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A great baaaaaaad movie!

Posted : 5 years, 9 months ago on 28 November 2008 09:40

"You hear that? Sounds like somebody's sheering."

Honestly, how can one critically scrutinise a comedic horror film with killer zombie sheep? Black Sheep is simply an unapologetic baaaaaaad movie. Anyone who abhors this movie should feel unconditionally sheepish. This fun barnyard zombie horror schlock exists to offer gory B-Grade thrills mingled with comedy... It delivers on its promise. It's intentionally stupid and it's highly entertaining. As the tagline states: "Get ready for the Violence of the Lambs!"

There's plenty to be fond of in this cheesy small-budget New Zealand flick. It splendidly continues the legacy of the splatter horror genre established by Peter Jackson in his early career when he directed Braindead (a.k.a. Dead Alive) and Bad Taste. With its intriguing premise and Peter Jackson's Weta Workshop responsible for the buckets of gore, Black Sheep is undoubtedly the greatest movie ever made in cinematic history...about mutated killer sheep, that is.

This Kiwi horror fest is a black sheep in more ways than one. Not only does it feature flocks of murderous mutated fur-balls but its originality and creativity makes it an odd one out in the crop of modern horror films - essentially a sole black sheep in a flock of otherwise white sheep. Quite simply, it's a breath of fresh air.

As for the plot (it's more of a concept disguised as a plot, actually): Henry Oldfield (Meister) is the most forlorn of New Zealand characters - he's absolutely terrified of sheep. Dosed up on therapy, Henry returns to his family farm to sell his portion of the property to his greedy older brother Angus (Feeney). However, Henry is unaware of Angus' activities on the farm - he's recklessly genetically engineering sheep in order to build superior livestock. When a pair of inept environmentalist activists unwittingly release a mutant lamb from the laboratory, it unleashes a plague that transforms thousands of sheep into vicious, bloodthirsty, marauding balls of fluff. Add to this a mad scientist or two, a man who loves sheep a little too much, a lot of sheep mauling people, a number of weresheep AND an abundance of hilarity. There's much more to discover within, but it's far too delicious to spoil.

Writer/director Jonathan King may or may not be endeavouring to deliver a message about the consequences of humankind's eternal mission to disrupt the natural order of nature. But make no mistake - Black Sheep ain't anything preachy. This science-gone-wrong parable is instead played predominantly for yucks and giggles. Plenty of comic mileage can easily be extracted from the sight of seemingly placid fluff-balls running amok with the bloodlust of the grimmest movie zombies. The production values are enhanced by the wonderful effects work of Weta Workshop. For the most part Black Sheep eschews digital effects; offering a seamless, excitable brew of vintage puppetry, animatronics, CGI and real-life sheep (who prove to be quite the performers). It proudly includes moments of genuine laughs mixed with grossly excessive gore. These sheep don't merely kill...they relish every opportunity to chow on innards and body parts. People are mauled and geysers of blood paint the surrounding scenery. Weta have applied their considerable talents in making the sheep believable yet hilariously exaggerated. It's three bags full of fun.

The spirit of Black Sheep is unashamedly B-Grade. The concept of killer sheep isn't sufficient to sustain a feature-length film. Thus writer-director King is astute enough not to push the film beyond an 80-minute running time. Along the way there are humorous homages to Night of the Living Dead and An American Werewolf in London. King also manages to skewer New Age philosophy, organic food, global warming and New Zealand culture. It isn't long before the film becomes an essential parody of itself. The filmmakers noticeably had a great deal of fun coming up with this material (like people transforming into weresheep), and it shows onscreen. Never before or since have filmmakers offered the image of flatulent sheep catching fire and exploding due to the flammability of the methane.
But I must sound this warning - if you want to live your life without ever seeing a sheep biting off a man's joy stick, you may want to shield your eyes at some point.

Maintaining the film's B-Grade tenor, the acting is hammy and occasionally unrealistic. The amateur actors are obviously in on the joke, and are having stacks of fun. This fun is contagious. Nathan Meister is certainly watchable and likable as the hero. Danielle Mason is occasionally irritating as the environmentalist, but she always looks stunning. Other wonderful performances come courtesy of a predominantly New Zealand cast; including Peter Feeney, Tammy Davis, Glenis Levestam, Tandi Wright, Oliver Driver and Nick Fenton.

Black Sheep takes itself none too seriously, and it's pure goofy fun. No pretensions, no magnanimous metaphors...just cheap thrills, silly laughs, and plenty of blood 'n' guts! Although extremely stupid, you'd have to be a pretty grim and cynical person not to succumb to the sheer delightfulness of the silly premise. Combining a wide multiplicity of schlock while parodying zombie movies, mad scientist plots, hippies, the overtly Green, and even family dramas - Black Sheep bites off pieces from pretty much everything before spitting it all back out as bloody chunks of fun. If you're seeking a few thrills in addition to flocks of belly laughs, Black Sheep is essential viewing. It won't change your life, but it'll perhaps make you think twice before buying a wool sweater. Hating this film is analogous to hating fun, and that's impossible right?
It's simply a joyful, bloody riot from start to finish. I'll be damned if I ever stopped smiling.

"I thought you of all people would appreciate efforts to deconstruct the colonialist paternalistic agrarian hierarchy that disenfranchises the Tangata Whenua and erodes the natural resources of Aotearoa."


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