gore galore -- and nailed both genres right on the mutton.

I say bring on "Black Sheep 2: Shorn of the Dead."

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