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Jonathan King's Black Sheep is one part zombie movie, one part werewolf flick, and eight parts schlocky horror-comedy drive-in fare. That amounts to ten reasons to see this film, now available on DVD. The Kiwi director worked with Peter Jackson's WETA Workshop to create the splendidly silly and gory special effects for the film, and the overall tone has more than a little bit in common with one of Jackson's early projects, Dead Alive. Both films artfully blend humor with over-the-top gore effects, effectively rendering them in a comic-book style that keeps them within the realm of taste.
King's plotline unfolds in the grasslands of bucolic New Zealand, where sheep far outnumber people. Henry and Angus are two young brothers living the simple farm life, when their father is killed in an accident. Flash-forward to 15 years later, and Henry is on his way back to his youthful stomping grounds after years away in the big city. He brings with him a serious phobia of woolly animals, brought into focus as he sits uncomfortably in a car mired in rural traffic - surrounded by a bleating flock of sheep - on his way to see his brother. After running into a pair of hippie animal rights activists intent on freeing the sheep, the dark brother in Angus is revealed when his secret evil genetic experiments on the livestock are discovered. Through his manipulation Angus has created a mutant breed of bloodthirsty and vicious sheep, a frenzied flock capable of transmitting their madness to both animal and human through their infectious bite (hence, the zombie movie ingredient).
There is something inherently funny and, as this film would have you believe, sinister, about dumb livestock like sheep or cows. Their faces, devoid of expression as they stand around and chew their cud, seem to be hiding something ominous behind their masks of simple serenity. Black Sheep latches onto that, its characters running through the plot, never sure which animals are mutated threats and which are nature's harmless field dwellers. There are several man vs. sheep fight scenes which are hilarious - as it turns out, watching someone punch a sheep in the face is a really enjoyable experience. Humans who are bitten by the zombielike sheep eventually turn into giant man-sheep hybrids (hence, the werewolf movie ingredient), grunting and thrashing as they morph into a new and hideous form. Adding a bit to the encyclopedia of the horror genre, Black Sheep dispels the notion that a chainsaw is a useful weapon against crazed monsters, especially when employed on the back of a moving truck, highlighting the fact that it's really hard to get one started if you haven't had the chance to prime it.
Special features with the DVD release of the film include an audio commentary by director King and Nathan Meister, who plays Henry, a "making of" documentary, deleted scenes, and a blooper reel. The special effects are graphic but never malicious, always played with a tongue-in-cheek attitude. That being said, Black Sheep is a fairly bloody film, with entrails and severed limbs flying across the screen from time to time. There's also an underlying subtext about the wisdom of genetically modifying food species, a relevant issue in today's world. If the results of such tampering might even come close to world of Black Sheep, I'd advise against it. SEE ALSO: www.blacksheepthemovie.com
Jonah Flicker writes, lives, drinks, eats, and consumes music in New York, via Los Angeles. He once received a fortune in a fortune cookie that stated the following: "Soon, a visitor shall delight you." He's still waiting.
See other articles by Jonah Flicker.
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